Snow Is Good For Your Landscape! (with caveats, of course)

From South Carolina to New York and points further North, this weekend was full of winter precipitation. Rain, snow, sleet and … well, you know the saying. Monday morning, the questions came rolling in from concerned gardeners – will the snow and ice hurt my garden? my lawn? what should I do? The simple answer is “relax”, and I’ll tell you why.

Snow 2016 Sign

Nitrogen: There are two old sayings worth mentioning here, the first being, “Year of Snow, Crops Will Grow.” The second calls snow “Poor man’s Fertilizer.” Precipitation captures atmospheric Nitrogen molecules, and studies show that snow does a better job of this than rain. The Nitrogen comes from many sources, but the most prevalent is industrial output. This map shows the concentration of atmospheric Nitrogen and its concentration in industrial areas of the United States. http://nadp.isws.illinois.edu/lib/brochures/nitrogen.pdf

Nitrogen Map

Another major source of atmospheric Nitrogen is lightning activity. The Nitrogen added to the soil by precipitation is not as concentrated as one would find in a chemical fertilizer, but it helps. Now I am not an advocate of pollution, but precipitation does, in fact, clean the air, and contributes Nitrogen, Carbon and trace minerals to our soil.

Insulation: A layer of snow protects the plants in much the same way as a layer of mulch. The soil temperature is stabilized, protecting tender roots from radical temperature changes like deep freezing or abrupt thawing. Deep freezing can inhibit the activities of earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms that are still active in the Winter, breaking leaf litter down into compost. Quick thawing can heave the soil, damaging roots. Plants covered by snow are protected from the drying winds of Winter. But here’s one of the aforementioned caveats – heavy accumulations of snow and ice can damage shrubs and tree branches, so, if possible, gently remove heavy snow to avoid splitting and breaking. Snow covered ground can also act as an insulation system for irrigation pipes, protecting them from cracking and bursting.

Snow 2016 Iris Snow 2016 Lawn

Nature’s Drip Irrigation: Rain soaks into the ground to the point of saturation and then runs off. Snow melts slowly, allowing the moisture to be absorbed more deeply into the soil before it starts to run off. The actual depth of moisture penetration is dependent upon the depth of the snow, the permeability of the soil, and the pace of the temperature change. Deeper moisture penetration means deeper penetration of the Nitrogen found in the precipitation as well. Caveat number two – snow treated with salt or chemical ice melt products can be harmful to gardens and lawns. Avoid piling treated snow on your landscape.

Snow as a Pesticide: Warm Winters mean buggy Summers. Snow, ice, and cold temperatures may kill off some of last year’s insects, leaving us to deal with newly hatched bugs, but not with as many over-wintering bugs – specifically Emerald Ash Borers and Japanese Beetles. Mosquitos, unfortunately, seem immune to cold Winters. This is an important part of the balance of Nature – organic pest management. Low Winter temperatures can kill off fungi and some bacterial diseases as well.

So rest assured that the recent precipitation is good for your Personal Eden! Now where did I put my seed catalogs?

 

 

Nothing Tastes Better Than Home Grown

           Collards 1 Collards 2 Collards 3

Edible Landscaping is near and dear to my heart because I love to garden, and I love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables – who doesn’t? This year I got a very late start on my Winter vegetable planting. But here in NC,nature provided an unexpected warm-up in December, and 8″ of rain, resulting in a bumper crop of greens. It helps that they were planted in pure Soil3 from Super-Sod. Soil3 is my favorite compost http://www.soil3.com and I use it in my vegetable gardens, as a top-dressing for all my perennial gardens, and on my Emerald Zoysia lawn. As a disclaimer, I work for Super-Sod, but if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still use this compost.

Yesterday afternoon, I headed out to the raised vegetable beds and cut Cabbage Collards and Curly Kale. I added them to some organic bok choi, onions, homemade ham stock, bacon fat (yum), turmeric, salt and pepper. This mix simmered for about an hour and a half. I served the greens with back beans and a perfectly cooked steak (thanks to Gary the Grill Master). If you grow your own food, you know it always tastes better because it doesn’t get any fresher than picked that day; and the personal satisfaction of saying “I grew that” is pretty tasty too!

What grows in your Winter Garden? If you don’t have one, start one in your Personal Eden! Need advice? Just ask! I will be offering a Vegetable Gardening class in March so stay tuned…

 

Dead of Winter Garden Check List

Rainbow over Foster Hill

To avid gardeners, Winter can make you feel separated from your beloved Personal Eden. The leaves and the blooms have retreated and the ground is hard and cold. There may not seem to be one single reason to venture out into the garden, so I’ll give you 7 reasons that will allow you to reconnect with Nature and get excited for Spring. And you’ll get a little exercise too!

  1. If you’re like me and you haven’t done this yet, cut back perennials and pull up dead annuals. I should have done this in November, but… And look for Winter-damage. Ice storms can cause damage to tree limbs and shrubs. If you see ragged tears, use a sharp edged tool to make a clean cut. Ragged tears are open wounds and are very susceptible to insect and disease infestation.
  2. Pull winter weeds – in the middle and lower South, we have them! In February, you can add corn gluten to the lawn and beds where you will not be seeding. Corn gluten is a great organic pre-emergent weed killer. But for now, eliminate weeds the old-fashioned way. Weeding warms you up!
  3. Fluff your raised vegetable beds and add compost. Not all commercial composts are the same, so be sure to do your homework. I add 3-6” of Super Sod’s Soil3 compost because it is OMRI listed for use in organic gardens, and the results have been amazing! http://www.soil3.com
  4. Feed the birds with seed and suet. If you keep bees, feed them too! Food is less available in the winter months, and if we get a warm period, the bees will go out foraging, expending energy. They will return from their expedition empty-handed and dip into the stored honey they need to get them through to Spring.
  5. Walk your garden path with a pad in hand and make notes of changes you would like to make. The bones of the garden are obvious now, and it’s easier to see the need for design changes or new placement of yard art. Winter is a great time to identify areas that need screening – like your compost bins, a busy street, or the neighbor’s trampoline. Or plan a new garden! There’s always room for more.
  6. Clean, sharpen and organize your tools. You will be pruning soon.
  7. Go inside, warm up, and order seeds! Some of my favorite sites for organic and non-GMO seeds are www.seedsofchange.com www.highmowingseeds.com www.southernexposure.com