Friday, January 21, 2011

For my cold climate readers.....

This article ran in my gardening column in The Rocky Mountain News in should be applicable in most snowy winter regions. John


Despite those first few hopeful signs of life emerging from our cold soil, such as jewel-like crocuses and the green tips of daffodils poised like cupid’s arrows, we are still a month away from our first treasured petite couquets of long-awaited blossoms.But each winter and every spring we can give our yards and gardens a much-appreciated harvest of what March and April in particular provide in abundance…..

Snow...Yup, the spring months can be our snowiest, with the snow much wetter and more dense than the lighter, fluffier snows that form in winter’s bitter cold. “Harvesting” that snow simply by shoveling it to various gardens that would benefit from the moisture is just as easy as flinging it randomly beside the driveway. For example, many of us have a “Hell Strip” hugging the curb that is perpetually dry….shoveling snow from your sidewalk and street onto it all winter and spring will build up a wonderful reserve of soil moisture. Just think of it as “mulching” with snow.

Spring bulbs and pansies really benefit from a slowly melting snow mulch when they are still too short to be bent over by the weight. Roses of all kinds, Old or Modern, own root or grafted, all relish the slow steady watering provided by melting snow. If you have perennials gardens, or beds full of self-sown annuals, the snow mulch not only aids spring growth and germination but as with the bulbs and pansies act as an insulator during those inevitable, brutal late freezes.

Trees, shrubs and hedges and especially roses in Colorado often endure “winter drought stress”, especially in south facing areas of properties…shoveling the snow from nearby walkways and driveways and patios onto their root zones is an effective preventative. Just be sure to not use salt or other de-icers on those surfaces to avoid harming your soil. South facing areas of lawn that fall prey to drought and drought-induced mites also benefit from snow mulching, and organically fed, biologically active lawns will generally be immune to “snow mold” associated with standing snow on chemically maintained lawns.

Each fall, many of us veggie gardeners lovingly nourish our soil with compost, fish meal or manure, then turn it to let winter temps “mellow” it while killing the seeds and eggs of weeds and pests. Harvesting snow as a mulch for the food garden will help insure that the soil is wonderfully damp come planting time. Perennial vegetables like asparagus, sunchokes, horseradish and rhubarb will equally welcome that cold trickle of nutrient-laden moisture reaching their winter weary roots.

For years, my neighbors in northeast Denver have good naturedly teased me about my obsessively shoveling not only my sidewalks and patios but also my side of the street in front of my home on Willow so as to harvest mountains of snow for my west-facing “Hell Strips” filled with own root roses, perennials, bulbs and self-sowing annuals. Plus as a native Floridian who sees no charm in Colorado winters I take great pleasure in defying the cold by exposing a big rectangle of warm dry asphalt for me and our mail carriers to park on when the rest of the street looks like a skating rink Who knows how many hundreds (thousands?) of gallons of natural water those perversely fun snow harvests from the street have treated those curb-hugging beds to over the years?

Old Man Winter did little to help with the drought this year. But even if you are weary of winter and beyond eager for spring, make harvesting spring snows one of the year’s earliest gardening rituals and do something healing for both your soil and your spirit

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