University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Pros and Cons of Snow Over the Landscape

December 14, 2000

Landscapes have rapidly changed in appearance with the first heavy snow of winter hitting northern Illinois. All this snow actually has several benefits for yard and garden plantings.

Perhaps the major benefit of a good snow cover such as we now have is snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs.

This insulation benefit of snow also helps protect perennials, bulbs, ground covers, and strawberry plantings from alternating freezing and thawing cycles. The soil surface froze over the past few weeks. Without snow, milder temperatures and the sun could warm the soil surface, leading to damage from soil heaving, which can break roots and dry out plant parts. Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter.

If you have not yet mulched perennial beds, with all this snow, you may not have to. If little snow is on the beds, however, this would be the time to mulch. Evergreen branches, such as from the used Christmas tree in a few weeks, are a good material choice. Straw is another suitable material. Mulches could be applied over existing snow.

There are a few drawbacks to snow. Heavy snow can damage trees and shrubs as the weight accumulates on branches. Fortunately, snow from this past storm was fairly dry in most locations. In any event, carefully brush off snow from branches.

The other drawback of snow in the landscape is small animals, such as voles (field mice) are now protected from predators. These pests may gnaw on tender bark at the base of young tree trunks and the stems of shrubs. Voles also will tunnel on the surface of lawns under the snow, making very visible winding trails as the snows melt in spring. Rabbits will also be more likely to feed on tender bark now that the ground is covered.

The other main drawback of snow is the need for deicing salts to make travel safer. Use deicing salts in moderation. Try to plow or shovel before putting them down. Direct snow clearing away from vegetation as much as possible. Potassium or calcium chloride materials are considered less damaging to plants than sodium chloride.


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