The autumn weather this El Niño year was long, warm and drawn out, so winter came as something of a surprise when it finally set in. Although this kind of mild, waffling weather is nice for us humans, it can wreak havoc on plants and their cycles of dormancy.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the best thing for the summer health of the garden is the piling on of snow in the winter. Cycles of indecisive weather, characterized by freezing and thawing, are rough on root crops and bulbs in particular and can make trees and shrubs heave and crack.
Snow is an excellent insulator and maintains a relatively stable temperature underneath. The greatest killers of plants in winter are bitter-cold winds and desiccation (drying out), and snow cover protects plants from both. When the insulating snow blanket melts in spring, it also gives plants the boost of moisture they need to start making the most of the growing season.
Of course, there are some situations where it’s not optimal to move snow from pathways to garden beds. Areas that have poor drainage can become swampy in spring with too much snow coverage, and any snow containing road salt will burn most plants.
Otherwise, piling it on garden beds where it is sparse will help perennials and bulbs weather the fluctuating temperatures of the season and emerge from dormancy at the appropriate time in spring.