How much more snow will we get this winter? Though we had some light sprinkles toward the end of last year, the blizzard of 2016 recently blanketed the northeast corridor in a thick carpet of snow, ranging from around 13 to 30 inches during Winter Storm Jonas. Towns near the New Jersey shore clocked wind gusts around 70 miles per hour, causing large snow drifts, as well as severe flooding in some seaside towns. That was too much for those who prefer balmy weather, but winter-lovers are still eager for more snowy days.
Many people know that snow brings nitrogen to the soil, which can be advantageous to the plants buried below. Snow also contains other beneficial nutrients, such as sulfur and trace elements. Soil bacteria play a key role in converting several types of nitrogen into a soluble form that can be absorbed by vegetation. Lightning, too, can convert nitrogen into usable food for plant life. Though 78 percent of the air we breathe is made up of nitrogen, plants are not able to profit from it in the same way as the nitrogen delivered by snow, since the structure of the molecules is different.
Though fossil fuel has its share of enemies, it has been discovered that much of the nitrogen available to plants in the northeastern portion of the U.S. comes from nitrous oxide air pollutives produced by coal-burning factories and gas-guzzling vehicles and dropped during precipitation.
In drought conditions, we gardeners are always grateful when gentle rain arrives eventually to revive our landscapes. Snow can provide an even greater advantage over heavy rain, though. A blanket of snow melts slowly into the soil, nourishing it gradually, instead of washing over the ground and into the drains, like drenching downpours.
While we are still dealing with winter, and maybe more snowy weather, we can do our part to protect the garden from detrimental side effects. Our choice of snow melting products can have a big impact on the health of each plant, tree, bush, shrub and bulb. Rock salt and other salt-based products are popular choices when treating roads, sidewalks, steps and driveways. Salt lowers the freezing point of water. The higher the percentage of salt added, the lower the temperature at which the water will freeze. When the salty water reaches the garden, it can cause stress to plants, as well as corrosion to concrete and metal. It can also increase the amount of salt in our public water supply, as it seeps into the soil down to the water table. More environmentally kind alternatives include sand, clay-based cat litter and ashes. These do not melt snow, but instead provide traction on slippery surfaces. If you still want to melt the snow on your property, you may consider using salt-free calcium magnesium acetate to treat places close to your lawn, flower borders and trees. This product is made from a combination of acetic acid and dolomitic limestone and is widely available at hardware and home improvement stores.
Stay safe and well over the winter months, and keep your landscape healthy too, by making wise decisions on how to deal with ice and snow.