Winter has tightened its grip on the Chicago area for the past couple of weeks, a far cry from the mild winters we have experienced recently.
Higher utility costs, dangerous driving conditions and all-around discomfort are plaguing everyone. For the landscape, however, the snow and brutal cold provide benefits:
- Snow is a fantastic soil insulator, helping minimize the alternating of freeze and thaw cycles. Result: bulbs, perennials, groundcovers, and the roots of trees and shrubs are protected from potential damage. It also can limit how deeply the soil can freeze by buffering cold surface temperatures (bare soil will freeze deeper than snow-covered ground).
- Snow cover helps conserve the moisture within the soil during the winter months.
- Insect and disease pressures for the upcoming season should decrease. Some insect species are unable to outlast the cold in large numbers, which aids in controlling the population. About 80% of plant disease is caused by a fungal pathogen, but a cold winter minimizes the available moist, dead plant parts for fungi to thrive.
So, go ahead and continue loathing the cold and snow all you like. Regardless of your outlook, come spring the brutally cold season we are enduring will have laid the groundwork for some gifts we will all reap.
This installment of "Ask the Plant Expert" will be published in the January 10, 2018 edition of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, the Forest Park Review and the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.