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Snow benefits lawns and gardens

While we may be tired of shoveling snow, driving on slippery roads and getting wet feet, the abundant snowfall recently is a blessing in disguise for lawns and gardens, according to Patrick Byers, a University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist.

There are three key ways that snow actually helps lawns and gardens.

First, snow acts as an insulator. An adequate layer of snow actually protects less-than-hardy plants from extreme cold. Roots even continue to grow under the snow when temperatures are not too cold and earthworms and soil microbes keep at work as long as the soil doesn't freeze.

"A good example is strawberries. Left unprotected strawberries may suffer winter injury when temperatures drop below 15 degrees, but can tolerate below-zero temperatures when covered by snow," said Byers.

Second, snow helps water the landscape during the winter. Evergreen trees require moisture during the winter, and can suffer desiccation during dry periods. Once dormant and nestled beneath a few inches or more of snow, these plants are kept quiet and moist.

"The water from snow is great for evergreen trees and especially helpful to broadleaf evergreens--magnolia, rhododendron, and boxwoods," said Byers.

Third, snow delivers an estimated 5 pounds nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil. Nitrogen is an important plant nutrient that is found abundantly in the atmosphere and is essential to plant growth.

"It is actually through the action of lightening that nitrogen becomes available, and is delivered to the soil by rain and snow," said Byers. "That is a benefit that shows up green in the Spring."

For serious gardeners, snow also adds to the beauty of gardens and landscapes.

"Snow is a beautiful foil for winter landscapes," said Byers. "White snow really makes things like seed heads on ornamental grasses, bright berries on holly and early blooming garden plants like witchhazel stand out."

For more information on winter gardening, visit the University of Missouri Extension website http://extension.missouri.edu or contact the nearest University of Missouri Extension Center. In the Springfield area, call the Greene County Master Gardener Hotline at 417-881-8909.

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