iGrow Gardening: What is snow good for?

Cindy Schnabel SDSU Extension
Reprinted with permission from

Sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee, I look out my picture window and see a beautiful glistening blanket of snow. It seems like every other day South Dakotans are seeing a flurry of snow. It is piling up all over. One might be inclined to look out and say, “Oh no, not again. What is this snow good for anyway?” I thought now would be a good time to remind people of the pros and cons of snowfall.

This year most of South Dakota has a good foot or more snow on the ground. This is a good thing. Snow is a great insulator. The term ‘blanket of snow’ is appropriate. Snow helps insulate the ground by holding in heat and preventing moisture from evaporating into the atmosphere. A blanket of snow can keep the ground temperatures around freezing, even when the air temperatures go below zero.

Without snow, cold temperatures can freeze the ground deep enough to harm the root systems of shrubs, trees and perennials. Without the insulation, the water in the plant cells can freeze, damaging the cell walls. Plants can turn black or look translucent. The snow also protects plants from the harsh, drying winter winds. If you only get an inch or two of snow that isn’t as helpful as a deep, fluffy snowfall.

Snow cover protects plants from the freeze/thaw cycles that happen in winter. We may love those warm winter days, but all it does is confuse the plants. It is warm one day and the plant may begin to come out of dormancy, if it’s chilling requirements have been met for the year; then the freeze comes again, stopping everything in its tracks. Snow cover helps keep the temperature changes moderate underground. Lessening the chances of the ground heaving because of wide ranging temperatures. Plants and bulbs are less likely to be uprooted if there is a good amount of snow.

Snow cover can be thought of like an organic mulch because it helps keep the moisture in the soil during the winter months. When it melts, you get an added benefit. Because when snow forms in the atmosphere, nitrogen particles attach to the snowflakes. As the weather warms and snow melts it will give your plants a natural fertilizer boost. This is why some call snow “a poor man’s fertilizer”.

Snow helps provide the moist cooling or vernalization period that many plants need. Spring flowering bulbs like daffodils and crocuses need this kind of cooling as do pretty much all of our perennial herbaceous and woody plants. This chilling period is needed to break dormancy and to allow buds to swell and open in the warmth of spring. Native seeds require it in order to germinate.

There are a few cons to the snow cover. Heavy snow can split or break branches on trees and evergreens. Evergreens have a hard time in the winter. They have difficulty getting water from the frozen soil. To make matters worse, when the sun reflects off the snow, more moisture is drawn from the leaves. This is the reason you want to make sure that evergreens are thoroughly watered before winter hits and the ground freezes.

A heavy snow cover can provide cover for voles. These little creatures can tunnel under the snow making trails in the lawns, chewing on bark and destroy the stems of plants. Not to be left out, rabbits and deer will have more access to the bark on trees. The higher the snow, the higher on the tree these critters can chew on the bark.

That being said, I think the benefits outweigh the cons. The snow will enhance your landscape. It makes dogwoods, Amur cherry trees, and other ornamental bark plants stand out. Ornamental grasses left standing are more visible. The spent flower heads of coneflowers are interesting focal points now. The snow cover provides a promise of moisture in the spring. And it gives a gardener a break from gardening chores. For the time being sit back, enjoy the scenery, have a cup of coffee and plan for the future because spring is right around the corner.

The National Garden Bureau declares 2019 is the Year of the Snapdragon

Looking for a classic cool-season flower that has multiple uses in the garden, smells great, attracts pollinators and comes in scads of colors? Then you should be planting snapdragons.

For some gardeners, snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) is one of those flowers that evokes memories of their parents’ or grandparents’ garden. It is a nostalgic plant that can foster an emotional tie to the past. Today’s newer varieties still offer that nostalgia but with better garden performance that make it easier for the average gardener to have a successful crop. Tall varieties can be cut for use in floral arrangements and dwarf and medium varieties can be used in containers and garden plantings.

The scent of snapdragons is another benefit often overlooked. Shoppers walking through a landscape or passing a display of snapdragons in a garden center will be attracted to the fragrant flowers. The fragrance is especially noticeable in mass plantings.

Snapdragons are attractive to pollinators, including hummingbirds, bumble bees and other larger size bees. They’re not the best honey bee attractor because the flowers are a little heavy for the bees to access. Bonus: snapdragons are not a preferred food choice of deer and rabbits!

Origins Snapdragons are native to the Mediterranean region and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Snapdragons are usually grown as an annual in most U.S. gardens even though plants are winter hardy in USDA Zones 7-10. The dragon-shaped, tubular flowers come in a variety of colors including pastels and bi-colors. With the bi-colors the throat is usually white, and the lip of the flowers is another color. The only flower color that is not available is a true blue.

When to plant Generally, snapdragons are treated as annuals because they’re not that hardy. However, for Southern gardeners, snapdragons can be used as biennials, just like pansies. They will usually last longer when used for fall color then left alone in cooler months only to bounce back as robust spring plants. As Southern temperatures start to rise to 80 F or more, flowering typically slows down and the plant may go semi-dormant.

In moderate climates like what occurs in Midwest states, plants will stop flowering under warmer summer temperatures or produce only a few flowers. The flowering period can be prolonged if spent flowers are removed from the plants. If the temperatures become too hot, the plants may not survive. Once the temperatures cool off, plants take off and start to flower again.

A Variety of Sizes for Multiple Uses Snapdragons come in a range of heights: dwarf (6-10 inches wide, 10-12 inches wide), medium (16-24 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide) and tall (24-30 inches tall, 14-16 inches wide). Dwarf types are currently the most common snapdragons found at garden centers. Their compact habit makes them ideal for sales in packs and pots and for multiple applications in garden plantings and in containers for porch and patio. Dwarf series include: Candy Tops, Crackle and Pop, Floral Showers, Palette, Snappy, Snapshot, Twinny and the newest introduction Snaptini. Medium series include: Liberty Classic, Solstice, Speedy Sonnet and Sonnet. Tall series include Madame Butterfly and Rocket. Snaptastic is a new type of intermediate height snapdragon that combines the bushy habit of dwarf types with taller flower stems typical of the medium types. Snaptastic offers better branching in the garden and requires less staking but retains the classic look of traditional snapdragons. The Candy Showers series is unique as the first trailing snapdragon series from seed. It is ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes and patio containers.

Garden How-To Tips Like many annuals, snapdragons can be started indoors from seed. Your local retailer will carry seed packets as well as young, transplantable plants. Because snapdragons can tolerate cold temperatures, they are often one of the first flowers along with pansies, violas, early spring perennials and bulb crops that gardeners can plant in the spring. In the garden, the tall types should be staked as needed to prevent them from falling over and breaking. They can become top heavy because of their large flowers.

Removing dead flowers is a good practice to ensure flowers keep initiating. If plants start to set too much seed, then the plants just peter out. Removing old flowers can also help to prevent gray mold disease (Botrytis).

Managing water is important, especially if gardeners are growing the medium to tall types. The plants have a fibrous root system and if they don’t become established in the soil, they will fall over. Snapdragons should be fed with a low-dose slow-release fertilizer like other bedding plants.

If you’re looking for flowers with multiple colors, different flower shapes, different sizes and great fragrance, you can’t go wrong planting snapdragons.

The National Garden Bureau recognizes and thanks David Kuack and Syngenta Flowers as author sand contributors to this fact sheet. This fact sheet is provided as an educational service of the National Garden Bureau.

Please consider NGB member companies as authoritative sources for information. Visit the Member Directory on our website for details about our members. Gardeners looking for seed and plant sources can select Shop Our Members at the top of our website home page,

Snapdragon Candy Showers Mixture.
Snapdragon Snapshot Mix.
Snapdragon Solstice Mix.
Snapdragon Candy Showers Mix.
Snow cover over garden beds.
Snow over coneflowers.