Snow: Natural Insulation, and its Free

Snow: Natural Insulation, and its Free

Snow on plants in the garden

It’s only natural for us plant nerds to try growing things that may or may not be perfectly hardy for our climates. Or, maybe it’s a prized perennial or specimen, a favorite Rose, or other plants that would benefit from some additional winter protection?

Especially gardeners in colder regions who expect snow all winter, next time you are out clearing your sidewalks and driveways…keep this free resource in mind!

  • Winter Damage
  • Free Insulation
  • Fall Prep
  • Shrubs
  • Perennials
  • Evergreens
  • Trees

Winter Damage

Temperature swings, sub-zero weather, frost and icy winds take a toll on all plants, but especially non-native varieties. Special preparation is needed to protect them from the damaging effects that winter can have!

Snow and other protective layers for more delicate plant material is crucial to help them survive the winter. Insulation and planning help prevent:

  • Windburn, dieback & needle blanching on Evergreens
  • Frost crack & damage to bark & crowns
  • Drying out & freezing below tolerance levels
  • Salt damage to plant roots along driveways, sidewalks & streets
  • Protects against soil heaving due to temperature swings

Snow is actually the perfect insulation for your plants!

There is a reason it’s called a blanket! 

Snow is insulating, raises soil temperatures, and protects dormant plants from drastic temperature changes, and keeps them hydrated. Icy, drying winds take their toll on exposed crowns and shoots, but a snowy barrier between them and air temperature protects against all of this. 

Plus that snow cover slowly melts and gradually saturates the ground, your roots are ensured a free drip-irrigation system compliments of Mother Nature. 

Fall Preparation

Choose hardy plants that can survive the climate variability in your growing zone. Be sure your trees and shrubs are very well-watered before the ground freezes. 

Adding a layer of mulch, combined with a loosely piled top dressing of dry, clean leaves or other mulch alternatives, holds in moisture while protecting roots.

Long or tall vines and plant stems should be tied and/or staked to help support them. Tie up your plants to keep them standing tall in defiance of the whipping winter winds and heavy snowfall. Binding the stems of large ornamental grasses and arching, cascading shrubs, helps keep them from falling flat over the winter. 

Gardeners expecting heavy snow and ice, or have evergreen shrubs that tend to get windburn, should wrap plants in a loose burlap sleeve and stake them up.

Roses & Shrubs

rose bushes covered in snow in winterRoses love a snowy covering! Be careful not to pile heavy snow on top of plants that might get crushed, such as mounding Potentillia or Spirea. Shrubs with brittle stems also should be tied up protectively in the fall, and very gently covered in snow.

The addition of piled-up snow protects the stems from being tossed by the drying winter winds and frost. The exposed parts are going to be trimmed down anyway in the early spring, allowing the new growth to grow from the protected sections beneath their blanket of snow. 

For more tender plants and Roses, open styrofoam or insulated domes can be used to cover the main crown and lowest stems, protecting them from the most severe aspects of cold weather.

Rose Trees and other uniquely grafted tree-form plants, need tender loving care in areas where winter may cause some damage. Most tree-form plants in hardiness zones 7 and warmer can simply remain in the ground without protection, beyond some mulch and fall watering. If you live in hardiness zones below zone 7, you should consider protection for these prized plants. 

Don’t trim your Roses in fall, but wait until spring, if there is any winter damage you will cut that off anyway. 

If your tree Roses (or other plants) are grown in containers, you can allow them to go dormant outside, then you can place these dormant potted plants in an unheated garage or porch for the winter, maintaining moisture as needed.

Outside plants growing below zone 7 (or you simply want to ensure your plants are extra protected from winter damage) you can do the following:

  • Put a cage around your plant and fill it with clean straw, leaves, or mulch after the plants have gone dormant
  • Dig a trench and carefully place the dormant root ball and plant on its side in that trench and backfill over the roots. Cover the rest with straw or mulch until spring
  • Or, dig a hole on the east side of your home or garage, sink the pot into the ground


Allow the plants to be exposed to a couple of killing frosts before adding any mulch. The idea is to let the plants go dormant and then keep them dormant until the spring and the snow melts.

The freezing and thawing process is hard on plants. Leave tops intact to hold larger amounts snow, keep mulch in place. This also lends winter interest, and retains seeds for the birds!

Then in the spring, remove the mulch and prune down the tops to the crowns to allow the new growth to develop, and give garden beds a renewed, refreshed look!


boxwood shrub under fresh snowEvergreens release moisture through the leaves or needles all winter long, so in the fall it is always important to provide ample soil moisture, then apply a good layer of mulch before the ground freezes. This helps prevent windburn, as well as preventing dieback from the roots not having enough water to support their needles. 

This ensures your prized Boxwood topiaries or Holly bushes get through winter with little damage. Consider using an antitranspirant on these high-profile plants to prevent winter burn on the foliage. This product coats the leaves of Evergreen landscape plants. Check out Bonide Wilt Stop to prevent damage in areas where windburn is prevalent. 

So let it snow! 

You and your plants will be better off with that white fluffy protective layer that’s a free gift from Mother Nature! Next time you are grumbling about shoveling, remember those flakes are insulation for your plants! 

Let and our plant experts help make next spring’s blooms be even brighter!

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