In the depth of winter with snow piled high, treacherous walks, and grey dark days, don’t despair! This is a magical time when problems lie bare, solutions are clear, and spring is near. This is a time to dream and to plan; a time to monitor where snow piles and drifts, where ice collects, and where views can be enhanced from the warmth of your home. With a bit of winter observation, you can rejuvenate your landscape after the spring thaw so that next winter your landscape will sparkle like new-fallen snow.
Turn excessive snow into a landscape asset. Areas of snow pileup along the street, driveways, and walks are excellent locations for perennial flower plantings. These are choice locations because snow insulates and protects perennials in spots where they add the greatest visible impact and color to the landscape.
Tip… Keep shrub plantings at least 3–5’ away from the road and driveway edge to allow room for snow push. That way, heavy snow piles won’t put on extra stress or cause broken branches on dormant plants.
Note where ice collects on walks and drives. Often the problem is insufficient slope for snowmelt to drain away. This may be simple to correct by re-grading in spring or summer to keep water from pooling along foundations and walkways. In the meantime, keep snow piles away from areas that block or dam spring melt water.
Tip…Remove snow from walks and drives before walking or driving on them to reduce the compaction of snow into ice and the amount of salt needed to melt the ice. Make sure to give gardens a thorough soaking in the spring to leach the salt away from roots.
Trees and shrubs planted this spring can bring color and texture to your winter landscape. Our favorite winter plant combinations use the contrast of reds and greens set against a blanket of white snow.
Vibrant reds include Red Osier Dogwood shrubs, whose red stems emerge from snow drifts. The berries of High Bush Cranberry, Crabapple, and Winterberry provide dashes of red throughout the snowy landscape.
Tip… Prune these ornamental shrubs and place their branches in annual containers or planters to add color and cheer at the front door, outside a window, or to dress up a bird feeder.
Evergreens such as pine, spruce, fir, juniper, yews, and boxwood provide shades of green to add contrast and depth to your landscape with the added bonus of blocking cold winter winds.
Tip… Remove snow from evergreens as the extra weight of heavy snow can distort and break their branches. The upright branching of arborvitaes makes them especially sensitive to snow damage.
Lighting and Structures
Beyond planting, outdoor lighting and ornamental structures can add interest and function to your landscape. Outdoor lighting brings life to winter nights and lets you use your outdoor spaces, if only visually, year-round. Low-level up-lighting on a tree can bring a sense of magic and dimension to your landscape. Structures such as trellis, arbors, and fences add winter interest and can help direct snow drift and provide needed screening once the leaves are gone.
Tip… This winter, you can install a temporary snow fence to control snow drifts, and plan to include a more permanent and attractive wind screen in its place as warmer weather approaches.
As you watch the snow fall outside your windows, consider where you might enhance next year’s views. Be ready when spring arrives to enhance next winter’s beauty and safety. Re-grade to eliminate drainage problems, plant trees and shrubs to add winter interest to the landscape, and build trellises or use windbreaks to minimize or redirect snowdrifts. Plan now to enjoy the winters to come!
Joan W. Ziegler is a horticulturist and garden designer and Molly Wagner is a registered Landscape Architect for ZDA, Inc. Landscape Architecture, 4797 Capitol View Road, Middleton. Call (608) 831-5098 or visit zdainc.com .