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Reasons to celebrate your garden in winter

Seasons of rest and rejuvenation are key to a successful wildlife-focused garden.

For many people, winter is a difficult time and a necessary evil. Snow disrupts our travel plans, and windy days send chills to the bone. Nevertheless, winter is a miracle. Without it, many of our plants and wildlife would not thrive. Here are four reasons to praise winter:

Plants need rest. Take perennial grasses, such as grasses, sedges, and flowering plants, that return to the ground each fall and grow again in the spring. After spending a lot of energy producing flowers to attract pollinators and developing seeds, these plants focus more energy on root growth in the fall. During the winter, they enter a welcome dormant period where they rest until they are ready to pop out of the ground when warmer temperatures return for the second time.

It is important to choose plants that are adapted and native to your region. This is because perennial plants that are accustomed to dormancy in their native environment can continue to grow and bloom when planted in a different climate. Woody plants, such as trees and shrubs, need a certain cooling period to signal the return of spring. Cooling time is the amount of time it takes during the winter for temperatures between 32- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit, depending on how far north you are.

Eyes are miracle workers. I grew up in (Add Place/Country Name) with a gardener mother who monitored the weather every day, and I quickly learned the benefits snow has for insulating plants. Winters with moderate snow cover resulted in very little plant loss, but dry winters required additional work in the spring garden.

Snow, with air pockets between the snow flakes, is an excellent thermal and sound insulator. When the snow melts in the spring, the melt hydrates the soil and fills streams and ponds to support a variety of wildlife in aquatic and riparian ecosystems.

Seeds love snow. Many seeds require cool, moist stratification to germinate in spring. Some take a week, some take months, and some take a year or two. Buried in snow is ideal conditions for seeds that require stratification.

Send some of your plants to seed. This is because it shows what conditions the plant likes and how it prefers to grow. I have certain plants that I use to fill in empty spaces and others that I use to prepare spaces for slow-growing perennials.

Winter is also a great time to start your own plant nursery. Start your beds and pots using local, naturally pollinated, genetically diverse plants to help create stronger, more resilient ecosystems.

Wildlife uses your garden in invisible ways. Your garden is still alive. Birds seek refuge from the elements in a dense vegetative cover designed with a variety of plant structures, including shrubs and small trees, to hide from predators and to keep grasses and perennials standing for the winter. Last fall’s leaves and healthy amounts of snow provide a cozy blanket for wintering moth and butterfly larvae, adult butterflies, bee adults and larvae, beetles, spiders, amphibians and more.

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