Let it snow, let it snow! Winter’s white stuff is good for more than just skiing and sledding. We know it helps to replenish water supplies — though the “snow ratio,” or the percentage of water to snow, is about 12 inches of snow to one inch of rain. It takes a powerful lot of snow to equal what falls in the form of rain. But while our summer gardens slumber underneath inches of snow, we can take comfort in the fact that snow is good for our gardens.

The old adage of snow being “poor man’s fertilizer” is true. Snow contains nitrogen, an important nutrient for plant growth and greening. Nitrogen is one of those nutrients often in short supply in soils. As that blanket of snow on the ground slowly percolates through the soft spring soil, it is gradually releasing its fertilizer and moisture into the soil.

Kristina Howley reports for Proven Winners (the developers of flowering [and fruiting] annuals and shrubs) that snow is generally good for plants, often assisting plants by working as a layer of protection to insulate them against harsh temps and works to keep moisture from being “freeze-dried” out of exposed foliage by harsh wind. Here are important snow facts to consider:

Plants survive under snow: Many folks love to push the limits of zone hardiness, and are willing to take the risk of losing a zone-tender plant or two in the winter. Though climate change has changed most cold hardiness growing zones by half a zone (zone “b” configurations), when considering perennials, shrubs and trees it is important to garden with plants that are hardy in your growing zone to prevent or minimize plant loss.

Snow water is good for plants: One of your garden’s worst enemies is dry soil, and winter can make that deadly for some plants. But as the soil thaws and the snow melts, plants can utilize the moisture even when dormant. In an unusually dry winter, it may be necessary to irrigate during warm spells, especially if there are new perennials or shrubs. Where frequent freeze and thaw events occur, it may also be necessary to replant specimens that have been heaved out of the soil. Otherwise, roots can be destroyed and plants die.

Brushing snow off of plants: When snow begins to accumulate on shrubs and trees it is tempting to remove it. But unless it is obvious that damage will occur there is no need to brush the snow off. We do mean brush, not shake, as shaking snow-laden branches can damage or even break them. Better yet, anticipate snow build up on vulnerable shrubs and trees, and prune if necessary before snow falls.

When it comes to roses, fall prune only if there are extremely long branches that could break over winter. Come spring, you can assess winter die-back damage and prune then.

Tall shrubs with long, upright branches that could flop or split from the weight can be vulnerable to heavy wet snow accumulation. Examples would include arborvitae (Thuja), rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) or yew (Taxus). For hydrangeas, it is advisable to fall prune appropriate varieties. The dried flower heads are useful for winter everlasting arrangements. Panicle or smooth hydrangeas (which produce the largest flower heads) can be safely pruned in spring, to remove any damage without impacting flowering. For large leaf varieties, leaving spent flower heads might help to offer some protection for dormant buds over harsh winters and result in more flowers the following summer.

A cover of winter snow is inevitable, and thankfully we can rest knowing that it is as beneficial as it is beautiful in our gardens. Here’s wishing you and yours a happy and prosperous New Year and one that results in bountiful harvests for the year to come.