In many ways, gardening in northern climates is similar to gardening the world over: ya put the plant in the ground, make sure it has water, and pray like mad.

But in other ways, growing a northern fruit garden is like no other challenge on earth. Instead of only battling the typical challenges of drought or damp, pollination or pest infestation, you have to deal with those same summer challenges AND the unpredictable impact of winter weather on your fruit garden — ice storms, extreme temperature fluctuation, late-frost damage to blossoms and early-freeze damage to fruit. It ain’t easy growing fruit in the north, and that’s just the sad truth.

The worst enemy is the one you never see coming, so I’ve put together a list of my top five FYI notes on how to grow fruit in snowy climates. Am I an expert? No way. But have I killed lots of trees by sheer ignorance in each of these five areas? You bet! I can’t get those trees back (or their purchase prices), but maybe you can learn something from my failures… Or at least laugh at them.

HEAVY SNOWCOVER MAKES YOUR FRUIT GARDEN MORE ATTRACTIVE TO WILDLIFE

Deer in SnowFor many northern gardeners, you don’t have to live in a rural area to find yourself contending with wildlife damage to your shrubs and buds. Even in suburban — and urban! — areas, rabbits abound and deer still seem to find their way in. I happen to live in a fairly rural spot, but even in the neighboring cities I’ve looked out a window to see deer wandering through the gardens in the snowy gray dawn.

Bottom line is a heavy snow means fewer food sources, and your garden becomes target #1. In a light snow, deer still have options and can find areas where they can get through to greenery. In a heavy snow? Forget it. Trees and shrubs are suddenly high on the hit list, and you’ll find your fruit garden sustaining heavy damage.

Wrap your fruit trees. Cover your berry bushes. Winter protection is everything, people.

HEAVY SNOW MAKES YOUR FRUIT GARDEN MORE VULNERABLE TO WILDLIFE

Rabbit in SnowNo, this isn’t the same as the previous topic. In addition to making the local rabbit population want your garden more, the snow helps them get it. Wrapping the bottom two feet of the tree might protect from rabbit damage in a light-snow zone. If you garden in a northern zone where two feet of snow is common, that protected section of the trunk will be buried anyway, and the rabbits can girdle the trees three feet off the ground!

I’ve lost count of how many trees we lost this way, but it was a lot. YEARS of time and way too much money, completely wasted. Ouch.

Solution? Wrap your trees WAY higher than you think you’re going to need to. If your snow typically piles up three feet, add that to your bunny-safe calculations and make sure you wrap to that height.

HEAVY SNOW CAN FLOOD A NORTHERN FRUIT GARDEN

This is important! Just because you’ve selected a dry patch of soil for fall planting of fruit bushes doesn’t mean that that section of ground is dry in the spring. Heavy snowdrifts translate to significant runoff — and if your land isn’t sloped enough, that snowmelt can saturate the soil and sit in massive puddles for weeks. A dormant fruit tree, bush bramble or vine is fairly resilient and the winter snow itself may not cause any damage. However, once that bright spring sun warms up your fruit trees and rouses them from dormancy, weeks on end of “wet feet” combined with still-cool soil temperatures can rot out their roots and kill the tree.

Ask me how I know.

I didn’t even get my money back on the darn thing, because it was clearly my own error and I wasn’t going to ask the company for a refund when it was my fault the tree had died.

Avoiding this problem is easy. Just be VERY thoughtful about where you plant — and if possible, observe the area for a full season ahead of time.

DEEP SNOW CAN AFFECT GARDEN SOIL TEMPERATURES

Here’s a little secret. I have never bothered to gather up piles of organic matter to mulch my strawberry garden. Ever. Why? Don’t laugh — I mulch with snow. Every year, we plow snowbanks over the strawberry garden and that thick drift of snow works just fine. I’ve had little to no winter die-off, and although it takes a bit longer for those deep drifts to melt off in the spring, I don’t plant early-bearers so it has no negative impact on production / yield of the strawberry bed. Now there’s a win for northern fruit gardens!

Do I have any scientific knowledge to back this up? Nope. I haven’t seen any evidence-based studies from the top dogs like Cornell or the Farmer’s Almanac, but do I get a heck of a strawberry harvest even using this crazy method? You bet I do. And I’m not the only one that does this; an article from The Spruce notes that “snow is a great insulator and protector of plants.”

THICK, WET, AND HEAVY SNOW CAN DAMAGE FRAGILE PLANTS

Heavy Snow Damage to PlantsYour fruit trees, berry bushes, grape vines and fruiting brambles might well be rated to take the cold temperatures of a northern zone winter — but don’t forget to factor in the damage caused by the weight of the snow itself. Light snow is typically not a problem, but if you have a major snowstorm that dumps a thick, wet blanket six or more inches deep on your plants, how many of those little branches are going to be crushed under that weight? Give yourself a mental picture of the potential damage by imagining a heavy folded quilt suddenly dropped on top of your bushes’ fragile branches. Ouch.

You can tackle this problem by — once again — taking some extra time to choose the perfect spot to plant. DON’T put fragile or tiny bushes in a spot where snow tends to drift too heavily And whatever you do, avoid planting under a sloped roof or overhang that might suddenly dump a mini-avalanche of ice and snow on your fruit plants!

Heavy winter snows are an annual part of life for most northern fruit gardeners, and they’re just one of the many winter-season threats to growing fruit in zones 4 and colder (make sure you know how to find cold-hardy fruit trees before you buy!). However, the snow damage to your orchard or fruit garden can be largely avoided by careful placement and protection. Awareness of the potential dangers is key. It seemed so obvious when each of these problems hit me over the years, but unfortunately it took the death of many trees before I learned to prepare adequately for the impact of snow on my fruit gardens.

Don’t do this at home, kids.

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