It’s cold, it’s white, it’s going on forever, and it’s not even killing the bugs


Some of us are having trouble remembering the benefits of a cold, snowy winter. Especially when the disadvantages are so omnipresent every day of single digit temps, slick roads with minimal visibility, and—always—shoveling. Buffalo went from around 30 inches of winter snowfall at this time last year to 90-plus and counting for the winter of 2013-14, while cities and regions that never experience snow are struggling to adjust.  I know we’re not the only ones who are saying, “When will it end?”

But even if the benefits aren’t always clear and the inconveniences are many, the beauty remains. Light dustings almost every day maintain the sparkle, and trees have never looked as magnificent (Buffalo’s Delaware Park at top). Although the picture on Facebook you’re seeing of a frozen Niagara Falls is completely bogus, the real (partially frozen) photos look even better.

With the right gear, cold and snow can be fun—within reason.  Snow cover is a win for gardeners; it provides insulation that protects plants from freezing. And the freezing temps help kill off nasty pests like emerald ash borers and Japanese beetle grubs, right? Sadly, not so much.  Although this article is geared toward all pests, it does explain how insects such as the borer manage to get through zero temps. They burrow, they hide, and they’ve had months to figure it out. The prognosis for the lesser-known hemlock woolly adelgid isn’t as good; this winter has killed 92% of those sampled in my region. Having seen the devastation wrought by these creatures in the Great Smokies, I hope this winter provides some respite.

On the domestic front, I’ll be interested to see how my containers of tulips in the garage fare, as well as my unprotected hydrangeas and other marginal shrubs. If tree-destroying insects can survive, maybe they can too.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I for one am delighted with this winter in terms of the coming gardening season. I was panicking about a month ago when we lost a foot of snow overnight, got down to bare ground and then got into the subzero wind chills. Thank God we’re now buried under a good foot and a half of the white stuff! My plants should be safe until spring. And besides, those of us who are of a certain age recall that this is pretty much how winter always used to be (for the most part). I’ll agree that the temperatures this season are verging toward unheard-of territory. And as someone else who lives in western NY, I maintain that if we don’t have it now, we’ll have it in April and May when we DON’T want it! We never avoid winter here; we usually just postpone it. I’m really OK with this.

  2. I have been wondering about this as I sit forever inside in this brutally cold Minnesota winter. My favorite sentence in the article, Elizabeth, is “But despite our reputation for wintry weather, Buffalo cold is not Minnesota cold.” I am hoping the weeks of subzero will kill the iris borer eggs that may be lurking under the snow cover. Just hope the snow (two feet high in the garden) doesn’t all melt at once.

  3. I haven’t been thinking so much about pests, but we are having a colder winter than last year. The snow cover has come and gone, but I am happy with the foot or more that is protecting plant roots right now and I expect it to last – until the next snowfall.

  4. After a dry dry dry winter, we’ve just been walloped by a more typical winter storm here in Oregon. I’m not a fan of digging out of the snow (we got about 3 feet at our place), but we really needed the precipitation. Plus, I needed the enforced relaxation! I have books, knitting, food, snowshoes, movies–so I’m a happy camper!

  5. I love the first day after a snowfall. Clean, white, and magical. But then come the shoveled paths, car tracks, yellow graffiti from the dogs and icy patches. I always think that colder winters will kill off the big garden pests, but then when things warm up, realize that the gypsy moths, inch worms, Japanese beetles just burrowed under. When the snow finally melts I see all the vole holes. They’ve been eating away under the protective blanket of snow. This winter is severe. Maybe this will actually help reduce the number of pests next spring.


  6. We’ve been having huge problems with pine beetles out here in Washington. Now they’re saying we have to worry about bark beetles (they’re now taking out mature trees, which is uncharacteristic for them). Global warming is getting really concerning.

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