When I visited Niigata last year in November, I found that the trees there are not protected in the way I knew from Tokyo and other regions of Japan.
A large amount of snow in winter makes it necessary to create very strong protections for trees on Hokkaido and along the coast of the Japanese Sea, so I decided to research the methods of these regions further!
Niigata is known as the snow country. It is not impossible that snow piles up to a 3.5m height in one season!
Such an amount of snow bears a great weight and it is necessary to protect plants, buildings and the people alike during winter.
Today I want to introduce the special snow protection methods for plants in Niigata.
Perennials and Groundcovers
There are two types of perennials, those who lose their leaves in fall and grow back in spring, and the evergreen ones.
When the sun is shining in winter, evergreen plants are continuing with photosynthesis. For this process, water is needed. When the soil is frozen, the plants cannot draw new water from it and dry up.
Evergreen perennials are protected by the snow. It hinders the photosynthesis until it becomes warm enough for the plants to start the new growing cycle in spring.
Only plants which aren’t pretty frost resistant need protection made of, for example, straw.
Wrapping non-hardy plants with straw mats is called fuyugakoi 冬囲い.
If possible, the branches of shrubs are tied together to make sure that the heavy snow will not break them (Koshibori / Ōshibori 小しぼり / 大しぼり). If a single pole is added, usually bamboo, it is called Take-ippon-shibori 竹一本しぼりor Tenpu-shimetsuke 添付締付. As extra protection, wooden slats or bamboo stakes are added in campfire-style, either connected with ropes alone or even more slates/ stakes are added in between (Mitsumata-/Yotsumata-/.. shibori 三又しぼり).
The decorative yukizuri, which is well known as pine protection, wouldn’t grant enough security for most trees.
A popular method to provide more protection is to install four wooden posts, which meet at the top, connect them via smaller poles and adding bamboo stakes between the wooden posts (Ensui-gata 円すい型). This will break up the snow.
Another possibility is ringo tsuri, using one pole next to the tree’s trunk and securing the branches of the tree to it.
This can be combined with previously mentioned ensui-gata.
Either bamboo stakes are tied together to create a tent-like roof above the hedge (Gasshō-gata 合掌型), or a more or less flat construction of wooden poles and bamboo is built above it (Tanagakoi-gata 棚囲い型).
When planning the protection for shrubs and trees, it is necessary to clarify what they need to be protected from. Is it snow weight from above, snow weight from the sides, strong winds, or low temperatures. Depending on that, the protection method varies.
I hope I was able to give some insight into how gardens are protected in the snow country of Japan and it will help the one or other to protect their own trees in snow-rich countries outside of Japan.
For more insights into Niigata or rope works, please see also our other articles: