Thursday, January 25, 2018

Use Caution with De-Icing Salts

De-icing salt applicator, photo courtesy
Winter is in full swing in Jefferson County! Even though it's been a warm winter, snow and ice are inevitable. In addition to shoveling all that snow, many people also apply de-icing salts to make the walkways safe and passable. While these products can certainly help ensure safe footing in treacherous conditions, they can also damage the landscape plantings that they contact. So – what to do? Protect your footing or protect your plants? It’s possible to do both.

Salt damage on pine, photo courtesy Missouri Botanical Gardens

Salts can injure plants in two ways: they can be absorbed into the plant’s roots, or they can build-up in the soil – ultimately deteriorating the soil structure and interfering with drainage and root growth. Both of these conditions can have a negative impact on the plants and trees that you nurtured into good health all summer.

Here are some tips for plant-friendly de-icing:
  • Before applying any kind of de-icing material, shovel the walkway first. You’ll need less de-icer once all that snow is out of the way.
  • The most common de-icing salt material is sodium chloride, and it’s quite damaging to plants. But it’s relatively inexpensive, so it may be present in the de-icing product you have in the garage. If so, use this product sparingly, and avoid areas where it will have contact with plants, grass or trees. Mixing it with sand, cinders or ash will help with traction and decrease the amount of salt you need to use.
  • Try using just sand first. If you need to add de-icer, use only the amount necessary to do the job. In many cases, sand alone will do the job.
  • Think about where the snowmelt goes when the sun comes out. In my neighborhood, melting snow eventually drains into Sloans Lake. To protect the lake, I’m better off completely avoiding the use of salt-containing products.
  • Pay attention to where you pile all that snow, especially if you’ve used a de-icing product. Even if you put the product in the middle of your driveway, it could make its way to your grass if that’s where the snow gets piled.

This winter, be salt-savvy, sure-footed, and sensitive to your plant’s needs!