The Richmond Register

January 29, 2014

Be careful with de-icers

Chemicals can harm plants

By Amanda Sears
Extension Agent

RICHMOND — When snow and ice occur, one of the first things we do (other than making sure we have plenty of milk and bread) is to begin applying de-icers to our sidewalks and steps.

What you may not know is that the salt in de-icing materials may be harmful to your landscape. The salt can seriously injure or kill plants growing next to these paved areas. Grass leaves, crowns, and roots are especially susceptible, as well as trees and shrubs.

The chemicals in de-icing agents may also build up in the soils. A soil with high salt content may damage a plant’s root system, leading to symptoms of leaf scorch, stunted growth, and lack of vigor.

If you are worried about harming your plants, use a de-icer that contains calcium magnesium acetate or calcium chloride, instead of sodium chloride. Other materials, such as sand, sawdust or kitty litter can also be used to gain traction on the ice and snow.

Another option is to mix a de-icing agent with one of these alternative materials. Some recommend using granular fertilizer to combat ice. Fertilizers may be less damaging than sodium chloride, but you need to remember that their overuse also can be harmful to plants or cause extremely rapid growth in the spring.

If your street is often salted and plowed in the winter, salt damage may be unavoidable. If this is the case, it may be in your best interest to invest in plants that can tolerate salt accumulation.

These trees and shrubs have shown resistance to de-icing salts: white ash, honeylocust, black locust, eastern red cedar, Colorado spruce, Austrian pine, Pfitzer juniper, mock orange, fragrant and staghorn sumac and Rugosa rose. Avoid planting arborvitae, beech, holly, dogwood, hemlock, Scotch pine and white pine in areas where salt may accumulate.

Use de-icers correctly. These products are not meant to melt all the ice and snow on your pavement, only to break the bond between it and ice.

Most people apply too much of these chemicals. Follow the manufacturer’s label. Wait for the melting action then mechanically remove the ice.

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