Protecting Your Plants From Ice Melt Products

by Carmen Corbin on February 25, 2012

When ice and snow accumulate on walking surfaces, they can create quite a hazard.  Every winter, Americans spend a great deal of money on snow plowing services and ice melting products to help avoid slip and fall injuries.  But when spring arrives, we find that our plants have often paid the price for our safety. 

How Ice Melt Products Can Affect Your Plants

The two most common ice melt products used are rock salt (sodium chloride) and calcium chloride.  Others include ammonium nitrate, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and even urea.  As they melt the ice and snow, runoff into adjoining areas can greatly affect your landscaping plants.  Excessive amounts of any of these products can accumulate in the soil, causing root burn, water absorption problems, plant stress and wilting, which could result in the death of the plant.  Direct contact with the plant’s foliage, especially in evergreens, can cause parts of the plant to turn brown and also die.

So What Can Be Done?

One of the most important things you can do is consider your alternatives.  Before you apply any ice melt, use a snow shovel to clear away as much as you can.  This way, you’ll need less product to clear the surface.  Another plan of action is to use a more environmentally friendly material, such as sand, sawdust or cat litter.  Although they won’t melt the ice, they will provide a lot of traction, which will also help prevent accidental slips.

To prevent runoff, you can also install channels along the sides of sidewalks and other walkways to collect the runoff and drain it away from your plants (sort of like a mini gutter system).  Also, as you apply the ice melt, hold it as low to the ground as comfortably possible to make sure the wind doesn’t blow it toward your plants.

Soil Testing:  If you suspect that your soil contains too much ice melt, you can perform a soil test to check the level of salt and other chemicals.  Your local county extension office may be able to assist with the test, help interpret the results and offer suggestions.  Sometimes a good strong rainfall or flushing with fresh water is all it takes to improve the soil and protect your plants from any damage.

For more information on ice and snow removal strategies, consult a local snow removal service or professional landscaping company.

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