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Total Landscape Management

Is Salt and Ice Melt Bad For My Lawn?

06-Dec-2018 | by Scott Bennett

Winters in Salt Lake City, Utah, can be snowy and icy. Snow will come down and partially melt, and then will freeze overnight, making things slick. We’ve got more cars than ever on the roads and snowy, slick roads, if untreated, will lead to accidents. The solution to slick roads for many cities is to send out snow plows to remove snow as soon as possible and then to put rock salt on the roads to melt ice and to improve slick spots. This method does clear roads and makes winter travel a lot safer than it could be. Thank goodness for things like ice melt and professional snow removal.

The only problem with this method is the negative effect of rock salt on plants, cars, and driveways. Rock salt can corrode cars and driveways. Too much rock salt (Sodium Chloride) will kill or injure the grass and other plants you just had the professional landscapers make look so pretty. The sodium in rock salt blocks a plant’s uptake of key minerals. The chloride in rock salt will essentially starve a plant, disrupting photosynthesis which is how a plant turns light into energy and food. It also takes needed moisture way from plants.

So what is to be done? We have to be able to safely drive in the winter. How can we minimize the effect of rock salt on plants? Below are tips to being safe this winter AND protecting your plants.

  1. Shovel often. When it snows, get the snow removed from your driveway that same day, before it has a chance to freeze. You will love having a clear driveway, even when show is piled high on your grass.
  2. Use rock salt sparingly or switch to an alternative. Rock can corrode your driveway if too much is used. And then, when you shovel, you are essentially shoveling it onto your lawn and plants. Consider using an alternative to rock salt (Sodium Chloride). There are several alternatives that are slightly more expensive but melt snow and ice at colder temperatures than rock salt and are better for the environment: Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, or Potassium Chloride. The least toxic is, of course, the most expensive. It’s called CMA, a combination of Calcium and Magnesium Acetate. It’s about as corrosive on driveways as tap water and is not toxic to plants.
  3. You don’t have to use salt! Use an alternative to salt to increase the grip on your sidewalk and driveway. You can use sand or even kitty litter on walkways and steps to give better grip in icy conditions.
  4. Avoid piling snow on landscape. When you shovel your walks and driveway, if you pile the snow in the same place every time, say, on top of landscape lining your walkway for example, overtime salt residue present in the snow will start to build up and will start affecting your plants.
  5. In the spring, rain can help to wash away salt residue. If you have a dry spring, you may want to rinse off your plants to reduce the salt on them or in the soil near them. 
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