Using Ice Melt?

Snowy days, holiday parties and ice on the sidewalks are the perfect set-up for slip-and-fall accidents.  No one wants the festivities ruined with a sprained ankle or worse – and that’s why we sprinkle or shovel on the ice melt.  Using it during the winter months is a fact of life in Colorado to keep ourselves and our guests safe.

As with many of our convenience products, there is also a down side to using a lot of ice melt.  It is usually applied on walks and steps next to landscaped areas – and the salt from these products ends up in the soil that sustains our plants.  Season after season of using ice melt will bump up the salt content in the soil and that can damage plant life.

What happens?  Just like when people eat salt and become thirsty, overly-salted plants become thirsty and dry out.  Flushing the area with water sometimes helps, but may not be completely effective especially if salts have been building up over a long time.

To minimize salt damage:

  • Use ice melt products sparingly.  Play it safe on walks, of course, but pay attention to how much product it really takes to get the job done.  Less may be enough.
  • When ice is melting, avoid sweeping the puddles of salty water into planting areas.  Instead, let the moisture evaporate, sweep up any product that remains and dispose of it.

Through moderation and careful clean-up, you can reduce the amount of damaging salt that travels to the root zone of your plants that flank those always-icy steps and walks.

When you have a surface that absolutely requires lots of ice melt and it’s next to plants, you may need to make changes to the adjacent planting areas.   Modify the area.  If plants are not thriving due to salty soil, consider changing the landscape to accommodate the need to use ice melt.  Building raised planters that won’t get the salty run-off might be an option.  Or try placing mulch over the area where salty water drains and place containers with plants on top of the mulch.  A landscape designer can help explore the best options for the property.

Deal with the root problem.  Sometimes there are factors you can control that contribute to icy areas.  If the ice problem results from poor drainage, for example, then the best option is to get to the source of the underlying problem.  If you can solve the problem that causes ice to accumulate in the first place, you may need little to no ice melt going forward – and the walks will be much safer.

If you think your plants have salt damage, have the plants evaluated by a qualified horticulturist and consider getting a soil test that can confirm whether salt has been the cause.   With this information, you can look for options that keep your paved areas safe for people and also for the plants trying to have a healthy life beside them.

Happy Holidays!

Tip of the Week will resume January 8, 2016.

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