Ice Melt and Your Plants
HOW SALT HARMS PLANT LIFE
The most common type of ice melting agent is rock salt (sodium chloride), though you might also see ice melt products made of calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or potassium chloride.
Salt can be incredibly dangerous to plant life. Plants normally need only a tiny amount of sodium for optimal health. But when large quantities of salt seep into the ground, it stops plants from taking up other nutrients, such as potassium and calcium, leading to unhealthy plants. Even in smaller amounts, rock salt and other ice melt products are harmful to plants. Once salt is dissolved in water, the sodium and chloride ions separate, and the chloride is absorbed by the roots and brought up into the plant. The salt pulls moisture out of plants, including any moisture in the leaves, branches, roots, or main stems of your shrubs and trees. In this condition, plants may not be able to draw in water, even if the ground is well watered. This is often the cause of the brown, dry leaf tips and dying leaves you may see on evergreens in winter or on new leaves in spring (this is called leaf scorch), as well a shriveled, dead shrubs and trees. Alternative ice melt products also cause extensive damage, although they may not be quite as destructive as rock salt. The chloride salts in any of these ice melts are corrosive and toxic, often killing most of the plant life close to roads or driveways where used. The main problem is that ice melt products dissolve as the snow melts, traveling into the soil where the roots of plants and trees absorb it. Anything planted near areas that are treated with salt or ice melt is at risk of damage from these dissolved salts.
ALTERNATIVES TO USING ROCK SALT
Try to remove the snow and/or ice before it settles and becomes more difficult to shovel. This may allow you to forgo using any kind of salt or ice melting product. If you’re expecting snow or ice, spread a light application of ice melt product before the weather arrives. This will minimize snow or ice build-up and make it easier to remove afterward. Ice melt has no effect on light, fluffy snow so it is a waste to use it in those situations. For traction on icy patches, use sand or cat litter instead of ice melt or salt.
If you must use ice melt products, apply sparingly and use a pet-friendly version (most people apply more than needed and too much can actually harm the concrete).
Dilute any ice melt with hot water and use a spray bottle to spray it onto the surfaces you’re trying to cover; this way you’ll use less of the product and it will likely be more effective (or use a liquid version of the melt)
Learn how to prepare your trees before winter arrives, including what types of winter protection to put in place. But, overall, the bottom line is to stay away from the salt whenever possible and to limit its use. A little goes a long way.
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