Landscape Logic column: Does ice melt harm plants?
January 12, 2014
It's a fact of life during long Colorado winters that walks and steps need to be kept as safe as possible. The snow season is also the ice melt season.
It's also a fact of life that ice melt can be damaging to plants. And since plants, steps and walks generally co-exist, it's likely that plants along these icy areas will suffer. That's because almost all ice melt products are salt-based and salts damage plants. In addition, this salt not only gets into the soil, but will build up over time to become an ongoing problem. Season after season of using ice melt will continue to bump up the salt levels in the soil.
What happens? Just like when people eat salt and become thirsty, overly-salted plants will get thirsty and dry out. Flushing the area with water sometimes helps, but may not be completely effective.
How 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. Then 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 ice melt and it's next to plants, you may need to alter the planting area to accommodate your ongoing need to melt the ice. Try placing mulch over area affected by ice-melt accumulation and use containers for plants that are set on top of the mulch.
Are there other factors at play?
Sometimes factors like poor drainage can be the root cause of chronic icy areas. In this case, the best option is to solve the underlying problem that causes ice to accumulate in the first place. By solving this problem, you also mitigate the problem of over-applying ice melt that harms nearby plants.
Have your plants sustained salt damage?
If you suspect that plants have been damaged by salt, have them evaluated by a qualified horticulturist. Also, consider having a soil test done because it can confirm whether salt has been the cause. With this information, you can look for options that work equally well to keep people from slipping on the ice and plants from choking on the salt.
Becky Garber is member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.