Landscape Logic: Does ice melt harm your plants?
Ryan Summerlin November 18, 2012
The temperatures are diving this time of year.
Cold, snowy days and high temps barely at the freezing mark may mean a trip to the hardware store for some ice melt. It’s a fact of life in Colorado winters that we need to make our walks and steps as safe as possible.
Yet, while ice melt deals with the slip and slide, it is also harmful to plants.
Almost all ice-melt products are salt-based, and salts are damaging to plants. The salt from ice melt not only gets into the soil, but it 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 it may not be completely effective.
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 and 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 alter the planting area to accommodate your ongoing need to melt the ice. Try placing mulch over the area affected by ice-melt accumulation and place container plants on top of the mulch. Removal and replacement of the salty mulch each spring will reduce some of the negative effects.
Also, pay attention to other factors that contribute to icy areas. If the ice problem results from poor drainage, for example, then the best option is to solve the problem that causes ice to accumulate in the first place.
Do you think your plants may have suffered 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 work equally well to keep people from slipping on the ice and plants from choking on the salt.
Becky Garber is a 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.