Deicing roads, driveways & walkways


Last year at this time we were snowed in with the second snow storm of winter and most of us were sick of shoveling snow and the cold weather. In December we had several snow falls, so I thought I should recycle this article on de-icers just in case we have a repeat of last winter.

When winter storms result in icy conditions, de-icers are sometimes used to help relieve some of the dangerous effects. However, precautions must be noted prior to their use.

De-icing salt, rock salt or sodium chloride is very effective in making our ice-covered roads and sidewalks safer on which to travel.

Unfortunately, it does not stay where it is applied. It moves either by water, wind and/or by traveling vehicles splashing the salts to nearby soil, turf, trees, shrubs and/or flowers.

De-icing salts affect plants in several of the following ways:
– Salts in the soil are very absorbent, causing roots to be deprived, which results in water loss in plants.
– Sodium ions can cause soil it to lose the ability to aggregate into clumps and can reduce pore space needed for air and water movement.
– Too much sodium in the soil will restrict a plant’s ability to use magnesium and potassium, nutrients essential for photosynthesis.

Overall, salt damage reduces plants’ vigor, making them more susceptible to pests (bad insects and diseases).

What do salt injury symptoms look like on plants? On evergreens, in most cases, needles on the side facing the walkways or roads turn brown-colored and die from the tips back. Foliage plants may exhibit stuntedness and yellow foliage and leaf margins may appear scorched or dead. Another symptom is that twigs may die back on some plants injured by de-icers.

So, what should we do or use to de-ice our sidewalks and driveways and to protect nearby soils and plants? Following are several “environmentally friendly” solutions:
Substitute with another abrasive such as sand, gravel, or cat box filler when possible.
Use calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). CMA is a small pellet-type substance made from dolomite lime and acetic acid (the ingredient in vinegar). It is also biodegradable, which means it is capable of decomposing by natural biological processes.

Develop a de-icing plan based on the weather. Be careful when spreading de-icers; apply the minimum amount needed to do the job.

Shovel salt-contaminated snow and ice from sidewalks and driveways and carefully place it on adjacent lawns and plants. The snow and ice will melt and drain into the soil and the roots of plants.

Grow salt-tolerant plants in locations where salt damage is unavoidable so they may survive salt injury. For example, ash, Norway maple, white oak, Russian olive, black walnut, bald cypress, junipers and blue spruce.

Fill or refill de-icing equipment carefully to avoid overloading or spilling salts. Be sure to clean up any excess.

Read and follow all de-icing product label directions.

Like last year, if we find ourselves in the middle of a winter wonderland of ice and snow and are forced to deice our roads, driveways and walkways, we can do this safely using this information to protect the environment.