When a storm hits, the first inclination is to go out and throw some type of ice melter down. But in our haste, we sometimes forget about possible consequences.
Deicing products are mainly composed of a form of salt or a combination of salts and other products that can harm plants and pets. Although some are safer than others, there are some tips to make dealing with them a little safer and easier.
What works, how and why?First, let’s look at options.
Calcium chloride is what many people think of as traditional ice melt. It gives off heat as it dissolves and works down to minus 25 degrees, which makes it a good choice in very cold weather. However, it can leave residue and damage vegetation corrode metal.Magnesium chloride is the ice melter most commonly used by many road crews, especially as a treatment before storms. Mag chloride lowers the freezing point and will work down to minus 15 degrees. If used sparingly and as directed, it is relatively safe for plants and pets.Potassium chloride is commonly used as a fertilizer, but will work as an ice melter too. It works down to 15 degrees, but is often more expensive than other options. You can mix it with rock salt to make it go further and make it a little less costly. This is an option that is relatively safer to apply near plants, but can still cause problems if it is used too heavily.Sodium chloride is good old-fashioned rock salt. It’s the least expensive and is easily available. And although it won’t hurt your concrete, it can be the most damaging to plant material. This works best when temperatures are in the 20s. If the temps are below that, this would not be your deicer of choice. Use it sparingly and in small amounts.Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is a popular new product. It’s not a salt or chloride product so it doesn’t form a “brine” like the salt-based ice melters. It is effective down to 20 degrees and is biodegradable. Sounds perfect right? The downside is that although it is often advertised as pet-friendly, calcium magnesium acetate is usually much more expensive than salt-based formulas.It’s important to know how to effectively and safely use these products to protect your plants. Consider applying the products before the snow arrives. Called “anti-icing” this is a great way to get a jump on snow removal. Apply in advance only if you are certain of a snow or ice event, or wait until the snow just begins to fall.
If you’ve waited until the snow has accumulated or stopped, begin the cleanup process by shoveling as much as you can. The safest way is to clear the walkways with a shovel. If you can get most of it removed that way, this will mean that you can use less of the ice melter products to do the job. Although all the products may damage vegetation and concrete, if you follow directions, spring rain should wash away most of the threat.
Keep the products as far away from shrubs, garden beds, trees and other vegetation as possible. No matter what you use, too much of it too close to plants is a bad idea. When you shovel, try not to move the snow that has been treated with the deicers directly onto your plants. Dump contaminated snow in areas that do not contain plants and where the spring melt won’t reach them. If you do accidentally get some on your plants, knock the snow off with a broom. Flush the area with water as soon as possible if you think you have over-applied a product or if it has gotten too close to plant material – it may save some sensitive plants from harm.
One thing that works to our advantage in our area is our altitude. Most days, if you can use a small amount of these products to get the melting process started, the sun will take over by afternoon. A word of caution though: Don’t do anything if we are in the middle of a very cold snap and temperatures are below the recommended ones for that product. If it’s too cold, they will not be effective.
If you prefer to take a more natural approach, consider products such play sand, kitty litter, sawdust or even birdseed. Although they won’t melt the snow or ice, they will give traction on slippery walkways. You may also consider using them mixed in with deicing products in order to use less of the chemical treatments.
Considering the possibility of injuries caused by slippery conditions, using a deicer outweighs the potential disadvantages. Used in moderation and with some guidelines, they can be both plant, pet and environment friendly. In the meantime, enjoy the winter and revel in all of the moisture. There’s a great gardening season ahead!
Gail Vanik can be reached at 970-565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.