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Get rid of ice, but save plants

December 15, 2007|By BOB KESSLER

We all know that it is important to remove ice and snow from walkways to prevent injury. However, we often forget the damage that some materials we use to melt ice can do to plants and the environment.

For years, we used rock salt to melt ice on roadways and sidewalks. We have all seen the rusty bridges, guardrails and brown evergreen trees caused by using rock salt.

While the salt might be OK for roads, we need to be careful what we use around plants. Rock salt is sodium chloride. It will damage plants and leach into soil and affect plant roots.

A better alternative around plants is to use calcium chloride. As it comes in contact with snow and ice, it gives off heat and is more effective than salt at low temperatures. It is better around plants because it has calcium as an ingredient rather than sodium, which is harmful to plants. Be careful of tracking calcium chloride into the house as it can leave white residue on carpeted floors.


There are other materials that can be used to reduce the problem of slippery sidewalks. Some people will use sand, grit, sawdust, bird seed or cat littler to prevent slipping. In some situations, these products are easier on the environment than other materials you can select from.

Please, do not use fertilizer, especially urea fertilizer. It will melt snow and ice, but the nitrogen gets carried off by the melting ice and snow, and the nitrogen can end up in waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Whichever material is used as deicer, we still need to shovel once the deicer has done its job.

Bob Kessler is an extension agent for Penn State University and is based in Franklin County, Pa.

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