De-icing driveways without rock salt

February 21, 2009|By ROBERT KESSLER

Rock salt does a good job of de-icing sidewalks and driveways, but it can also seriously injure or kill plants growing next to these paved surfaces. The most obvious damage occurs to turf grass.

Rock salt often kills grass leaves, crowns and roots. Some weeds tolerate the high salt levels, and a common weed called knotweed often moves into areas after the grass dies.

Salt can more subtly damage trees and shrubs growing close to paved surfaces. The soil's high salt content damages the plants' root systems. This causes stunted growth and leaf scorch the following growing season. Scorched leaves turn brown around the edges and brown tissue develops between the major veins in the leaf.

Maple trees commonly display leaf scorch symptoms. The root systems of sugar maples are very sensitive to high salt levels in the soil and often decline over a period of years and then die prematurely.


Salt spray from traffic during winter can accumulate on evergreen needles and twigs and limbs of deciduous trees and shrubs. This often causes evergreen needles to turn brown and fall off.

The plants usually survive, but have only the current season's needles the following summer.

This makes evergreens look rather sparse. Deciduous trees and shrubs respond to salt poisoning by producing bunchy twig growths called "brooms." Again, this produces deformed growth and possible twig or branch death.

There are many ways to prevent salt injury to plants. One is to reduce the amount of salt you apply.

Most people spread more salt than necessary to do the job. You can also use other materials that do not damage plants.

Materials to try include sand, deicing products with calcium chloride, or even granular plant fertilizer. Fertilizers do a good job of melting ice and might help plants growing near driveways or sidewalks.

Plants that attract song birds

Interest in songbirds is growing every year. If you would like to attract songbirds to your property, think carefully this winter about the trees, shrubs and other plants that will make up your landscape.

Careful landscape planning and plant selection will help you create an attractive, functional landscape for both people and birds this spring. Some birds commonly nest in cities; others nest in rural areas.

Besides these nesting birds, many migrant birds might stop for a day or two during their migration if they find your property attractive.

And do not forget about the birds that stay through winter. They add interest to the winter landscape and are more likely to visit your property if you design and plant the landscape with birds in mind.

Bird feeders and birdbaths will increase your ability to attract a variety of birds year-round.

Landscape plantings can make your property attractive to birds in several ways. Plants provide year-round shelter from predators and harsh weather. Plants provide safe nesting sites and a safe place to rear young.

Landscape plants might supply food in the form of fruit, seeds, and nectar. Many birds also find landscape plantings a convenient place to hunt for insects.

When you select trees, shrubs and vines, consider their landscape value for both you and the birds.

Use plants with good summer and fall foliage, attractive flowers, colorful fruit, interesting branching patterns, and attractive bark. You should also consider maintenance.

For example, you'll want to avoid plants with pest problems that require frequent or regular pesticide sprays to control.

With these tips in mind, here are some excellent landscape trees, shrubs and vines to attract birds. Evergreen trees are important because they provide year-round cover for birds.

Some of the better large-scale evergreen trees are white pine, Douglas fir, Norway or white spruce and Colorado blue spruce. Small- to medium-scale evergreen trees include arborvitae and red cedar. One of our native junipers, eastern red cedar, is a favorite of cedar waxwings.

Medium- to large-scale flowering deciduous trees famous for attracting birds include the serviceberries or juneberries, dogwood, several of the hawthorns and the many varieties of flowering crabapple. There are also many flowering shrubs that will attract birds.

Some of the best include gray dogwood, redosier dogwood, staghorn sumac, arrowwood viburnum, blackhaw viburnum, American cranberrybush viburnum, black chokeberry, and winterberry holly.

Some good vines for birds include American bittersweet, Boston ivy, and Virginia creeper. Trumpet vine will attract hummingbirds in the summer. Take the time this winter to plan your landscape so you are ready to plant when spring arrives.

Rain barrel workshop

There will be a workshop for the public on Tuesday, March 10, on how to construct a rain barrel. You can register for either the session from 9 to 11 a.m. or from 6 to 8 p.m. You will learn why you should use a rain barrel and actually help construct a barrel that you will get to take home.

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