Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Melting Away the Icy Blues

When you venture outside this winter you’ll likely have some appreciation for ice melt products that keep you from slipping and sliding.  A number of different ice melt products (also called de-icers) exist and it’s in your best interest to inform yourself on their risks and limitations.

Magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride are common ingredients in de-icing products.  Calcium and sodium chloride can damage concrete surfaces, as well as stone and brick and are particularly harsh on plants.  Magnesium and potassium chloride are moderately damaging to plants.  There are also products labeled as “pet-friendly” or “environmentally-friendly”  that commonly use calcium magnesium acetate as an active ingredient.  These products typically cause little damage to concrete and plants and are often the best approach for effective melting without damaging landscapes.  The bottom line is that using excessive amounts of any of these products can lead to problems in the landscape and on surfaces.  You should always carefully follow the label of the de-icing product you’re using.

Occasionally people will use leftover fertilizer granules to melt ice.  While fertilizers do contain salt compounds, they are also full of other materials that will reduce the overall melting ability, so they don’t work as well as other de-icers.  Fertilizers applied to icy sidewalks, roadways and steps will be carried directly into drains, and eventually our creeks and rivers.  These excess nutrients in water supplies are a health threat and greatly damage natural habitats.  The bottom line... fertilizers should NEVER be used as de-icers!

The liberal use of de-icers during a harsh winter can lead to salt damage in landscapes.  Salt damage on plants is never an easy fix. Evergreen needles that have been sprayed with salt mist from roadways will turn brown.  Sometimes entire branches turn brown and die.  Salt can also cause stunted or deformed growth the following spring.  Research also shows that excessive salts can lead to greater susceptibility to insect and disease problems.  Be mindful of the risks of excessive amounts of de-icers near your plants.

It’s important to understand that ice melt products cannot replace the chore of shoveling.  Ice melt products work best if they are applied BEFORE snow and ice coat surfaces.  You can also utilize sand to help you gain traction on slick surfaces.  Always apply de-icing materials safely and wisely and remember... it’s only 67 more days until the official beginning of spring!

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