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Deicing Products May Damage Plants and Hardscapes

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Love the cold weather or hate it, an Oklahoma winter can cause challenges to the state’s residents. Although extreme cold weather isn’t the norm, we all have to deal with it on occasion. Roads, sidewalks and parking lots quickly become skating rinks when the temperature drops, leaving a layer of ice on everything. 


Manually removing ice and snow is effective and environmentally friendly. The less ice and snow present means less deicing material is needed. However, manual removal isn’t always feasible, so other methods need to be considered. Sand is also environmentally friendly, but while providing traction, it doesn’t melt ice.


The use of deicing compounds is a must in order to keep surfaces safe for motorists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, these compounds can have potential negative impacts on plants and hardscapes.


The most common deicing method involves using salt to melt ice and snow. While it does a great job of preventing slips and falls on icy surfaces, sodium chloride and calcium chloride pose various risks to the environment. Sodium chloride, also known as table or rock salt, is widely used and most effective at temperatures above 15 degrees Fahrenheit. When the ice melts, it creates saltwater, which harms landscape plants. In addition, sodium builds up in the soil, which can be harmful to plants by disrupting their water balance and nutrient uptake. It can also cause dehydration in plants.


Calcium chloride dissolves quickly and is effective in the extreme cold – down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. The downside is it’s highly corrosive to concrete and metals. However, it’s less damaging to plants than sodium chloride.


Potassium chloride is a natural material used for fertilizer but is highly corrosive as a deicer. Like calcium chloride, it’s less damaging to plants. 


Another option is calcium magnesium acetate. It is environmentally friendly, noncorrosive to concrete, biodegradable and much safer for plant material in the landscape, but it is much more expensive.


Keep in mind that damage caused by deicing compounds isn’t limited to your own landscape. Melting ice can cause runoff into nearby bodies of water, which can lead to soil and water contamination and can affect aquatic ecosystems.


Deicing salts can speed up the corrosion of metal structures, including bridges, guardrails and vehicles. Damage to these things can lead to increased maintenance costs. Also, concrete and masonry deterioration can occur.


Homeowners need to plan ahead to help combat issues caused by deicing compounds. Plant salt-tolerant plants in areas where deicing material will be used. Gutters on a home can help prevent runoff from freezing near sidewalks and porches. In addition, when shoveling snow/ice that contains deicing compounds, don’t pile it on planting areas.


In the spring, it’s a good idea to irrigate heavily to help leach salts away from plant materials

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