• By Faye Kuosman, Extension Agent

Horticulture

Winter deicing agents Salt damage can cause disease-like symptoms in spring. Deicers often contain salt, and most salts are toxic to plants. There are four common deicing salts available on the market.

Rock salt or sodium chloride is cheap and readily available. It is also the most toxic to plants and can cause severe damage. Magnesium chloride, an ingredient in deicing brine, is equally toxic to plants (although touted as safe for concrete). Potassium chloride is a better choice, as it is an ingredient in many granular fertilizers. Over-application, however, can lead to salt toxicity. The newest salt deicer is calcium magnesium acetate. It is the most plant- and pet-safe (and most expensive) of the commercial products.

Alternatives to deicing salts include sand and sawdust. Avoid messy ash and kitty litter. In most cases, deicers are not necessary. Shoveling snow before it packs into ice is usually sufficient. Sand can be used if snowfall is continuous. In most cases, Kentucky’s severe weather events are short-lived, and no action is needed at all. Just wait for a sunny day melting event.

In cases that deicing salts are warranted, follow these steps: choose the least toxic of the salts. Use a minimal amount of deicer. More is not better! A coffee mug of salt (about 12 oz.) is all that is needed for about 1,000 sq. ft., approximately the area of a 20-ft driveway or 10 sidewalk squares. Spread salt evenly leaving about three inches between salt grains. Avoid spilling piles of salt. Keep broadcasted salt away from plants. Consider runoff during melt. Never shovel snow onto beds or borders if salts were applied.

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