In the depths of winter the focus on what happens under our feet is generally centered around staying safe and minimizing slips, trips, and falls on steps or walkways covered in snow or ice. But while safety is a worthwhile concern, gardeners must also consider the detrimental long-term effects on soil health that can be caused by products commonly used to remediate dangerous winter conditions.
Sodium chloride, commonly called salt, is by far the most available and frequently used product for melting ice and snow. It is very effective, widely available, and affordable, but as snow and ice melt, salty water travels very easily out of its intended treatment area and into surrounding soil and storm drains. In garden beds its effects on plant material and soil life can be extremely harmful. Deciduous trees and shrubs exposed to salt may exhibit symptoms such as leaf scorch, twig dieback, stunted growth, or even death if the salt accumulation reaches to toxic levels. Evergreens will develop twig dieback and yellowing needles.
Luckily, many options are available that are less toxic and equally effective. With a bit of elbow grease and innovative thinking we can reduce the amount of toxic chemicals entering our storm sewers and garden beds.
Products containing calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and magnesium chloride are significantly less detrimental to soil and plant health. These widely available products melt frozen sidewalks as efficiently as salt does, but with fewer negative environmental consequences. Read the labels when purchasing these products to be certain you are taking home the correct formulation.
Areas that receive a lot of foot traffic may require chemical treatment to eliminate slippery conditions.Read more on finegardening.com