Can the Salts in Icemelt Damage Plants?


Welcome to beautiful Colorado! Yes, another snowfall overnight and as part of winter, we don’t only get snow but ice as well. Therefore, as good citizens and neighbors, we all want to keep our walks and drives safe for pedestrians and may wonder what to use. Many use ice melt products but may be concerned whether or not it harms their plants. The answer to that question is “Yes”. Let us explain why.


The felon here is Salt: Ice melt products are salt-based and almost all products in the market have salts. The truth is that salts are damaging to plants. Using ice-melt year after year increases the salt levels in the soil as soil absorbs the salts after every application. Why the concern? Let’s ponder for a moment: what happens when you eat salt? Yes, you become thirsty. That is no different for plants. So what do you do? You drink water. Therefore, your plants will need water but unlike people, flushing the affected areas with water will help but not solve the problem for your plants.
Here are some tips to help you minimize salt damage:
·         When applying ice melt to walks, assess how much product it really takes to get the task done. A smaller amount may be sufficient.  
·         It may take you a few more minutes to sweep up and dispose of ice melt residue products once the ice has melted and the moisture has evaporated, but, doing this will conserve the beauty of your plantings as opposed to just sweeping the puddles of salty water into planting areas and having the soil absorb the damaging salts traveling to the roots and making your plants thirsty and dry.
·         If you have an area that requires you to use ice melt and it's next to plants, here’s an idea: Add mulch over the area affected by ice-melt accumulation and place container plants on top of the mulch. 
·         If having to deal with ice is the result of poor drainage, you will need to find other solutions to solve this problem.
Are you concerned that your plants may have suffered salt damage?  Consider getting a soil test to confirm the salt levels and whether salt is the cause or have the plants evaluated by a qualified horticulturist. Once you assess if salts are the problem, consider your options: different products to keep your walks and drives clear of ice or possibly a small landscape redo.

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