If you are like most people, you go to the hardware store and pick up two or three bags of rock salt to use on your driveway and sidewalks. Some products claim not to damage grass or plants (like calcium chloride or magnesium chloride), but if you use too much, it can still cause damage. There are also products that are safer for pets, but those products can cost 7 to 10 times more than common rock salt. So what’s the best way to protect your lawn and landscape plants from winter salt?
Safe Salt Alternatives to Melt Winter Ice
A cheap alternative to avoid winter salt damage on lawn and landscape is to use coarse sand. It does not melt the ice, but it can provide better traction. One thing to remember is that a lot of sand has water in it, so keep the bags some place warm. Once those sand bags freeze up, they are not much help until they thaw out again.
Some people think that using fertilizer is a good alternative, but it does not take too much of it to damage your lawn as bad if not worse that when using sand. Kitty litter and oil dry are two other products than can also be used in the winter, but once they melt into the ice, they are not much help.
You may be able to control how much salt or salt-alternative products you use on your own driveway and sidewalk, but there is not much you can do when the city plow trucks come down your street and cover your lawn and landscape with salt. I guess we can’t be too upset that they are trying to make our lives a little easier, but sometimes they tend to spread too much of a good thing.
Protect Plants From Salt Damage
If you have plants growing near the street, try putting up a barrier of burlap cloth to keep the salt from getting in the planting beds. Some people every try covering their plants with sheets of plastic, which is not a good idea. Basically, you are creating mini green houses and plants may prematurely produce leaves during the day, which will freeze when temperatures drop below freezing.
Just about every part of the U.S. must deal with snow and ice at some time during most winters. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact your local Spring-Green.
The first real snow fell across much of the northern US in the last week or so. When snow falls, out come the ice melting products. Salt can be very detrimental to lawns and landscape if not used carefully. If you do plan to spread some, use it carefully. Try to keep the ice melting product on the paved surfaces and off your lawn and out of your landscape beds as much as possible.
There are several types of ice melt products. Some of these products claim that they will not harm your plants, lawn or your pets. These are products like calcium chloride or magnesium chloride, but if you use too much, it can still cause damage. Most people end up using rock salt to melt the ice and snow on their sidewalks and driveways. One of the major reasons could be the cost. 25-lb. of rock salt costs around $7.00 where as a 25-lb. bag of “environmentally friendly” ice melt product runs about $18.00.
You can carefully apply whichever ice melt product you want on your own sidewalks and driveways, but you don’t have much control of what and where your city may fling their salt products. Some cities apply a brine solution to the streets to help prevent the snow and ice from sticking to the street. If there is a major snow event, the brine does not help very much.
Unfortunately some of the salt will end up on lawns. For the most part, the melting snow and subsequent spring rains will wash the salt down into the soil and not cause much damage. If your landscape is close to the street, it could end up with a coating of salt. This is especially true with low growing evergreens. Although it may be too late now, placing a barrier around your landscape bed will help deflect the salt. Burlap is also a good choice for a screen to keep salt away from the landscape beds.
Sand is a good alternative to using salt and will lessen the chance of slipping. Just remember, sand is usually moist when it is packaged. If it is left outside, you will have a 50-lb. block of sand that won’t be helpful at all.
Dealing with snow is just a way of life for those who live in the northern climates, but even the folks down south can experience some cold weather. In all honesty, I would rather have to deal with snow then streets covered in ice. Most southern areas don’t even have salt spreading equipment, so waiting until it warms up is the only thing to do.
Winter officially starts on December 21. The one good thing about that day is the amount of sunlight we receive starts to increase a little bit each day. It is a small blessing when you are shoveling 12 inches of snow off your driveway.
Overcoming Salt Damage: Reseeding & Weed Prevention It appears that the cold weather is behind us right now, but you never know what Mother Nature has in store for us in the upcoming weeks. For right now, we are going to enjoy the warmer temperatures and hope for the best.
With the warmer temperatures, the grass is beginning to grow and trees and shrubs are waking up from their hibernation period. As this is happening, we are beginning to see how the attempts to keep streets and sidewalks passable have resulted in extensive damage to turf and landscape plants. In particular, we are seeing the effects of salt damage over the winter.
Normal spring rains will help to wash the salt into the soil and reduce its effects on the grass, but in many cases, some reseeding or resodding will have to be completed for preliminary weed prevention. If these areas are not repaired, they are prime sites for weeds to germinate and grow. Weeds are more adapted to survive in soil conditions that won’t support good turf growth, so early weed prevention is crucial.
What about Plants That Have Been Damaged by Salt?
Reseeding a strip along a sidewalk or driveway is a good deal easier than trying to help a landscape plant recover from salt damage. In the picture above you will see some Euonymus that was heavily damaged by salt. There was a good deal of snow that fell in northern Illinois this winter. As soon as you cleared away the snow from one snowfall, another would quickly cover everything up again. When that snow was removed, salt that had been spread on the sidewalk was scooped up along with the new snow and moved off the sidewalks. This salt and snow mix was piled on throughout the winter, forming larger and larger piles. As this salty mixture melted, it drew out the moisture from the leaves, resulting in some badly damaged leaves. It will take some time to determine the extent of the damage.
Should I Cover My Landscape Plants with Burlap?
Many people and municipalities use burlap to protect their plants from salt damage during the winter, and this is a good idea. Unfortunately, it may be too late for these plants. I will watch these plants and monitor their recovery. As I said, it is too early to tell the extent of the damage, so all I can do is hope for the best.
This may go down as the winter that never seemed to end. In addition to the brutally cold temperatures, many areas are experiencing near-record snowfall totals. Considering the large amounts of salt used to keep the streets and sidewalks passable this winter, the possibility of damage to lawns and landscapes is extremely high.
When dealing with salt damage on a lawn, the best solution is lots and lots of water. Watering your lawn will wash the salt away from the lawn or help it to leach deeper into the soil. From my experience, most salt damage is located along the edges of sidewalks and driveways. In most cases, normal spring rains provide enough water to help the lawn heal itself.
The bigger problem comes when ice is plentiful and homeowners use too much salt to try to melt it. If the damage is confined to the first inch or so of turf, it usually recovers on its own. If the damage is more extensive and reaches further out into the lawn, some repair work is required.
The addition of gypsum in the salt-damaged areas will help replace the salt with calcium and sulfur, which will allow the lawn to recover. Apply about 5 to 10 pounds per 1,000 sq ft. and water it in. You may also need to add some clean topsoil to the area and reseed it.
If your lawn was damaged by a snowplow, I suggest you contact the company that did the plowing or the municipality if the damage was the result of its plowing activities. Most times, they take responsibility for the damage and repair the area at no charge. If not, repair may require additional soil and new seed or sod.
If the snowplow peeled back the sod while plowing, do your best to replace it back in the area where it originated, and it will usually re-grow. Try to do this as soon as the ground has warmed up enough to move the sod.
The temperatures will begin to improve, and your lawn will start growing again, guaranteed. I am not going to speculate as to the date when this will happen, but be prepared to start your year doing some lawn repair.
For much of the United States, record snow fall has made life miserable, especially in areas that are not accustom to two feet of snow on their home lawn for the entire winter season, let alone having it come down within a week’s time. For the most part, it will not affect your lawn to any great extent. Snow is a good insulator and the grass will be protected from the extremely low temperatures that often follow large snow falls. Most warm-season turfgrasses have not started to come out of dormancy, so they will be fine. Cool-season turfgrasses are adapted to cold weather, so they will be fine as well.
There are two problems that may surface as a result of all the snow. Salt damage along streets, driveways or sidewalks may require lawn care repair work in the spring. The other concern is the development of a disease called snow mold, especially if the snow melts quickly. The fungal growth of the disease moves across the surface of the grass plants and as it dries, it can seem to glue the grass plants together. This may inhibit the growth of new grass blades from below. These matted patches can be easily be broken up by lightly raking the areas or by using your fingers and quickly run them back and forth across the patch to break up the mat.