Skip to Content

Keeping Snow and Ice at Bay

by David Salman

Landscape covered by snow.
Landscape covered by snow.

Now that winter is upon us, this means snow and snow removal from our walks and driveways. Traditionally salt (sodium chloride) has been used to melt snow on roads and sidewalks. Salt lowers the freezing point of water and prevents ice formation after the snow melts.

But as gardeners, we need to remember that sodium chloride is not a friend to our gardens. Many plant species are susceptible to salt damage which causes leaf scorching and death in to the salt sensitive. Echinacea (Purple coneflower) is one such group of flowering perennials that hate (!!!!!) salty soils. Agastache (Hummingbird Mint or Hyssop) is another genus that hates salty soil.

I highly recommend using alternatives to common salt. If you’re going to use a salt, be sure your ice melt is made primarily from magnesium chloride and/or potassium chloride. But even these salts (which contain the plant nutrients of magnesium and potassium) can cause plant problems in flower beds along walks and driveways that are salted frequently.

Instead of salt around salt sensitive plants, I suggest using common sand or lava sand. I particularly like the lava sand (a bi-product of crushed volcanic rock) because it can actually improve soil aeration and porosity when mixed into the soil. Its dark color helps the sun to melt the snow and ice and its gritty, abrasive granules help your feet grip slick surfaces.