Keeping Snow and Ice at Bay

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. We carry the product from our compost supplier, Soil Mender Products of Tulia, TX at our Santa Fe Greenhouses and High Country Gardens Stores, but if you can’t find it locally, here’s the link

6 thoughts on “Keeping Snow and Ice at Bay”

  • K Johnston
    K Johnston 01/03/10 at 5:56 am

    Enjoyed your reminder to be wary of salt use. Trivia Fact: Oregon outlaws salt use on roads in winter because of concerns with native plant species. Meanwhile, neighboring Idaho & Nevada DO allow it, so their roads remain clear of ice while ours are treacherous, but have healthy roadside growth. I live in an area where subzero is a fact of life all winter, so have ocasionaly bought salt-type ice melt by mistake. I'd never thought about using sand though. Thanks!

    • David Salman

      KJ, I didn't know that OR prohibited road salt! Our highway department use crushed red lava rock (scoria) mixed with salt, although the scoria is very effect without the salt. Sand is also very helpful getting traction on ice. And here in sunny NM, it heats up and helps to melt the ice.

      Looks like we're in for a long winter; stock on the sand.

  • Molly Griego
    Molly Griego 01/27/10 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for the tips! Also, what do you use at Santa Fe Greenhouses? Thanks!

  • Beth Clemensen
    Beth Clemensen 02/24/10 at 7:33 am

    At home I use urea, and also potassium something. Not chloride. Both are agricultural products, and I buy them in 50 pound bags (the minimum size) from the local farm coop. Urea is dried urine, so high in nitrogen. I alternate using them, although urea is about half the cost. I use them only on my steps, and in panty hose I throw on the roof to melt ice dams. The farm coop always knows what I'm talking about when I want a salt substitute that doesn't hurt my plants, even if the names skip my mind.

  • Bruce

    Thanks for the tips! Also, what do you use at Santa Fe Greenhouses? Thanks!

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