We should all take a moment to reflect on the bounty the past series of storms have brought, and give thanks to those who truly deserve it: the manufacturers of pain relievers, soothing salves, and those stick-on heating pads.
But while people can find relief from the aches of shoveling snow via potions or warmth, our furry or foliaged companions are not so lucky. Deicer salt, when it gets into the pads of paws cracked and raw from ice, stings like the dickens, making wintry strolls a torment. In the garden, those salts are lethal to plant cells, and if they run off into the storm drains they add to pollution of our water.
Fortunately several non-salt alternatives are available for removing ice without menacing our lawns, pets and waterways. Look for pet-friendly products at local pet stores that are not comprised of chlorides, or check out local garden centers for organic products containing potassium acetate.
But be careful – none of these products is fool-proof and the label should be read, and its instructions followed, for safe use. Over applications of any product or use of it in an unsafe manner will cause problems, regardless of whether it is labeled organic or pet-friendly.
All the research on eco-friendly deicers I read included the message that, to be effective, deicing material must be used in addition to an aggressive physical snow removal regimen. Translation: shoveling.
One to two hours before snow is predicted to begin, lightly apply deicer to the walkway or drive. Be aware that potassium acetate can be slippery, so don’t over-apply. On top of this material, spread a thin layer of kitty litter or sand to provide traction during the storm.
Wait until after the snowfall has ended, then shovel as much from the walks as possible, and apply a light amount of deicer to soften the remaining ice. The point is to soften the ice for removal, not completely melt it. Over applying deicer in order to entirely melt snow means too much of the material is put down, and adds to runoff in the waste stream.
Toss fresh snow up onto the lawn or garden, but if it has deicer in it, leave it in an area that has good drainage but no plants – salt tossed over and over into the same spot builds up in the soil and stays there, burning roots during the growing season. Leaching salt from the ground can be difficult to do and takes a lot of water we may not have.
Many landscape plants are sensitive to having salt flung up onto their foliage or pooling in the soil. Shrubs such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), winged euonymous (Euonymus alatus), boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), and viburnums are salt-sensitive, as well as many popular trees, including Colorado spruce (Picea pungens), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and lindens (Tilia spp.).
Salt in contact with plants will cause bud death and twig dieback. Evergreens can show damage to their needles (with flecking of yellow or brown) as early as February.
Once snow and ice have been removed, apply another layer of kitty litter or sand to help with traction on ice melt. Don’t forget to stretch before shoveling that snow, and take it easy while lifting; snow can be heavy and it’s easy to overdo it. Just ask me – I’ll be at the drugstore in line ahead of you, buying up all the pain relievers.