[Reviewed and updated December 2020]
You may not think much about choosing ice melt products. Many homeowners and gardeners are unaware of the potential harm some products can cause to plants and the environment as well. While safety is the main concern for using these products, especially on roadways, most folks are unaware of the residual impact of deicer products on their walks and driveways. Even common table salt (sodium chloride) can create high salinity in the soil and reduce a plant’s growth. Continued exposure can even cause plants to die.
I look for products that are labeled pet and plant safe. However, know that they do have trade-offs such as being more expensive and not as fast acting. The ingredient I look for is calcium magnesium acetate. It works at 0 degrees and has low toxicity and is biodegradable.
I have collected some Cooperative Extensions resources to help you learn about the right product choice for your needs.
- Purdue University Extension: Salt Damage in Landscape Plants (with alternatives list of safer products)
- From the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension: Melting Ice Safely Fact Sheet
Because you can’t control what your local transportation departments use to treat roads (and safety is of course their primary concern) sometimes you have to take the approach of carefully selecting plants that are near roads and tolerant to deicer salts. Here are some resources on plants that are salt tolerant:
- Virginia Tech Extension: Trees & Shrubs that Tolerate Soils and Salt Spray Drift
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Salt Tolerant Plants
- Hoffman Nursery: Salt Tolerant Grasses
- Michigan State University: Salt Tolerant Trees
So next time you pick up some de-icer remember to stop and read the label carefully to find out what is in that product before you buy. Reading labels leads to wiser choices and saves plants!