Tag Archive | salt damage

Winter Care

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce and St. Croix counties UW-Extension

Each winter brings challenges for our outdoor landscapes, and when spring comes, we find winter injury on lawns and other plants. Some of these problems can be avoided with proper winter maintenance.

Be careful when shoveling, plowing, or blowing snow so it doesn’t land on tree or shrub branches and crack them. Frozen branches can be easily damaged, and that damage can ruin the plant’s structure forever.

Also, don’t remove snow from the lawn grass. Snow helps insulate the soil so it doesn’t freeze as hard. It also protects the crowns of the grass plants from the drying winter weather. The snow keeps them dormant until the time is right to start growing.

If possible, avoid mountains of shoveled snow, because deep piles that melt into chunks of solid ice can smother the grass, resulting in dead spots.

Salt is very harmful not only to lawns, but to trees, shrubs, and perennials when it gets in the soil. If you use products to melt ice on walkways and drives, look for one that does not contain sodium chloride and is environmentally friendly and safe for plants. When you shovel treated areas, try not to pile salt-laden snow all in one place, or near plants that may be damaged.

Once snow starts melting or if we get a winter thaw and lawns and gardens are exposed, don’t walk on them. That can damage the grass and compact the soil.

Visit our previous blog post on alternatives to salt here.

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Salt Alternatives

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Winter salt damage to lawn

When winter comes, it’s important to keep walkways safe, but the chemical compounds sold for de-icing all contain some form of salt, which you don’t want leaching into your soil. Although calcium nitrate or high-nitrogen fertilizer is often recommended as a more benign alternative, an overdose of nitrates isn’t really any better than a buildup of salt itself. In either case, soil organisms are damaged, plant roots can be burned, and leached-out excess winds up in the groundwater.

So what do you do? Start with prevention. There will be very little ice to worry about if you are careful to keep the walkway well shoveled in the first place. Remove snow right down to the path surface as soon as it falls (walking on snow compacts it and makes it stick). Pile the snow on the downhill side, so it doesn’t flow over the walkway when it melts.

Next, cover any ice you do get with something that will provide traction. Clay cat litter and coarse sand both work well and won’t be much of an indoor problem if you keep a mat or bootbrush by your door.

Alternatively, you can add traction to the walkway by covering it with temporary “paving” that has a nonslip surface. There are specially designed flexible metal grids sold for this purpose at hardware stores and through specialty catalogs. Or you can use panels of asphalt roofing shingles. They cost less and work just as well, although they are less than lovely (sprinkle sand under the shingles so they don’t slip around).