Avoid using rock salt for de-icing

  • Posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 12:54 a.m.
    UPDATED: Friday, January 25, 2013 1:44 a.m.

SALISBURY — Sidewalks, driveways and entryways may be extremely treacherous with winter weather. Many people will apply rock salt to quickly melt the ice and snow on sidewalks and drives.

There are now products on the market used for rapid ice melt that will not damage plants. However, some still use rock salt. Ice cream salt is very dangerous to plants and should be avoided as an ice deterrent.


Rock salt should be applied sparingly, avoiding placement near valuable landscape materials to avoiding salt run-off, which damages plant material. Rock salt works well but can damage landscape plant materials and can also be a runoff pollutant that may damage streams.

Normally, two or more light salt applications are no cause for concern. Snow, ice and normal rainfall normally leach salt through the soil, preventing plant damage. Colder northern climates, which often require routine salting, see extensive salt damage to turf and shrubs.

Salt damage to landscape plants is similar to over-fertilization. Leaf margins and tips easily burn, with eventual defoliation. Extreme damage shows itself quickly, in a matter of days, whereas slight salt damage may not manifest itself until spring or early summer.

Try to keep salt and other de-icing granules as far away from trees and shrubs as possible when applying to entrances, sidewalks or roads. Be sure to read and follow the instructions and apply only as needed. Those who apply salt on a routine basis should plan to leach shrubs with water during the spring.

Salt damage can be avoided by using rock salt substitutes. These de-icers effectively melt ice and are safe on the plants and the environment. Ice melting substitutes are available in both granular and liquid formulations for easy application.

Sand is also an effective salt substitute. Sand does not melt ice or hard-packed snow, but it does provide good traction to prevent slipping. It’s messy and somewhat unattractive, but sand stays on the surface of the ice through its duration and is easily swept off when sidewalks dry. It is the safest way to protect tender shrubs or trees.

Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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