Conservation Connection: Ice melt and landscape health

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(KPLR) - We’ve gotten a break from the snow and ice for now, but winter is not over yet.  Next time we have another episode of snow and ice, consider this; what you use to remove ice and snow might affect the health of your trees.  Community Forester Perry Eckhardt talked with Elliot Weiler about a few tips on how to prevent potential problems that common ice melters might cause for your trees and plants.

Q.  How can ice melting chemicals harm our trees?

  • Popular ice melters that use sodium chloride (rock salt) and ammonium nitrate can contaminate soils and damage plants and trees
    • They can stunt their growth
    • Cause deformities
    • Make them more susceptible to disease
    • And in large enough amounts even kill them


Q. What might be some symptoms of exposure to these ice melters?

  • Evergreens tend to show immediate effects
  • Deciduous trees may not show any signs until the following growing season
  • Look for yellowing are dwarfing foliage
  • Branch and leaf dieback
  • Damage usually more evident on the side facing the exposure to the chemicals


Q.  What are some things homeowners can do to help prevent problems?

  • Avoid chemicals and remove ice by mechanical means if possible
  • Dig some sort of drainage channel or barrier around trees and plants where ice melters are used
  • Use just enough chemical to get the job done—don’t overdo it!
  • Use dark-colored abrasives instead of chemicals
  • Use ice melters with calcium chloride instead of sodium chloride because it’s less damaging
  • Wash away any visible salt residue from trees
  • Be especially careful in applying salts in late winter or early spring, or when the ground is not frozen—plants may be exiting dormancy and be more susceptible to damage


Q.  What are some things we can do if a tree is having problems due to exposure to ice melters?

  • Properly prune away any dead or deformed limbs
  • Apply gypsum to the exposed soil
    • Helps neutralize the effects of salt
    • A naturally-occurring mineral used as fertilizer supplement that does not harm the environment
    • Amount of application varies with the severity of salt exposure
    • Usually available in 50lb bags at nurseries and lawn and garden centers
    • Also can be used as a preventative measure where there is a risk of exposure to salt.


Q.  How can viewers learn more?

More detailed guidelines can be found on the Conservation Department’s website, by following the featured link or searching keywords “ice melters”