Snow and Ice Salt

Does anyone know of a brand or type of salt to use in snow/ice areas of the country? The regular salt for melting ice washes off when the ice melts and runs into some of our ornamental shrubs and perennials. This always results in plants nearest to the runoff dying by spring. Any suggestions are appreciated.
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Jim Schott wrote:

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Any de-icing agent will run-off when the ice melts. The only other way to melt the ice is with heat, which is very expensive. (Also, back during the "energy crisis" in the '70s some snowbelt states, such as Wisconsin, passed laws restricting the use of heated pavement.)
Rock salt is NaCl. Essentially it's big, dirty chunks of the same stuff that's used for table salt. When the temperature drops below 20-degrees, straight NaCl looses it's effectiveness. Many highway departments will spray their truckloads of rock salt with calcium chloride, which continues to be very effective even below zero. However it is far more corrosive than plain sodium chloride.
There are other de-icers out there, but they're far more expensive than rock salt, and probably not cost effective in the large quantities that you must be using for it to cause significant damage to plants. (If the run-off is just from a sidewalk or a typical residential driveway, you're using too much if it's killing the plants. Run-off from a huge parking lot or a wide roadway could be enough to cause damage, depending on the level of application as well.)
I would suggest shoveling walks and driveways, and only lightly salting any remaining icy spots. Also keep in mind that sunlight will do a lot to melt the snow as well. You could also mix the salt with sand. The sand, as long as it's not applied too heavy, will allow for traction until the salt can melt the remaining ice.
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Get some potassium nitrate or ammonium nitrate 16-20-0. These are fertilizers and should be gentle on your plants.
Derryl - Master Gardener

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The safest thing to use around plants is to use sand, ashes, or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.
Use of deicing products can damage both plants and the environment. The use of fertilizer for melting ice is not recommended because of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution effects to our streams and the estuaries they flow into. The runoff carrying deicing or fertilizer products from one sidewalk may not cause much harm but the combination of deicers used on all the sidewalks, roads, and parking lots in the region could create harmful levels of salts and nutrients entering storm sewers that eventually empty into our streams and eventually into estuaries. You can reduce pollution of local streams and estuaries by selecting the proper materials and methods for removing ice and snow.
The most common deicing agents are:
NaCl (sodium chloride or table salt or rock salt): Rock salt first was used as a road deicer in the 1940s. An estimated 10 to 14 million tons will be used yearly on roads in the United States and Canada. Sodium chloride is relatively inexpensive, but it can burn plants and corrode metal and concrete. Sodium chloride is the salt most commonly used to season food. The so-called "acid loving plants" are sodium sensitive and will usually be killed by NaCl. Usually plants which grow near the coast will not be affected, but most others will be damaged or die. NaCl is not too effective at melting ice below 20 degrees F (-7 degrees C). When sodium chloride is used as a deicer, it can result in roads becoming salt licking stations for wild animals, particularly deer and results in road accidents.
CaCl (calcium chloride) (-25 F) Calcium chloride is available in flakes, pellets or liquid. Calcium chloride produces an exothermic reaction, giving off heat. Because of this, it often performs better than many other deicing salts, especially at lower temperatures. Some highway departments spray liquid calcium chloride over rock salt to lower its melting temperature. It is less toxic than NaCl to plants but can create salt damage.
KCl (potassium chloride or muriate of potash) Potassium chloride is a naturally-occurring material that also is used as a fertilizer (muriate of potash) and food salt substitute, potassium chloride's high salt index has the potential to burn foliage and inhibit rooting.
Urea: Urea is synthesized from ammonia and carbon dioxide, urea is used primarily as a fertilizer. It has a lower burn potential than potassium chloride, and is a source of nitrogen fertilizer. Adjacent turf may green and grow excessively in the spring. If urea remains on top of the soil, it rapidly breaks down to ammonia, which escapes into the air.
Calcium Magnesium Acetate: The best option is calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). This is a new salt-free melting agent. It is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the principal compound of vinegar). CMA is being researched as an alternative to salts for environmentally sensitive areas. The product is being used on bridges sensitive to salt corrosion. Studies have shown the material has low toxicity and is biodegradable and has little impact on plants and animals and does not polute water. CMA is a proven low corrosion deicer and sometimes is added to salt to reduce the corrosion of salt. It is effective over a similar temperature range as road salt: performance decreases below 20 degrees F (-7 degrees C). Also, CMA deters deer from roadways. CMA has the aroma of vinegar, which does not appeal to animals.
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Use fertilizer instead of salt.

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Good suggestion! I regularly buy a few extra bags of 13-13-13 in the fall and store them for the times I need a deicer on my north facing driveway. The fertilizer melts the ice, although the run-off does leave streaks of extremely green grass in the yard in the spring, but no shrubs, trees, or grass are killed.
John
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Your best bet is to control the runoff -- e.g., redirect it around your beds. I'd think twice about using any type of fertilizer though -- you'll be walking on it which means you'll be tracking it into the house (especially bad if you have young children) and when it runs off you're just adding to the polluting of streams and the such. Cat litter and sand are both options for increasing traction although they will not actually melt the ice and get a bit messy.
Depending on the design of the area you can also boil up water, put it in a sprayer (such as one might use for spraying poison or fertilizer, but ensure it's new and clean to prevent contamination), then spray the walkway down to melt the ice. This will only work during the day when the sun can keep it melted and at that only until temps become consistently below freezing.
In our case, we only treat the walkway leading up to the house and even then it's only treated when absolutely necessary. For example, if we get a good snow we don't worry about it. When we shovel in the morning we just let the sun do its own thing (sun warming the concrete does the trick).
FWIW....
James
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Fertilizer will leave permanent rust stains on your concrete.
What state are you in. There is a product called Premier that is manufactured by a company in Salt Lake City and sold to retailers. I have had personal experience with this product and know it to be safe on grass, and usually safe on concrete. It comes in 50 lb boxes. If you need anymore information, contact me directly.
Dwayne

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It hasn't done that for me.
The only way fertilizer could leave rust stains would be if it contains iron salts, which it doesn't. Check the ingredients.

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What kind of salt do you use? Typically, ice-melting salt here is magnesium chloride, and I've never heard of anyone having problems with plants. I'm lazy, and don't particularly like to chip away ice, so I throw it down like I couldn't get rid of it fast enough, and have never had a problem with any of the grass or other plants.
steve
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