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A winter threat to plants

A winter threat to plants


In the winter months, snow and ice can be a detriment to most anything we do outdoors. Ice on sidewalks and driveways can cause people to fall and injure themselves. De-icing salts are used to melt the ice and help give people and vehicles the traction they need to move forward and not fall. However, these de-icing salts can be harmful to our plants.

Plant damage from De-icers

When we use de-icing salts and it gets piled up or sprayed onto our landscape from roadways, this can be very harmful to plants. The sodium found in the de-icing salts can damage the soil causing roots to struggle to absorb water. The salts can also cause a crust to form on the soil surface making it very difficult for water to penetrate through. This lack of water can cause desiccation or drying out of the plant material which shows up as yellow or brown spots on the plant. It can also cause stunted growth, dead patches in the lawn, branch dieback, or leaf tip burn.

The damage from these de-icers, however, will not be seen until in the spring when plants start to green up. Other plants that were not injured by the deicing salts will green up while damaged plants will not or evergreen plants will develop brown patches in the growth.

How to avoid damage from de-icers

Damage from de-icing salts can be avoided in a few different ways. First of all, try using products that are less harmful to plants. Sodium chloride is the most commonly used product, it is what we often use on roads. This product is inexpensive and easy to find, but quite harmful to our plants.

Products such as calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate are less harmful to plants. However, these safer products are more expensive and more difficult to find, so applying a light layer of deicing salts in combination with gravel would be a good alternative. The gravel will get you the traction you need while using less de-icing salts. In general, deicing salts only need to be applied as a light layer to melt the ice and then scoop it away.

Finally, when scooping snow or ice after using deicing salts, feather the snow out on the landscape rather than piling it in the same location every time. If you continue to pile snow and deicing salts in the same spot every time, the sodium level will build in that area of soil. Spreading it out over the landscape reduces the amount found in each area and therefore reduces the damage to plants.

Avoid hand-removal of snow and ice from trees

Snow and ice can also build up on tree branches causing them to bend and sometimes break. If the snow and ice causes the branches to bend but not break, let it melt naturally.

If you try to knock the snow and ice off branches with a broom you may end up breaking the branches causing more damage to the plants. If the branches are bending they will pop back to their original structure with time.

If the branch broke due to snow and ice load, wait until the snow melts off and then call an arborist to prune the branch correctly. A broken branch wound will not seal up correctly, making a good pruning cut on the stump will allow the tree to seal the wound correctly and causes less damage and decay in the long run.

If you have any further questions please contact Nicole Stoner at (402) 223-1384,, visit the Gage County Extension website at, or like my facebook page at and follow me on twitter @Nikki_Stoner


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