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Preventing Chloride Toxicity in your Landscape

Maureen Sexsmith-West ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A

We have recently experienced our first dose of winter with heavy wet snow and rain that creates icy conditions as temperatures drop. It brought up a topic that is worth writing about. De-Icing products and your landscape.

Nearly all ice-melting products, especially the inexpensive ones, are loaded with ingredients that can be deadly to your turf, trees and flowers. Read your label carefully for these products:

  1. Calcium Chloride (rock salt)

  2. Sodium Chloride

  3. Magnesium Chloride

  4. Potassium Chloride (lower burn potential)

  5. Ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) – poisonous to pets if ingested

  6. Urea

Plants and turf growing along sidewalks and driveways, where snow is generally piled after a snow fall, are at the greatest risk. It may take repeat applications to show up as dead or dying leaves or patches of turf that are thin or brown. While your shrubs may have looked fine last year, they may not this year.

There are two sources of salt toxicity:

Absorption through the roots. When salt levels reach a toxic level in the soil, it will damage the roots of your plants. High concentrations are pulled into the plant, the new leaves and shoots can turn brown. The plants have difficulty absorbing water and nutrients, which stunts their growth or kill it entirely.

Spray from passing vehicles. This can kill buds and twigs and cause leaves to die.

Urea is just a damaging to plants if applied inappropriately. It is a type of fertilizer that can cause chemical burns on your plants.

You wouldn’t take 10 pills at once if your doctor prescribed 1 pill for ten days. It is very important to read the label to understand what you are applying and follow the application rates for the product you are using.

In order to be most effective, ice-melting products need to be applied PRIOR TO a snow/rain event. They interfere with the bond to a hard surface making it easier to remove. When shoveling snow, you usually only have two choices – onto your landscape or onto the road (which enters our storm water system). If you are trying to prevent slips and falls, you may want to consider a product such as sand to create traction instead.

In the spring, apply water generously to help wash to residual chlorides deep into the soil.

Our Certified Arborists have a complete understanding of plant and soil relationships. We would be pleased to assist you in evaluating your soil and its relationship to plants in your landscape, create soil amendment blends to improve growing conditions and to help make decisions when selecting landscape plants this coming season.

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