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Keeping your walkways shoveled will alleviate the need for deicing chemicals.

A study by Purdue University found that property owners in the U.S. apply more than 15 million tons of deicing salts to their driveways, patios, and walkways, and that’s not including salt applied to roadways.

These salts — sodium chloride and halite, better known as rock salt —can have a negative effect on plants. In fact, salt is thought to be the first chemical weapon, with ancient invading armies using salt to destroy enemy crops.

“Excess salt works two ways against plants,” Chris Enroth, University of Illinois horticulture educator, said. “The first occurs in the soil when the sodium and chloride ions separate after dissolving in water. The sodium ions block the plant root’s uptake of other critical plant nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Then the plants absorb the chloride, which interferes with photosynthesis.

“The second detrimental effect is how salt pulls water away and out of plant roots or leaves, the same way salt dries up a snail,” Enroth said. “This stunts plant growth and can lead to a dead plant.”

What can you do to protect landscape plants and lawns?

Use alternative de-icers: “Use alternative deicers that aren’t made of sodium chloride,” Enroth said. “Products that contain calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate have a lower risk of damaging plants. These lower-risk deicers are typically more expensive, but consider the cost of re-sowing lawn seed every spring or replacing a dead shrub or perennial year after year.”

Use sand: Avoid deicers by putting down coarse sand on walkways. “The sand works, but be prepared with your vacuum as it often gets tracked in the house,” Enroth said. “Another strategy is to plant salt-tolerant plants near pavement that frequently gets treated with salt.”

Shovel: Keeping walkways shoveled during the storm helps to alleviate the need for deicing chemicals. Sometimes ice build-up on walkways is unavoidable and use of a deicer is necessary. Enroth recommends the following methods to reduce salt damage to nearby plants:

• Hose off road salts that splash onto trees and shrubs as soon as possible or cover with burlap as a barrier to salt spray.

• Avoid planting in areas that will inevitably get treated with deicing salts.

• Salt can build up to lethal levels in the soil. As the weather warms, you can leach salts out of the soil by irrigating the area multiple times with deep waterings.

• Apply deicers before a storm arrives. You will also end up using less deicing material with this approach.

• If snow and ice are already covering your walkway, shovel and remove as much frozen stuff as possible before applying the deicer.

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