By Mike Groenewold
Some much needed moisture has arrived and some folks are grumbling about the snow; however, most are admitting we needed the moisture in any form. Personally, I love snow until it turns to ice, and then I shudder at the thought of driving on it or slipping from it and landing on my behind. Though we can’t control what is applied on streets and roads, most homeowners have options as to what we apply on our walks and driveways to melt ice. Possibly you would like a few ideas about the cheapest or safest materials for your pets, turf, plants and the environment.
In northern climes, the use of deicers is a necessity in most winters to make our roads safe for travel, and when used as recommended, spring rains usually dilute the various salt based deicers so they do not pollute local waterways or groundwater. However, when used in excess, high salt concentrations can be detrimental to aquatic life. Managers of our streets and roads must consider cost along with safety, and generally they use chloride based salts such as sodium chloride (similar to table salt), magnesium chloride, or potassium chloride (similar to rock salt). But as homeowners, we may be able to afford the higher cost of products that are safer for the environment.
Occasionally, I have heard gardeners or amateur landscapers suggesting that fertilizers be used for deicing. The logic behind this idea is that the salts in the fertilizer will melt the ice, and the extra fertilizer will benefit plants adjacent to walks and driveways in the spring. This is not a good idea for several reasons. It would take a very excessive amount of fertilizer to melt ice and it will not penetrate frozen ground, so it may wash directly into streets which lead to waterways. General purpose fertilizers contain three elements in varying percentages: N (nitrogen), P(phosphorus) and K(potassium). Nitrogen and phosphorus in our N-P-K fertilizers are the most damaging to our waterways and sources, so by all means, choose ice melt products free of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Recently “green” or “pet friendly” products have appeared in our garden centers, hardware stores and home improvement centers. Although it’s not appropriate for me to mention or endorse any of these specialty products, they generally have similar ingredients and you can look for them on the product label. Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) is biodegradable and far less corrosive than traditional chloride based salts. It’s generally thought to be 10 times less corrosive than rock salt and when used as directed is safe for use around humans, pets, plants and turf. CMA contains dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (common vinegar) and although costly, up to 20 times more than road salt, it is a wise choice for use during relatively small applications needed around our homes.
I hope these suggestions help for winter weather ahead and by all means have a safe holiday season!