Once winter approaches, one thing that is often a topic of discussion is rock salt. Rock salt is beneficial for melting thick layers of ice and snow. It is one of the first things to reach for when there is an approaching ice or snow storm to help break down ice formation on roads and other paved surfaces. One of the main drawbacks to salting roads, driveways and sidewalks is that is can be damaging to existing plant growth and grass. In some cases, it can stain untreated concrete and asphalt, leaving behind stubborn stains. Once you weigh the pros and cons of rock salt, you can decide if you want to use it throughout the cold winter months.
One of the biggest benefits of treating your property with a salt mixture is to prevent the buildup of ice and snow. Deicing is important when you have hills, slopes, steps, walkways and steep driveways. In many cases, keeping the ice from forming on your driveway and sidewalk can significantly reduce injury caused from falling, slipping or sliding on the ice. It is important to apply salt before an oncoming storm and then immediately following. This helps prevent the rain or snow from forming a thick layer of ice and also makes it easier to clear the precipitation that falls on your treated surfaces.
Rock salt is derived from the evaporation of salty water, explains the University of Hawaii. And while it is a naturally occurring substance, there are some major disadvantages to using rock salt to keep your travel paths clear. Salt can significantly damage plants, grass and trees if it saturates into the surrounding soil. If you notice that your plants, grass or bushes have a delayed bud break, reduced growth, browning along edges or twig dieback, they likely have been affected by salt contamination. Sodium chloride can cause corrosive damage to motor vehicles, recreational vehicles and concrete surfaces. Excess salt can damage wildlife, leading to food and shelter loss. It can also lead to poor water quality because it can leech into nearby ponds and rivers, affecting fish and other aquatic inhabitants. If contamination occurs in well water, it can lead to hypertension in humans as well as an increased risk of cancer.
There are ways to prevent salt from harming different areas on your property. For existing property, consider covering delicate perennials with a snow fence, burlap or plastic in the fall in preparation for the snow season. Avoid stacking snow or shoveling snow that has been in contact with salt over plants or onto dead grass. If plants or grass have been in contact with salt, spray the affected areas down and try to wash away as much debris as possible. For contaminated areas, try applying a layer of gypsum to the soil. This will displace the sodium with calcium and improve drainage to the existing soil. If you live near a busy road that salts frequently, try replacing existing trees and shrubs with more salt-tolerant species, such as Green Ash, which is able to exclude salt from its cells. For long-term prevention, avoid using salt-based deicers and switch to other alternatives or deicers with a lower salt content that is mixed with materials like ash or sand.
After weighing the pros and cons, you will want to make sure it’s worth it to use rock salt. Consider how it will affect your landscape and your finished DIY projects.