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Gardening and More: Donít harm your plants when de-iceing the sidewalk

PASS ON THE SALT ó Try not to use rock salt on your sidewalks and driveway; it can harm your plants. There are other products you can use, instead. Your first line of defense is to shovel before anyone can walk or drive over the snow. Compacting the snow can lead to icy spots. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
HAMBURG ó This is the time of year when our sidewalks can get icy, but rock salt can be harmful to your plants. How can you keep your sidewalks clear, while protecting your plants?

As I was shoveling recently, I realized that the first thing you can do is to prevent icy patches from forming on your sidewalk or driveway, in the first place. Get out there and shovel, before people walk all over the sidewalk or before any cars leave or enter the driveway. Those footsteps or tires can really compact the snow, leaving hard, snowy spots that can become slick, especially if thereís a slight thaw and refreeze. Getting out there early, when the snow is easier to remove, can prevent some of those slippery spots.

When you do get icy spots on your sidewalk, what can you use that wonít harm your garden?

Instead of buying rock salt, look for products that are labelled plant- or pet-safe, said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. These products use calcium chloride, and pose less risk of damaging your plants with soluble salts. They are a few dollars more expensive.

Even with these products, donít overdo it. Donít spread the calcium chloride product heavily and donít use it unless you need it.

The calcium chloride deicers might not work at as low a temperature as rock salt, he noted. They may work in the range of 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit, while traditional rock salt can work in temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that we rarely get weather that cold.

Farfaglia noted that you can also use sand, grit and cinders on your sidewalk. They wonít melt the ice, but they will provide traction, and they donít contain anything that will harm your plants.

Some municipalities mix sand with salt, in order to decrease the amount of salt they need to use on roads, he added. You can do the same thing on your sidewalks, but donít use a large amount of rock salt.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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