We’ve finally had our first snow — and slick layers of ice as the snow melted.
As entertaining as it is to watch your neighbors penguin-waddle to and from their cars, treating the ice is a much safer practice.
There are many products on the market for ice removal, but no two products are the same. Ice melts vary widely in effectiveness, and while they can be helpful for preventing slips and falls, they also can be harmful to landscapes, homes and animals.
The most common types of de-icing products are chloride-based. The efficacy of chloride-based products depend on temperature. Although the chloride makes these the most effective at melting ice, the chemical also is potentially toxic to plants and animals and has corrosive properties.
The following are chloride-based products for ice removal.
— Calcium chloride: This product works in extremely low temperatures — minus 25 degrees — and won’t harm plants as long as it isn’t applied in excessive amounts. As the product combines with water, it creates its own heat, which is how it melts the ice.
This same process also can create a slippery, slimy surface after the ice melts and can be corrosive on metal and concrete.
— Sodium chloride: Also known as rock salt, this is the least expensive product and often is combined with sand. It is only effective in temperatures above 12 degrees and can be especially harmful to plants, soils, metal and concrete surfaces.
— Magnesium chloride: This salt is effective in temperatures above 5 degrees and works faster than other chloride products. Magnesium chloride can be damaging to plants if applied in a high volume, but it hasn’t been found to be corrosive to metal or concrete.
— Potassium chloride: This salt is the least effective, only working when temperatures are above 20 degrees and working much slower than other products. Potassium chloride also can be harmful to plants, especially when splashed on leaves, and newer concrete surfaces.
With all de-icing products, only use enough to get the job done. Excessive application increases harm to plants and animals and can damage manmade surfaces. Excessive applications also won’t increase efficacy.
You can store your ice melt in a coffee can by the back door, but make no mistake, it is a potentially dangerous chemical. Follow package directions. Keep it out of reach from children and pets, and use appropriate caution.
The following non-chloride-based products also can be used in ice treatment, but each has its own set of drawbacks.
— Calcium magnesium acetate: Although this product doesn’t contain the potentially toxic chloride, it is only effective in temperatures above 20 degrees.
— Fertilizer: Some homeowners use fertilizer to melt ice, but it isn’t encouraged. Amounts needed to melt ice are at toxic levels for plants. Fertilizer applied to hard surfaces also will run off into storm drains and is detrimental to the environment.
— Wood chips, ash, sand, bird seed, cat litter, sunflower seeds: None of these products melt ice, but they can help to provide traction on slippery surfaces. Ash can increase soil pH, although the likelihood is low if it isn’t directly applied to lawn and garden areas.
Cat litter can have varied results, depending on the product. Clumping litter may cause more of a mess than it’s worth.
Ice melt damage on plants will show itself in the spring. Poor or stunted plant or grass growth near driveway or sidewalk edges are likely from high levels of salt in the soil. Browning evergreens or scorched leaves on shrubs or trees also can be indicators of salt damage.
If salt damage is suspected, soak the soil (1 inch of water) three to four times in the spring to leach the salt out.
Each method for ice removal has its drawbacks. Whichever product you choose, removing as much snow and ice as possible first is key to success. Adding a de-icer to snow will be much less effective than applying it to the thin layer of ice underneath.
Many times, Mother Nature may do the work for you. Look at the forecast to see if a sunny afternoon is ahead. This is the most effective, least harmful method of removal, although the timing may not work within your schedule.
Ariel Whitely-Noll is the horticulture agent for Shawnee County Research and Extension.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
The Shawnee County Extension Master Gardener program will be offering classes and workshops and participating in community events in 2018. Here is a trio of events to kick off the new year:
— Jan. 18: “Indoor Plants for Health and Happiness,” 7 p.m., Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th Ave.
— Feb. 9-11: Kansas Garden Show, Kansas Expocentre, 1 Expocentre Drive.
— Feb. 22: “Recycling in the Garden,” 7 p.m., Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, 1515 S.W. 10th Ave.
Information: shawnee.ksu.edu/lawn-garden/master-gardener; (785) 232-0062
Shawnee County Extension Master Gardeners award scholarships every year to local students. Scholarships are awarded to high school seniors who reside in Shawnee County.
The deadline for applications is Jan. 31. For an application or more information, visit shawnee.k-state.edu/ or call (785) 232-0062.