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You donít have to harm your plants, when you de-ice the sidewalk

SLIPPERY ó Try not to use rock salt on your sidewalks and driveway; it can harm your garden 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.
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 prevent icy patches from forming on your sidewalks or driveway, in the first place.

Get out there and shovel, before people walk all over the sidewalk, or before 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 there is a slight thaw and refreeze. Getting out there early, when the snow is easier to remove, can prevent some of those slippery spots from forming.

When icy patches form on your sidewalk, there are precautions you can take that wonít harm your garden.

Instead of buying rock salt, look for products that are labeled plant or pet safe, advised John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. These products use calcium chloride, which poses a lower risk of damaging your plants with soluble salts, and are a little 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. They may work in the range of 0 Ė 5 degrees Fahrenheit, while traditional rock salt can work in temperatures as low as minus-15 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that we rarely get weather that cold, here in Western New York.

Farfaglia noted that you can also use sand, grit and cinders on your sidewalk. These materials will not melt the ice, but they will provide traction, and they donít contain anything that will harm your plants.

Some municipalities mix sand with salt, to decrease the amount of salt they need to use on roads.

You can do the same thing on your sidewalks, but do not use a large amount of rock salt.

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

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