Salt and Landscaping 101

Woman throwing salt on snowy sidewalk

Road salt is a must for the icy, snowy roads and walkways of Ontario. Although it does help keep the roads and your property safe, it can cause issues when not used properly. Here we provide a salt and landscaping 101 review so that you use salt more safely and effectively this winter.

History of Road Salt

Road salt was first tested in New Hampshire back in 1938 as a possible solution to de-ice roads. A few years later it was applied to local roads and highways. Salt use spread quickly to other states and Canada where ice and snow presented a danger for road travel.

How Does Road Salt Work?

When temperatures reach 0 degrees Celsius, ice forms on roadways. Road salt causes a process called “freezing point depression,” which lowers the freezing point of water. When this happens it slows water from freezing. In order for this process to work, however, there has to be some water on the road. This is why many municipalities send their salt trucks out in advance of a winter storm to apply a mixture of salt and water to the roads. If the roads are dry, the salt will have no effect on snow and ice.

How Does Salt Affect Plants?

Salt used on the roads and your own property can cause the surrounding groundwater to become salt-laden. When this happens the water can kill surrounding plant life because the salt will damage the soil quality. Salt degrades soil particles, killing the healthy microbes that help provide nutrients to plant roots. As well, when salt is absorbed by plant roots it can lead to several issues including:

  • Blocking roots from absorbing water
  • Plant potassium and phosphorus deficiency
  • Increased toxicity levels which can slowly kill actively growing plant tissue

Plants can’t excrete the salt absorbed so it will cause them to shed their leaves and needles. Signs your plants might have salt overload include:

  • Poor growth
  • Dropping their leaves quickly
  • Stunted leaves
  • Twigs and branches dying off
  • Heavy seed loads

Toxicity from salt can slowly kill your plants taking away from the appearance of your landscaping.

It is important to keep snow and ice off your driveway and sidewalks. To learn more about how to properly use and store your road salt, contact our team at Lane’s Landscaping today.

To order salt for this winter season, contact us.

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Man shoveling front entrance of home

How Can We Minimize Salt Injury?

You can minimize salt injury to your plants and property by reducing the risk for contamination. For example, if you clear away snow first on your sidewalks and driveways, then use a smaller amount of salt, you can reduce the amount of salt runoff. In areas where plants are near the roadway, you can use screens to protect them over the winter. However, considering where you plant your foliage during your landscaping projects is the best defense. Place plants far from areas most likely to need salt such as the roadway, your driveway, and pathways. If you feel this will ruin the look of your landscaping, choose plants that are less sensitive to salt such as:

  • Many types of grass
  • Woody plants
  • Plants with waxy foliage
  • Plants with scaled, protected buds

You can also take advantage of thaws to help wash away salt with a hose and fresh water. Of course, this could lead to further issues once it freezes!

How Does Salt Affect Grass?

If you are wondering if salt will kill your grass, as mentioned some grasses can withstand salt exposure. However, when grass absorbs salt into its roots it can prevent water absorption and quickly starve your grass causing it to brown and die. In this case, you might consider using a more environmentally friendly de-icing product along the areas where the salt is more likely to come into contact with your lawn.

At What Temperature Do Treated Roads Freeze?

The freezing point of water is 0 degrees Celsius. However, ground temperatures can drop below the recorded air temperature, which is why you often see road signs warning roads might ice on bridges. Therefore, when the air temperature is at least 4, you want to keep in mind the roads can still freeze over.

Add rain to the mix and it can be even more dangerous. If you are wondering at what temperature does road salt become ineffective, it can freeze over in temperatures below -10. This is why often a combination of salt and sand is used to help provide more traction for tires in frigid weather.

How Does Road Salt Affect Animals?

If you have pets, road salt can cause irritation of the paws. The chemicals in these products can get trapped between toes and pads causing inflammation. However, where it can get a bit more dangerous is if your pet licks their feet which can add to the irritation. In this case, you might need to speak to your vet to help keep your pet more comfortable. As well, if your pet ingests the salt residue you might find they have vomiting or diarrhea. So it’s best to err on the side of caution and provide booties in the winter and then be sure to wipe their paws after each walk.

To order salt for this winter season, contact us.

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Woman putting on booties on dog

Is Road Salt Toxic To Humans?

Canada can use between one to four million tons of salt on its roads each year. Because it can enter water supplies through runoff and ground absorption, it can end up in our water supply. The government considers common road salt to be a toxic substance. Many municipalities have adopted programs to reduce salt usage to help reduce the risk of salt getting into local water supplies. In areas such as Waterloo people actually complain of their water tasting salty.

How Does Road Salt Affect Wildlife?

In Canada and the GTA, excessive use of salt is creating toxic conditions that negatively impact local aquatic life. This includes freshwater fish, eggs, and larvae of wildlife such as mussels. As well, the turtles and frogs in our local lakes and rivers often die when exposed to too much salt. In fact, Cooksville Creek in Mississauga reached unhealthy salt levels in the winter of 2017 making it very unsafe for aquatic life. Chloride levels are also increasing in the creek.

Different Types Of Road Salt

There are different types of road salt products available, making it easier to choose the right one for the surfaces of your property:

  • Bulk driveway salt: This is cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and easily keeps ice at bay.
  • Treated salt: This is a pre-wetted and fast-acting salt ideal for those unexpected temperature drops.
  • Treated sand: This combination of sand and calcium chloride is ideal for providing traction for pathways and it also won’t freeze no matter how cold it gets.
  • Eco-friendly bagged ice melt: This can be used on all surfaces as it causes minimal corrosion and staining. It is also pet, grass, and eco-friendly.

What Salt Is Safe for Driveways?

The safest type of driveway salt is calcium magnesium acetate. It won’t damage your driveway and is also eco and pet-friendly.

When Should You Salt Your Driveway?

If you are wondering if you should salt before or after snow, as mentioned earlier, the approach to salting surfaces is best taken proactively. You want to salt your drive and walkways when you hear snow is expected to allow the water and salt to work their magic. If you aren’t able to do so, be sure to shovel first then apply the salt or deicer. This allows you to use less, while also providing a surface for it to activate.

Shoveled driveway

How To Store Ice Melt In Summer

Because our weather can be so unpredictable, fear of infamous thaws and freezes often find homeowners rushing out to buy a stock of ice melt just in case. However, this can often lead to leftover ice melt which can go to waste if not stored properly. Once it seems winter has actually had its last hurrah, you have to store your ice melt properly so it’s ready to use next winter.

If you are wondering, can ice melt be stored outside? The answer is, it depends. It has to be stored in an airtight container with limited moisture and air exposure. If the product came in a bag, this can be more difficult once the bag is open. You should store opened ice melt in some form of air-tight container like Tupperware, to avoid it from clumping up. It’s also best stored in a dark place.

What Is the Best Way to Store Salt?

As with ice melt products the key is to keep salt dry. Keeping unopened bags of salt in a dry place will help it avoid absorbing moisture, so it won’t form into clumps. This is also how to keep rock salt from hardening. As well, remember salt is highly corrosive. Make sure the bags are sound, so the salt doesn’t leak out. You don’t want it to come into direct contact with things such as wheelbarrows, shovels, and other garden tools as it will cause them to rust. Ideally, if you have road salt delivered in bulk, you can keep it in an actual salt storage container to keep it dry and reduce the risk of it leaking out.

Road salt can come in handy during those brutal winter months. Get yours at Lane’s Landscaping Supplies today. To learn more about road salt and the effects it has, contact our team today.

To order salt for this winter season, contact us.