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WHAT'S BLOOMIN'

Gardening column: Cat litter a safe alternative to salt

It won't hurt plants or pets' paws, and it might even loosen clay soil come spring.

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 12:01 am

Q: I like using salt on the sidewalks along the street and approach to my house to protect myself and others from slipping on the ice, but I'm worried about what it will do to my trees and other plants. Is there a better alternative?

A: Sodium salts are the most common types used for de-icing and also the least expensive to use — but they are the most damaging as well. When possible, use alternatives to sodium products, such as calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). More and more alternative salts are being offered in hardware stores and garden centers, although they are considerably more expensive.

Using a completely safe alternative such as scattering inexpensive cat litter on the ice will not only protect you from slipping, but if you have pets, it will not harm their paws. You can safely sweep that off the walks onto the lawn or wherever without worry of harming your plants.

In fact, using that might aid in loosening up some very sticky clay soil come spring.

If you are planning to put new trees or shrubs between the sidewalk and street in the spring, use plants that are resistant to salt damage such as honey locust.

For a more complete list of desirable plants, contact the Extension office at 481-6826.

To protect your plants from the inevitable salt sprays from city trucks, you may just want to remove as much of the snow as possible by sweeping it off the tree bark and cleaning it off the soil around the plants as soon as you can after the trucks pass.

If you decide to remove the snow from those areas, it is important to avoid throwing it onto the lawn or other planting beds.

In spite of the slippery problems that snow and freezing weather cause, in most cases our gardens do not mind snow at all. In fact, there are benefits from snowfall. Here are some interesting facts to think about: “Snow is an excellent insulator against low temperatures and excessive winds. The extent of protection depends on the depth of snow. Generally, the temperature below the snow increases by about 2 degrees F for each inch of accumulation. In addition, the soil gives off some heat so that the temperature at the soil surface can be much warmer than the air temperature. One study found that the soil surface temperature was 28 F with a 9-inch snow depth and an air temperature of -14 F! Snow brings welcome moisture to many landscape plants, which will in turn help prevent desiccation injury. Even dormant plants continue to lose moisture from twigs (as water vapor) in the process known as transpiration. Evergreen plants, which keep their leaves through the winter, are at even greater risk of injury.” (From www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/snowis)

Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@frontier.com. You also can read her What's Bloomin' blog at www.news-sentinel.com. This column is the writer's opinion.