The Pros & Cons of Salting in the Winter

December 30, 2021

There’s No Winter Quite Like a Nebraska Winter

Nebraskans know better than to rely on dependable winter weather! Between roaring winds, unseasonably warm afternoons, and white-out blizzard conditions, the best advice is to simply be prepared for anything. 

When the temperatures finally dip below freezing and the sidewalks become dangerously slippery, it’s time to start thinking about your deicing options… but did you know that this safety precaution could be a health hazard for your landscaping and hardscaping?

How Salting Damages Lawns and Hardscapes

In addition to the normal wear and tear of winter conditions, salt can ravage your lawn and hardscapes over the winter, if you’re not careful. Even if you don’t personally rely on salt for deicing, municipal snow-removal efforts can do significant damage to your property, if it lies near city streets and sidewalks. 

Because salt is so effective at breaking down and melting ice, it causes a significant amount of saltwater runoff, which inevitably runs into your lawn. This damage is easy to spot: brown grass lining walkways and sidewalks is a sure sign of winter salt damage. Because salt is a magnet for moisture, it will leech the moisture and nutrients from the roots of your grass — even bushes and trees — drying them out in brown patches. Salt water can also seep into the cracks of your hardscapes and pavers, freezing and thawing repeatedly and causing expensive damage.

How to Prevent Salt Damage

Know Your Salts:

A good way to get ahead of salt damage is to know which salt is best for your property and situation. Certain salts are better for different temperatures, and worse on certain surfaces. Using the right salt means you can use less of it, which is an effective way to prevent damage.

Rock Salt/Sodium Chloride/NaCl

This is the most common — and least expensive — option for deicing salt. This is the harshest option for both lawns and hardscapes, but most effective when temperatures are between 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Calcium Chloride/CaCL2

This option lands somewhere in the middle, being safer for plants, but still pretty harsh on hardscapes. It is most effective in sub-zero temperatures. 

Magnesium Chloride/MgCl2

This choice is more expensive, but much gentler on your lawn. Effective at sub-zero temperatures, it can still inflict a significant amount of damage on pavers and hardscapes.

Prevention Pro Tips:

Burlap & Fabric Barriers: Lining the grassy edges of your regularly-salted areas with burlap sacks or landscaping fabric is a great way to protect your lawn from salt damage.

Salt Carefully: Always pay close attention to the spreading instructions on your salt. These instructions are designed for maximum effectiveness while using the least amount of product.

Shovel Right Away: The faster you are able to shovel snow from hard surfaces, the less salt you’ll need. 

How to Treat Salt Damage

Even with a healthy amount of prevention, it’s likely you’ll still encounter some salt damage to your lawn and plants. There are a couple of ways to treat the damage naturally and fairly inexpensively.

Water Rinse: When temperatures rise above freezing, you can soak the affected area daily for 2-3 days to rinse the salt away and push it below and away from the roots of your grass.

Gypsum: A naturally-occuring and safe mineral, gypsum is able to replace the sodium with sulfur and calcium, allowing the grass to heal. 

Don’t let winter dry out your spring!

Remember: while salt can break your fall, it can also break your hardscapes and damage your lawn! Following these tips should set you up for success this winter, but if you have any questions, you can always give Groundscapes of Lincoln a call!

Contact Groundscapes