Ice melter (salt) – safe for grass?

(Question)

Is the above item safe for grass? I have read that calcium-based ice/snow salt is safest, but I’m asking you because you are the expert.

(Answer)

Most ice melts have a high pH level and this burns the lawn, killing it, if large amounts seep onto the grass.   Rock salt is the worst offender. The good news is that small patches of “burn” in your lawn can easily be repaired. The people promoting calcium based ice/snow melt as being the safest seem to be the producers of the product and the evidence is mostly anecdotal. It’s so much better to avoid these products if at all possible.

The following response was posted on the Toronto Master Gardener Website on February 8, 2011.  Hope you find it helpful.

“It is very good of you to think about alternatives to the detrimental use of salt and snow melting compounds in our environment. The products that are less toxic work better for creating traction rather than for snow melting and most of the time they are only effective at certain temperatures only.

  • Sand (Horticultural sand). It makes slippery areas less so by providing gripping. Only sprinkle it. Careful not to apply too much as this could block the city drains. If possible shovel back into the garden unless you think it has been contaminated with salt from adjacent properties.
  • Coffee grinds. Same as above.
  • Cat litter (choose biodegradable one). Same as above. Please note that once the snow melts, it leaves a mush on the pavement.
  • Saw dust. Same as above.
  • Ashes. Ok for garden but not for fruit and vegetable gardens.
  • Sugar Beet Juice. Effective up to -25C. Helps by lowering the freezing point of water. It was used this year by the City of Toronto, mixed with road salt.
  • Alfalfa meal. Melts ice and provides traction. Used as a fertilizer. However, be aware that you may have some alfalfa sprouting in the spring!

Please be also aware of some ‘eco’ alternatives. Just because a product says ‘green, eco, natural or organic’, it does not necessarily makes it safe for your plants and pets. I personally have not used salt in the 20 years I have lived in my house but I am also very disciplined at shovelling snow, breaking ice clumps and sprinkling sand on the areas were pedestrian will walk.”

Interesting reading in Consumer Reports:     https://www.consumerreports.org/content/dam/cro/news_articles/home_garden/CRO_home_IceMeltChart_2-14.pdf