A few more weeks of ice and snow are in the forecast, as we slowly head towards spring. We share a modified re-post from December 2010 on clearing icy surfaces outside your home.

We are often asked what products we recommend to melt ice or improve traction on stoops, steps, walkways and drives. Many of the items on store shelves are harmful to concrete, mortared areas, pets and the environment. Before you decide on a de-icer, take the time to read the bag so you know the possible risks involved.

Sodium chloride, commonly known as rock salt, is cheap, readily available and works at temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is the most harmful de-icer to plants, paving and pets’ paws. Potassium Chloride, which is also used in fertilizers, will not harm plants but works more slowly than rock salt. Like rock salt, it’s also harmful to concrete, mortared areas and other natural products such as bluestone. Calcium chloride melts faster than the others, works down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit and is one of the least harmful salts to concrete, but is damaging to plants. One of the newer products on the market is magnesium chloride, considered to be the best all-around de-ice . Magnesium chloride melts faster than sodium chloride, is less corrosive to metal and concrete, less toxic to plants and more environmentally friendly than the other choices mentioned. This is your best bet if you want a de-icer that works quickly, won’t harm your concrete and paved areas, is less toxic to plants and is effective to 13 degrees below zero.

It is important to remember to use each of these products as directed.

Environmentally friendly skid-proofing agents such as sawdust, peanut hulls, ground bark, ashes, gravel and sand can be used in conjunction with de-icers. They don’t dissolve in water and can be swept up for re-use, or swept into the lawn or planting beds without harm to plants. Owners of pets are particularly concerned about the toxicity of de-icers and their affect on sensitive paws. Pet-friendly products such as Safe Paw is considered to be pet, child and environmentally safe. This and similar products are chloride-free so it won’t harm your concrete, paved areas, lawns or plants.

In general, don’t over-apply salts. Used in excess, they may harm your plants and can damage concrete, mortared areas and natural stone products. Avoid shoveling snow from salted walks onto plants and know the ingredients in the de-icer you buy. Use gypsum calcium sulfate for areas where salt accumulation is heavy in the fall and the following spring. Irrigate well in order to wash away the salt and decrease the potential damage to your planting beds. Finally, keep salt away from sensitive plants such as azaleas, crabapples, dogwoods, forsythias, hollies, maples, rhododendrons, and yews.