The winter solstice was December 22… the shortest day of the year. Since then, daylight continues to lengthen, and we are on the upward climb toward spring, although it may look otherwise.

Weather forecasters predict a cold and snowy winter, and as our first substantial snowfall arrives, so do the dangers of icy, slippery surfaces on stoops, steps, walkways and drives.

To melt ice and improve traction on surfaces, Sodium Chloride (commonly known as rock salt) is readily available and inexpensive. It is also the most harmful de-icer we could use. Plants can be damaged from sodium chloride, evergreens are burned, grass is killed along the edges of paved surfaces, it causes mortar to fail and concrete to develop pockmarks. It also causes serious pollution to our waterways.

Only 2.5 percent of all the water on the planet is fresh water (not saltwater). Of that, less than 1 percent is available to us… the majority of the earth’s fresh water is frozen in the glaciers. Here in the Chicago area, we are blessed not only with Lake Michigan, but many other small lakes and almost countless streams and rivers. Unfortunately, these bodies of water are rapidly becoming damaged by the large amounts of salt that run off our roads and walks.

We recommend using Calcium Chloride rather than the less expensive Sodium Chloride. Although calcium chloride is still a salt, it is the least damaging choice to plants, animals, paving and the environment. It costs more but the environmental benefits should outweigh that. It is also effective at much lower temperatures than rock salt, continuing to work at 5 degrees Farenheit. The latest trend in large scale ice and snow removal is combining the calcium chloride with an organic liquid such as beet juice! Beet juice reduces the amount of salt that is used and makes the salt that is used more effective.

Salt melts ice when it is in liquid or brine state… it does not work when it is dry. It needs to mingle with the moisture on the ground and become a liquid, and then it starts the melting process. This chemical reaction takes time, but if the salt is pre-wet with an organic liquid such as beet juice, it instantly starts working. Wetting the salt also reduces it from bouncing around when it hits the pavement, and so it stays where it should rather than going on to the lawn or planting beds. The salt is also diluted it so it is less damaging to plants and animals. This amazingly simple solution reduces salt usage by 30%.

Perhaps your municipality is already using this method; if so, give them a call and say “Thank You” for being so forward-thinking and conscientious. If not, suggest they consider it.