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The Greener View: Winter Weather

Jeff Rugg on

Even though recent snowstorms reached the Gulf states, there are heavy snowstorms and ice storms each winter. It is amazing how far south ice storms can reach. Only a few areas of our country are immune to them. The southern edge of the Snowbelt can get freezing rain several times a year, while the Gulf Coast can get one once every few years.

They can do a great deal of damage if the ice gets to be a couple of inches thick. Large trees and limbs can just snap off, and there is nothing you can do about it. A thin glaze of ice can snap small twigs, even if it is only on one side of the branch or tree.

There are several things you can do to minimize the damage to your landscape. Before there is a chance of damage from ice and snow, check multi-stemmed plants and evergreens to see whether they need to be supported. Branches that come off of the vertical trunk and stay almost vertical are at the most risk. Branches that are almost horizontal are at the least risk. Any branch or trunk that has disease problems and is beginning to rot is at a greater risk of breaking. Some varieties of trees, like the common Bradford pear, have almost all their branches coming off at narrow, almost vertical angles. Sometimes they are bushy enough to have so many branches that no single branch gets too much weight, but other times the tree just splits in half.

Prune as many vertical and weak branches out of the tree as you can. Place props of strong boards under large horizontal branches before an ice storm is due to hit. Guy wires can be used to support the tree; with trees that have multiple trunks, the wires can be placed between trunks.

Once the ice storm hits, be careful of there already being an ice buildup on the plants. If you try to get the ice off, it can snap the branches, as cold branches are already brittle but the ice makes it worse. Gently brush off heavy, wet snow as soon as possible to prevent limb breakage. Be careful if the snow is sticking because of freezing rain underneath.

Every winter, many people do a lot of damage to their landscape by misusing salt that is applied for snow removal. A variety of products are available, and they all help keep the last little bit of ice and snow off the walkways and driveways, but none are supposed to be used instead of shoveling.

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The salt used for most ice melting is made from calcium chloride or sodium chloride, both of which will kill plants. The sodium in sodium chloride also damages the soil itself, so that plant roots cannot grow in it.

In areas where snows are rare, some people will try to use fertilizers to melt snow on sidewalks. The chemical component of fertilizer is also made from a variety of salts. Fertilizers are designed to supply plants with specific nutrients at specific times in their growth cycle. Winter is not one of those times, so using fertilizers as an ice melter won't help the plants. If a lot of fertilizer is used, it will be just as harmful to plants as other salts in the soil when spring arrives. Some portions of the fertilizer will wash into the storm sewers and fertilize the streams, creating algae blooms and other problems.

As in many other cases in gardening, it is best to use the products as they are intended to be used, so you should follow label directions. If the fertilizer bag says it can be used as an ice melter, then go ahead and use it the way it says on the bag. Otherwise, don't.


Email questions to Jeff Rugg at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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