Although it’s handy for melting black ice off your sidewalk and driveway, ice melt can damage nearby plants. If shrubs, grasses, perennials and other plants in your yard have direct contact with the salt that makes up ice melt (from salt spray off roadways, or from plowing and shoveling road snow), the affected buds and twigs will die from the chemical reaction. Evergreen foliage, like juniper bushes and blue spruce trees, will yellow and brown. Repeated, annual treatment of your walkways with ice melting compounds can cause salt to accumulate in the nearby soil; this will damage the plants’ roots, making them unable to absorb water. Heavy watering in well-drained soil reduces its salt content; fine, sandy and clay soils won’t drain so well, and the salt will hang around.
There are more environmentally friendly ways to melt ice on your sidewalks; sand works well for roads and pathways, and clay kitty litter is another cheap, effective choice. In some ecosystems, calcium chloride works well, down to negative 25 degrees Farenheit, as an alternative to straight salt ice melts. A mix of calcium chloride and sand also melts ice. When using ice melt, don’t over-apply it, and stick to the pavement.