Preventing winter salt damage to lawns

Some de-icers are better for lawns than others

By: Sandy Feather 2015
Penn State Extension

Q. Do you have any suggestions to avoid lawn damage from de-icing salts? My lawn is damaged every winter where it abuts my sidewalk and driveway. I am tired of raking out the dead grass, adding topsoil and reseeding every spring.

A. De-icing salt damage to lawn grass is a difficult problem to solve, but there are some steps you can take to try to minimize the damage. Kentucky bluegrass is more sensitive to de-icing salts than perennial ryegrass, fine fescues and tall fescue, but de-icing salts can damage all lawn grasses, especially during snowy winters. Rather than piling salt-laden snow onto lawn areas, shovel or blow the snow off before applying de-icing salts.

Then, use as little as possible to do the job. Many products have application rates on the label, and applying more does not make snow and ice melt faster. You can also mix de-icing salts with sand or cat litter. Those materials do not melt snow and ice, but do provide traction and can help you use less salt.


Sodium Chloride vs. Calcium Chloride

While calcium chloride is more expensive, it is less damaging to grass than sodium chloride, and is also effective at colder temperatures. It is generally applied at about a third the rate of sodium chloride, so it goes further if it is not being over-applied.


Urea is not recommended as a de-icer

Urea has been suggested as a substitute for standard de-icing materials, but its use is not recommended. Urea is a high-nitrogen fertilizer that can run off with the snowmelt and spring rains, resulting in pollution of surface and groundwater. And even if it all stays on your lawn, it could result in an over-application of nitrogen, which can also burn grasses.

Spring rains can help leach salts from the soil as long as drainage is good. If the soil adjacent to your hardscape is very compacted, drainage is likely poor. It can be improved by incorporating organic matter such as compost to a depth of 6 inches.


Lawn spot-seeding

Deicer & snow melter descriptions

Mulching leaves when mowing a lawn


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