How to De-Ice Nicely

Yesterday, I woke up to snow. Lots and lots of snow. At least five inches of the white stuff had coated the trees and blanketed my yard and walkways. This means that I'm faced with the task of removing the snow from my sidewalks. Unfortunately, I don't own a shovel.

I'm guessing that my neighbors don't have a shovel either, judging from the amount of salt, kitty litter or some unsavory chemical product that they sprinkle liberally. It seems to break up the ice quickly, but I'm pretty sure it's hard on a lot of nearby trees and plants, including mine.

So, I poked around online to see what I could learn about eco-friendly ways to keep people from slip-sliding down icy walkways.

Some new environmentally-sound alternatives include calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), sugar, and corn-based products. These seem to damage the environment less than traditional de-icers. The downside is that they're more expensive and may be hard to find.

Meanwhile, it's probably no surprise that the worst offenders are gas-powered snowblowers and rock salt. Sodium chloride can severely damage trees and roots. It leaches into the soil, and dehydrates tree roots, which leads to stunted growth, twig dieback, and scorched leaves. If you have to use the stuff, it helps to flush out the soil around the tree with water once it warms up.

Less damaging options include urea, kitty litter, and sand. Urea, a fertilizer made from ammonia and carbon dioxide, is heavy on nitrogen, and is generally discouraged because the dose exceeds average fertilizers.

Kitty litter -- composed of calcium chloride pellets -- also dehydrates tree roots, but isn't quite as bad as salt. Technically, sand isn't de-icer, but the traction can help break up packed ice.

And the best method of all? A snow shovel. It doesn't harm the environment, provides a winter workout, and, best of all, gets us out into the fresh air. Hmm. Maybe it's time to invest in one after all.

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