Although I love to be in my snow-covered garden, I am less enthusiastic about a garden slathered in ice.
If you are new to Missouri, when we talk about not liking winter storms here, we are usually talking about icy ones.
There was one winter where ice not only covered everything in site but it lasted for weeks; golf-shoe clad volunteers had to deliver meals to homebound, and birds would ski across my lawn trying to land under bird feeders. I remember using a hair dryer to try to defrost an ice-covered dogwood tree bent almost to the ground at my front door.
Although roads, sidewalks and utility lines may get slick, a light covering of ice can act as plant insulation. Some, like my apples, pears and roses, seem to bloom better the season after they have spent some time covered in ice.
To defrost slick areas, I use cracked corn; a friend recently told me she uses sunflower seeds. Rock salt, and other chloride-based compounds, are probably more frequently-used but in large amounts, they can damage or kill a garden.
If in early spring you start to see stunted plants, leaf burn and root damage, you know the plants started to absorb salt as they started to grow.
High salt levels also change the structure of soil in runoff areas. Too much salt causes soil to compact, which restricts getting nutrients, water and oxygen to plants. If too much salt is used over the years, plants eventually die.
If you think your yard has high salt levels, get a soil test through your local University of Missouri extension office.
We still have some winter left so if you have plants near potential salt application, cover them with burlap or some other temporary, protective covering. At the earliest opportunity on a warm day, wash the salt away with 2-3 inches of water over a 2-3 hour period so it won't get absorbed.
Do another washing in 3-5 days to dilute any remaining salt.
Plants that are particularly sensitive to salt damage include redbud, hackberry, hawthorn, crab apple, pin oak, red oak, barberry, boxwood, dogwood, spirea, viburnum, red pine, white pine, Scotch pine, yew, arborvitae and hemlock.
Plan on adding salt-tolerant plants near streets to block exposure for more sensitive plants. Salt tolerant plants include Amur maple, common lilac, Japanese tree lilac, forsythia and serviceberry.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares gardening in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by the Rolla Daily News.
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