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How to de-ice your walkways without killing your yard

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: February 22, 2018
  • Published February 22, 2018

I was asked recently if you could use garden fertilizer as ice melt on Alaskan walks and driveways.

My first reaction is that surely not if you are to employ an organic formulation: I never hear of alfalfa meal or granulated molasses melting ice. Almost no organic fertilizers are in the proper chemical form to melt ice. They would give great traction (for way too much money), but they wouldn't generally melt ice.

No, for that you have to resort to some sort of salt, which means chemical fertilizers. As the loyal reader knows, I am not a big fan of these. Still, we always hear that urea is used on tour area roads to melt ice. This is, basically just pure, 100 percent nitrogen fertilizer, so you have to be careful not to apply too much, as it will burn grasses and shrubbery. In addition, since most would run down into the street, its use by a homeowner can be problematic, if not a bit rude to the environment! If you must, 5 to 10 pounds per 100 square feet is the max. And, if you can mix 2 to 3 pounds of the stuff with 100 pounds of sand, you will get ice melt plus.

Generally, home gardeners don't have access to urea. However, if you still use a chemical fertilizer mix or were wondering what to do with that bag of 5-10-5 you have laying around, you can use it to melt snow. It is the first number in the trilogy, nitrogen, that has the ability to melt the ices along with the third number, which is usually made up of KCL, which is potash. I have read that the phosphate, the chemical represented by the middle number, helps with traction. I am trying to figure that one out, since I am pretty sure it is not greensand or granulated for very much.

Salt, of course, is most often used to melt ice, but this is not a gardening item unless you want to try to kill some weeds. Usually the salt utilized in ice melt products is plain old NaCl, sodium chloride. However, sometimes CaCl, calcium chloride, is used. What is important to know for gardening purposes, however, is how much is too much salt to use when it comes melting ice when there are plants in the area. Half a pound per square yard is the recommended top dosage. I would use considerably less, myself.

Speaking of ice, you need to be ready to go out and knock it off sagging limbs and branches before it gets too heavy. With global warming, we get more and more of the stuff here. And the same goes for wet snow. It takes a long time for a lilac bush damaged by heavy ice or snow to get its proper shape back. Keep by the snow shovels, a long pole or wide rake, a broom or similar item to do the job. It doesn't take long and will save you considerable money in replacements.

Next, I am constantly being asked: What should one do with amaryllis that have finished flowering?

The answer is simple and important. First, make sure you don't have one more set of blooms coming. As noted in a previous column a few back, the flowering stalk can be distinguished from a leaf by a pronounced notch at its tip. Look for one.

In any case, snip off spent flower stalks and continue to grow the plants, preferably giving them supplemental light. Once spring comes, continue to grow them, only you can then take them outdoors and put them on a porch or in the outdoor greenhouse. Mulch them with compost and grass clippings or alfalfa meal. You might want to feed your soil with a bit of microbe food so the microbes can feed the plant. The idea is to let the plant put on extra leaves. Some insist it takes at least seven before an amaryllis will re-bloom the following season after dormancy. This is induced in the fall when you take amaryllis indoors. I will remind you.

Finally, do not miss out on the Annual Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference. Go to You don't have to be a member, but if you read this column, you should be. I insist on it.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar for the week

Clean up: Clean up your indoor plants. Toss dead ones. Remove dead leaves and stems. Put a thin layer of compost over the soil.

Fuchsia: Bring yours out of storage. Time to buy small sets to grow into basket-size plants. It normally takes four per basket. Pinch starts back a few times as they grow to get them to branch.

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