One of the iconic images of winter is a thick blanket of snow covering the ground. For the most part, leaving it untouched is the best thing possible for your dormant lawn, as it insulates the grass plants against severe cold spells. However, you may need to melt snow to create walkways around your property.
You cannot use conventional ice melters such as salt on your lawn, as they will kill the grass. Instead, turn to methods such as hot water, wood ash, or snow-melting mats to keep paths clear and safe throughout the winter months.
Table of Contents
Does Ice Melt Kill Grass?
Even the safest of ice melts can kill grass, as they are all contain salt to one degree or another. However, ice melt products made with calcium chloride, potassium chloride, or magnesium chloride are safer for your grass, although not completely harmless. They can also damage concrete surfaces.
A safer alternative is Safe Paw, which does not contain any chlorides.
Does Salt Kill Grass?
Never use salt, or sodium chloride, directly on your grass, as it will kill any plants exposed to it. Even the run-off from a salted driveway or paved path will cause serious damage to the edges of the lawn bordering it. Once spring arrives, you will find brown patches that may take a couple of months to recover from their winter dose of salt.
If you know snow or ice is in the forecast, and all you have is rock salt, sprinkle some in the middle of the paved area before the storm to prevent the ice from forming.
However, frequent use of salt is not only harmful to your lawn, but can also pit concrete surfaces. There are other methods of removing snow or ice from grass which are less damaging.
How to Melt Ice on Grass?
1. Hot Water Method
- To a half-gallon of hot tap water, add 6 drops of dish soap and ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol.
- Pour the mixture on the surface of the snow or ice you want to clear away.
- Once you have a clear path, put down a layer of wood chips, sawdust, or sand. This will provide traction even when it refreezes, giving you a safe surface for walking.
2. Wood Ash Method
If you have a fireplace or wood stove, you have a great source of de-icer. Applying wood ashes when they’re still hot from the fire will quickly take care of a layer of ice or snow. Just be aware that if they’re too hot, they may burn your lawn. Apply them slowly and carefully so that the ice cools them off before they reach the grass.
Once the ashes have cooled off, their usefulness isn’t finished. The gritty texture of the ashes will create traction underfoot when things freeze up again, although you will need to apply more after every snowfall.
As an added bonus, the potassium in the ashes will help your grass roots grow more strongly!
3. Snow Melting Mat Method
Snow melting mats are a relatively new innovation that makes creating a clear pathway across your lawn easy and effective.
While they are primarily intended for use on hard surfaces such as decks, walkways, and patios, you can improvise to simplify your snow removal on grass.
If you have a path that needs to stay clear at all times, start by laying down some wood, and then lay the snow melting mat over top. That way, the grass itself will remain fairly cold, while you will have a safe walkway throughout the winter.
However, if you just need to quickly get rid of ice and snow on grass, you can lay it down directly on the lawn, but only for a short period of time. After all, grass plants have evolved to go into dormancy in winter, and continual exposure to heat will break that cycle.
Snow melting mats are not an inexpensive route to go, but you can find a good selection of sizes and types here.
4. Heat Gun or Blow Dryer
Using a heat gun or blow dryer is really only a solution for the most desperate of situations. If you have to get to drainage pipes, for instance, and have no other snow melting options, you could try using one of these to melt the ice. Be warned, though, that it will be a slow and tedious job, especially if all you have is a blow dryer.
What to Do If You Used Ice Melt or Salt on Grass?
Of course, you should not have used ice melt or salt directly on your lawn, as it will cause damage.
But if they have run off onto your lawn, there are steps that you can take to repair the damage when spring arrives.
Start by increasing your rate of watering by at least half over the affected areas to leach out as much of the salt as possible. Then, apply powdered or pelleted gypsum to the soil and water it in thoroughly.
What Can You Add to Icy Grass for Traction?
Melting the ice on your grass may not be necessary if you can improve traction. It doesn’t take much to create a safer surface for walking in snowy or icy conditions.
Many natural products can add that traction without the use of potentially damaging heat or chemicals. A bag or two of sandbox sand will keep paths safe through the winter, for instance.
Before freezing temperatures arrive, get a small load of woodchips to pile in an out-of-the-way spot, and when things get slippery spread a light layer over the pathways across your lawn. In spring you can rake up what’s left, and use them to mulch a flower bed.
Sawdust is another good option, and will quickly break down when temperatures warm up.
You can get chopped straw bales at feed stores, where it’s sold for animal bedding. It’s easy to scatter that on icy patches for some extra traction.
If you have a fireplace or woodstove, you have to dispose of the wood ashes somewhere; why not on your lawn, where the potassium will help grow strong roots?
Gravel will certainly add traction, but if you don’t want to have to rake it out in the spring, you might prefer an option that will naturally break down.
It’s not difficult to find alternatives to using damaging salts and ice melts on your lawn. For those spots where you need safe footing in icy conditions, a combination of snow and ice removal methods, along with adding traction, can keep things safe underfoot all winter!
Janice is a retired High School teacher who is spending her leisure years keeping busy with all sorts of projects. Aside from freelance writing, she’s an enthusiastic amateur chef, home wine maker, and tends a large raised-bed vegetable garden, while at the same time running a Bed & Breakfast.