In Lincoln the last two weeks the high temperature hardly got above freezing and more than one evening the low was below zero. We also got our first measurable snow, with rain before, so the streets were like ice. With the temperatures low some of the ice has not melted on the side streets and sidewalks.

          Winter is here with a vengeance, so what is the effect on our lawns and gardens. Avoid walking or driving on your lawn when it is frosted or frozen. You can damage the crown very easy. When the kids are out playing in the snow, they also need to be careful and not make a path. Constant walking along one path will kill the grass along that area which will require aerating and re-seeding in the Spring.

          And be careful in removing snow from trees and shrubs.  Improper removal of ice or snow from a tree or shrub can increase damage, and be a safety hazard. Never break ice off trees or shrubs by beating the ice covered branches. The cold, frozen branches can be very brittle and break very easy. Snow loads can be gently brushed off of trees and shrubs with a broom. Then allow the remaining snow and ice to melt naturally. If not broken, most evergreens branches will return to their natural form.

          With the cold weather the ground is starting to cool down, but is frozen only a couple inches deep at most in my backyard. It will be frozen hard in a couple weeks if this really cold, cold weather continues. Even though the ground is not frozen really hard, it is time to put on mulch. At the same time it is time to protect trees and shrubs from squirrels and rabbits. We looked out our back windows the other day and watched a squirrel try to get into the bird feeder that is hanging on a shepherds hook. It has a spring loaded lid over the hopper that kept him out. He finally gave up but then went directly to the “Star Magnolia” we have let grow as a bush. He chewed off some flower buds and went off to eat. The rabbits have already started to chew on the Roses. If I don’t put wire cages around the Roses, Raspberries, small shrubs, Corkscrew Willow Tree, and Pussy Willow Shrub, the rabbits and squirrels live through the winter on the bark and completely remove some of the small branches. Last year the rabbits pruned about half of my Red Raspberry bushes and many of my Fall Gold Raspberry bushes by chewing off the canes. This is not the first time this has happened.

          I am downsizing in my garden so have some large Tomato cages left over. I made them from reinforcing fence that is used to reinforce driveways and roads. I took about 5 feet of fencing and made them into a circle. I will cut them in half (the cages are 5 feet tall) and then cover with chicken wire or hardware cloth. I will put them where needed and then fill with leaves picked up with my mower, straw, or wood mulch. Chopped leaves work best as leaves just raked up tend to mat when wet. Most new gardeners put the mulch on too early and take it off to early. The purpose of mulch is not to keep the ground warm, but to keep the soil cold. More plants are killed by plants not being dormant or not being hardened off before going into winter. Also in February we usually have some warm days and if not mulched, the soil may warm up and then the plants may break dormancy. When cold returns the juices freeze and the plant dies. Also, in the Spring, do not remove the mulch too early as we usually have a late freeze and plants uncovered too early will have a hard time surviving.

          With the ice, I saw a lot of de-icing products being put on the sidewalks. Make sure you select the right product and follow the label directions to avoid plant injury. The four most common products are: (From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Division article listed below.)

1. “Sodium chloride (NaCl).” This chemical, commonly referred to as rock salt, is the most prevalent deicing chemical, and in general, has the lowest price tag of all deicers. An estimated 10 to 14 million tons will be used yearly on roads in the United States and Canada. The practical working temperature of the product ranges between 15 degrees F. and 20 degrees F. NaCl is not recommended as it is hard on concrete driveways and sidewalks and when it mixes with melted snow or rain can run off and burn your grass. It really shows up along the edge of the driveway and the walk.

2. “Magnesium chloride (MgCl).” MgCl is usually sold in a 30 percent concentration with an associated freeze point of 3 degrees F.

3. “Calcium chloride (CaCl).” Available in flakes, pellets or liquid, CaCl produces an exothermic reaction, giving off heat. Because of this, it often performs better than many other deicing salts, especially at lower temperatures. Some highway departments spray liquid CaCl over rock salt to lower its melting temperature. The practical melting temperature is typically considered to be approximately minus 10 degrees F.

4. “Potassium chloride (KCl).” KCl is similar to or equivalent to potassium based fertilizer products. It is often promoted as beneficial to plants. The product as a deicer doesn’t work unless temperatures are more than 25 degrees F. As a stand along product it is relatively expensive and more often is seen as part of a deicer blend.

          The article from the University also includes other products but says that urea, ammonium sulfate, and other Nitrogen salts are rarely used as deicers because of the potential for nitrogen runoff and leaching into water sources. In many areas nitrogen salts are not approved for deicing because of these environmental concerns.

          Abrasives such as sand, cinders, and ash have relatively few impacts on the environment or plants. These materials do not melt ice but improve traction on slippery surfaces. The disadvantage of these materials is that they can track into the house and accumulate in the landscape, and may require removal after the de-icing season.

          Regardless of what product you use, be sure and check the label for what products are in the bag, how much of each, how to apply, and how often it can be applied.

          For more information go to:  On the left in the search box, type in “de-icing agents” Click on the article. This can be saved or printed off for your files. Or go to “”. On the left in the search box type in “de-icing agents”.

Copyright 2011