First Snow, and Proper De-icing

De-icing, winter
Happy First Snow day of 2012! I cannot believe that we have made it all the way to January 13 before we had our first measurable snowfall this winter.  In honor of this snowfall I thought I would give some pointers on de-icing.

In the case of de-icing your driveway and sidewalks, not all products are recommended for each surface type or personal needs. Below I have broken down some of the most frequent types of de-icing products and safe surfaces for application.
Quick Tips:
  • More is not better. No matter what you use make sure you use the correct amount. Even safe products for surface types can cause damage to the surface or surround plants.
  • If you hire someone to de-ice your home please check what product they are using . Just because they have a snowplow on their truck does not mean they know what they are doing or care about the effect on your plants.


Product: Rock Salt
Safe Surfaces: Asphalt

This is the most commonly used product for de-icing because of its cost and quick melting properties.  This can be applied both before and after ice and is typically used on Highways and roads. However, this is also one of the most environmentally damaging products you can use.  Rock salt can kill evergreens or other plants around your drive and walkways. Rock Salt will stay on your driveway and grass until it leaches through the soil (and then into streams, etc). Also, Rock Salt can cause damage to interior surfaces such as hardwood and natural stone.
Key Takeaway – Use as last resort.

Product: Calcium Chloride or Magnesium Chloride (my recommendation).
Safe Surfaces: Pavers (Brick), Concrete, and Asphalt.
Calcium Chloride and Magnesium Chloride are both safer methods of de-icing because they are less damaging to the surface and surrounding plants. I prefer to use Magnesium Chloride because it is the safest on Evergreens and is an active ingredient in pet safe de-icers. Still with all products, follow the correct application amount because too much could damage your sidewalk/driveway.
Key Takeaway – Best for de-icing and plant/pet safe (Magnesium Chloride)
Product: Chicken or Turkey Girt or Sand.
Safe Surfaces: Natural Stones (Such as limestone and Bluestone), Pavers ,Concrete and Asphalt.
Natural Stone surfaces are very porous you want to stay away from any salt or chemical. Chicken or Turkey Grit will not provide any de-icing properties¸ but will provide grit for walking. Chicken/Turkey grit is also safe for plants and pets. Sand is a bit messier (think the beach and sand), but is safe for pets and surfaces. To find Chicken/Turkey grit you will need to visit a Feed Supply store.
Key Takeaway – Most environmental/pet  friendly options
Product: Brine
Safe Surfaces: Depends on the active ingredient.
Brine is a combination of a de-icing product with water to coat a surface. This can be made with Rock Salt, Sugar Beets or a number of other products and is typically used by cities and municipalities. This mixture works best when applied prior to the icing event. Also, this is not typically used for private residences (however I have seen kits at the home improvement store) and is more expensive than the other options listed above.
Key Takeaway – Make sure you read the active ingredient.

Saving Paper Whites and Amaryllis for next year

Amaryllis, Paperwhite, Post Holiday
Amaryllis at my house a few years ago.

We have spent the last few weeks enjoying our paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs in full bloom, but now the blooms have expired and the paperwhites have become too leggy. Instead of throwing away the bulbs, we are going to store the bulbs to use again next year. To reuse your bulbs again next year, follow the steps below and enjoy the blooms for an additional year.

The process of forcing bulbs during the winter puts stress on the bulb since you are making it flower prior to when it would do it naturally. After the bulb blooms you need nourish the bulb to help it bloom for another 2-3 years, so it is a process.  Zones 8-11 you could plant your bulbs outside after the holidays, but here in zone 5 it is a little bit of work.

(1) Cut the brown flowers down to the base, leaving the foliage. Keep the soil moist and the bulbs in a sunny place.

(2) The foliage will eventually brown/yellow. Cut off the foliage and allow the soil to dry out completely.

(3) Once dry, store the bulb (in same container or remove from soil) in a dry, dark and cool place (40-45 degrees F). Keep here until about 6 weeks before you want the bulbs to bloom.

(4) Plant the bulb in the same methods you would a new bulb, in a sunny warm place and keep well watered. I have had better luck with amaryllis than paperwhites with this process, but if you follow the steps (cool, dry, dark) you will have repeat blooms.

Paperwhites in a Camp di Flori artichoke planter with moss. To stop them from getting this tall, add a bit of vodka in the water.
Image from here

Happy New Year! and Best of 2011

New Year, Year in review

Happy 2012! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years. We had a wonderful time with family and friends throughout the past two weeks and with the recent snow and cold temperatures it finally feels like winter. During my week off from blogging I created a very long list of topics/thoughts to share this year, but thought I would start off with a best of 2011 and some photos that never made it on the blog last year.  Thank you for following me this year, it has been a great year and plan for a better 2012!

Top posts from 2011:

Holiday at Home:
Thanks to Pinterest this post has received so many hits. Working on our own home allows us to experiement more freely than on client properties. The only issue is that I don’t have that much time to work at home on our landscape.

Bird Houses – Modern and Sculptural:
This post was big from Google Searches. I am sad to say that no bird family made a home inside our two birdhouses last year. However our European Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus) hedgers are home to more than one nest. 

Hellebores – Lenten Rose:
This was another big post from specific Google searches. I am glad to see one of my favorite spring flowering plants is so popular.

Here are some unseen photos from 2011.

This was a garden in South Carolina that we saw while on a bike ride during our vacation. Basket weave pattern set within turf, shows how simple patterns can be used in many different ways.   
This is a home in German Village that is always very neat and tidy.  Seeing these pansies in early spring  was wonderful after the grey winter. 
Dear Homeowner, I want to design your landscape. I see so much potential in your house to have an amazing garden.
Please call me. 
This is Spot. He greeted folks at the Home & Garden Show, but did not get the notice he deserved. However he now lives at home with us, and I think this summer will move outside. 
Espalier Asian Pear trees on a client’s property.  Love the edging and rocks. 
Japanese Maples in large wooden planters at a client’s home. The scale of the trees is amazing, 
A formal garden on a client’s property. 
This was my best meal of 2011 from the Drake in Toronto.
Fried Chicken on an Herb Belgium waffle covered in a cherry compote. Hands down best food!
This is our garden shed at home. I added the Caryopteris, Snow Fairy (foreground) in 2010 and it has really taken off in 2011 (photo from  late summer). 
This design deserves a whole post on its own, designing for dogs.  This is a dog run we did for a client. This pathway was designed specifically for the dogs to run through the landscape without ruining the plantings.