Minimize Turf Damage From Salt This Winter, Josh Friell Explains….

By Josh Friell, Ph.D Student, Turfgrass Science

Josh Friell
Before I say the four-letter word that we’re all dreading this time of year, let’s just take a minute to think about what a beautiful summer we had. Go ahead….take a minute, close your eyes, and picture that perfect day you had at the lake or that warm day in the sun at the Twins game – the dark green field looking so nice you could sleep on it. Wasn’t that great?

OK, time’s up, back to reality.


There’s a good chance that if you opened your eyes and looked out your window you saw some flurries in the air and that means that more is just around the corner. Yes, I’m talking about SNOW. There. I said it.

Of course, snow brings ice and ice means salt on the roads and sidewalks, which can be catastrophic for your turfgrass. We’ve all seen those dead, brown strips along our lawns in April and May that we just can’t seem to keep alive because of the salt we’ve thrown down during the past winter. What’s more is that sometimes it seems like for as many grains of salt you put down, there are equally as many deicing products offering to be more effective, more environmentally friendly, or easier to use. It can be really difficult to decide which one you should pick.

There are a few main compounds from which most commercially-available deicers are made. Often times you’ll find a mix of them together if you look at the label on the back of your bag. And make no mistake about it, all of these compounds can have negative effects on your turf and the environment if used incorrectly. When you also consider that many of them can be quite expensive, it becomes clear that using less salt is best no matter which type you choose. So, to help you out, the table below lists a few of the more common compounds, and some of the more important positive and negative aspects of each type. Whichever you choose, be sure to pay attention to the effective temperatures for each to make sure you’re not putting down a product that just won’t do it’s job.

In closing, here’s a list of five tips you can use this winter and beyond to minimize the damage to your turfgrass in spring:

  1. Maximize the amount of mechanical ice and snow removal you do before you apply salt
  2. Remember: Salt won’t actually melt all of the ice, but it will penetrate the ice sheet and loosen the bond between the ice and the concrete
  3. If you do apply salt, choose the right salt or mix of salts for you based on your specific needs and maintenance goals
  4. Never use too much salt!! There is a point where more salt no longer means more melting, and it’s lower than most people think. Use small quantities, give the salt time to work, and apply more as needed.
  5. Maintain well-drained, non-compacted soils to allow salts to thoroughly leach from the soil in spring as soils thaw.


Name Approximate Minimum Effective Temperature Positive Aspects Negative Aspects

sodium chloride (rock salt)


  • Inexpensive
  • Readily available




  • Can “burn” turfgrass and other vegetation in the spring
  • Destructive to soil structure over time
  • Corrosive to concrete and steel

calcium chloride


  • Less harmful to turf than rock salt, but still may cause problems
  • Lowest effective temperature
  • Avaliable in many forms
  • Relatively expensive
  • Corrosive to concrete and steel
  • May still cause turfgrass and soil problems

magnesium chloride


  • Less harmful to turf than rock salt, but still may cause problems
  • Very low effective temperature
  • Relatively expensive
  • Corrosive to concrete and steel
  • May still cause turfgrass and soil problems

calcium-magnesium acetate


  • Reduced damage to turfgrass
  • Non-corrosive
  • Extremely expensive
  • Can deplete oxygen from waterways
  • Requires large quantities for same melting potential



  • Doubles as fertilizer to turfgrass if melt water runoff goes directly into lawn
  • Can deplete oxygen from waterways
  • High minimum effective temperature
  • Requires large quantities for same melting potential