3810 Whites Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 (615) 876-1014

Archive date:  January 28, 2010

Look Out, Here it Comes Again!

Freezing Rain, Sleet, Ice Pellets, Snow and… Salt

It would appear January is preparing to go out “Like a Lion”. Forecasts for late tonight, all day Friday and early Saturday morning are none too rosey. Since my personal crystal ball remains partly cloudy, I’ll put forth a couple of scenarios as to how you might best deal with nature’s inconveniences.

Freezing Rain

Freezing rain occurs when things at or near ground level are already at or below freezing. The rain freezes on contact to all surfaces; power lines, porches and plants. Usually, the greatest damage occurs where trees get coated with the extra weight combined with wind. Hopefully we will all not have to deal with a repeat of the early 90’s ice storm. If you have taken appropriate action to keep your heirloom trees properly pruned and dead-wooded, you will have reduced the likelihood of damage that could occur to your property, not to mention your trees. Don’t worry about ice buildup on small trees and shrubs, if it gets that bad, there are more urgent issues at hand.

Sleet and Ice Pellets

I have no idea what the difference is between sleet and ice pellets. Maybe ice pellets are large sleet (or is sleet small ice pellets?). I don’t even know for sure which one is suppose to be bigger. Maybe they’re the same thing and the weather folk just get tired of using one term or the other all the time. I do know this: they are both slick.


This could actually be a beneficial snow. Since the temperatures are forecast to be in the single digits in outlying areas Saturday night, snow does provide insulation for your groundcovers, perennials and low growing shrubs. The temperatures will not likely be any colder than we have already seen, but you never know. It will be a positive aspect from your plant’s point-of-view (in case you were wondering where your landscape comes down on all this weather stuff).

Salt/Ice Melt Products

Even though there are products available that claim to be less damaging to your plants, think it through before you apply. I recommend applying your product before the frozen precipitation starts. It is difficult to see the presence of the ice melting compounds (usually white) on icy/snow covered surfaces. I greatly over-applied (too much has always been just about right for me) rock salt at our home during the last cold spell. It was a real mess to clean up afterwards. My bottom line is this: use sparingly, only where needed, avoid using if possible. These products at best are not “good” for your plants, and they can do great damage.

Plants are damaged in two ways by the chemicals: Salt-laced snow and slush burns evergreen foliage and latent buds. Salt in the soil can prevent roots from absorbing water and nutrients and affects the long-term health of both evergreen and deciduous plants, including ground covers, spring bulbs and lawns.

The symptoms may include distorted and stunted growth, branch dieback, lack of flowering, and leaves with browned margins. Salt contamination also can cause stress that invites diseases and pests.
Sometimes, the salt damage to the landscape is out of your control. Trees and landscape beds close to a major highway, repeatedly salted by salt trucks, can suffer salt damage from the spray kicked up from passing cars. The slush can easily travel 10 feet or more from the road. In more northern climates, where salt is used more frequently, it is not uncommon to see damage to conifer screens such as arborvitae, juniper and pines. Since the frozen stuff looks to be short-lived, it probably won’t be an issue here, so worry about something else. Like this…

Salt is hell on hardwood floors. There, I said it. It’s hard to keep from tracking it in. So don’t forget to wipe your feet and change your shoes when you come in (you can’t say you weren’t warned). You might consider throwing a towel on the floor by the door.

Speaking of throwing towels, we’re throwing in the towel this weekend. We will be open all day Thursday, and we will be closed from Friday until (hopefully) Monday morning, in case you’re curious. By the way, our first seed has arrived, so come on by and look it over. We look forward to seeing you soon!

I know I put that sled around here somewhere...

David Bates