Diane Turner - Conservation Technician and Outreach Assistant
Humans have used salt for centuries as a seasoning, a preservative, and even as currency. But one of its primary uses may surprise you. The #1 use for salt in the United States is road de-icing. According to the United States Geological Survey’s 2020 Mineral Commodities Report, 43% of salt used in the US in 2019 was put on our roads to melt snow and ice during the winter.
This adds up to a big problem, because the 42 million tons of salt we put on our roads doesn’t stay there. Every bit of salt put down on the road eventually ends up dissolved in melting snow or rain and runs into our lakes, rivers, and groundwater, which puts freshwater ecosystems at risk. Once salt gets in the water, treatment options are limited and costly. Additionally, the salt itself is expensive and carries a big price tag.
So why do we even use salt? Well, it is an effective way to keep our roads and sidewalks ice free – at least above 15°F. Above 15°F, salt mixes with snow and ice and raises its freezing point, keeping things liquid. Below this temperature it cannot do its job and ends up accumulating in clumps. When it gets cold, it is best to switch to a different de-icer or use sand for traction.
The biggest problem with salt-use is over-application. Using salt when it will not work or simply putting too much down does not increase safety, instead, it puts our freshwater resources at risk. And in most circumstances, not that much salt is needed. Over-application can be avoided by lightly scattering salt and leaving 3” of space between the crystals.
Experts taken from WI Salt Wise Partnership (https://www.wisaltwise.com/documents/Linnea-s-Article---WI-Salt-Awareness-Wk-2021.pdf)
Photo credit Banks Photo.
Claire Lane - Urban Conservationist
After a long, cold winter the sunshine and warmer temps of spring usually inspire thoughts of flowers and new plantings and excitement over gardens and growth. But, did you know you don't have to wait till spring to get started? In fact, fall and winter can be the best time to start your native planting from seed. Fall and winter seeding, sometimes called frost seeding or dormant seeding, takes advantage of the cold, moist winter weather. These conditions help seeds break their dormancy and germinate successfully in the spring. This process is known as cold-moist stratification and many of our native species must go through this process before they are able to germinate.
A general rule of thumb in native plantings is that fall plantings favor germination of forbs while spring seeding favors native grasses. An additional plus for fall seeding is particularly relevant to wet areas or areas with heavier silt or clay soils like Hamilton County. It is typically easier to work and prep these soils in the dry fall as they tend to stay wet late into the spring. Difficulties working wet clay soil in the spring can make you miss optimal seeding windows as well as compact soils.
The key to establishing native seed in any season is good seed, soil contact. Your site prep should make soil contact possible and the freeze and thaw throughout the winter will work the seed into the ground to the appropriate depth. Site prep that leaves disturbed soil uncovered is not ideal for a fall/winter seeding, especially on erosion prone sites. Learn more about site prep options on the Site Prep page of our website.
Wait till daily temperatures are consistently under 70 degrees to avoid any fall germination. In central Indiana, November is a great time to get started. Most species need 30-90 days of cold-moist stratification so the earlier in the winter you get them broadcast, the better. A good option is to broadcast seed just before a forecasted snow. The snow acts as a temporary cover for the seed to avoid a bird smorgasbord of your seed. If you haven't prepped your site to allow for a winter seeding this year, it is possible to mimic the cold-wet stratification in your own fridge for a spring planting. Learn more here.
Hand broadcasting is typically the best frost seeding method for smaller areas but you'll want to follow best pracitces to make sure your seed is distributed evenly. Learn more about seeding methods from Prairie Moon Nursery- How to Grow a Prairie from Seed.
When spring arrives, keep an eye out for troublesome annual weeds. Hand pulling is your best bet for managing those early weeds in the first season. It can be difficult, especially for beginners to identify weed vs native plant seedlings but thankfully some resources are available. Check out the NRCS Prairie Seedling Guide or you can even create your own based on your seed mix. We have plenty of maintenance resources available on our Pollinator/Native Garden Info page.
*A note on sourcing seed
Sourcing your seed is very important as you can find yourself in a situation where your seed is loaded with fillers or even noxious weeds seed! You've done the work to prep and prepare, so extend that thoughtfulness to your species selection and your seed sourcing. We have a great list of native plant and seed sources available on the Where to Buy Native Plants page of our website. If you want to start small, we also have packets of seed available for free at our office. These packets are a simple mix of four species that will provide blooms for pollinators throughout the whole growing season. Learn more about the packets here. If you'd like to stop by to pick up some packets just give us a call to set up an appointment 317-773-2181.
This article appeared in the December 2020 Indiana Native Plant Society-Central Chapter newsletter. To receive this newsletter and join a community of native plant enthusiasts, consider joining INPS. Learn more and join at www.indiananativeplants.org.
Thank you to INPS Central Chapter for allowing us to republish this article.
When it comes to starting a wildlife garden project, most gardeners tend to focus on the spring and summer months, when wildlife is very active. But fall and winter are the most critical times to be supporting wildlife. If you want a diverse array of wildlife on your property you need to make sure there’s ample food available in the weeks before winter’s arrival, so the animals can consume and store as much nutrition as possible. In the dead of winter it can be difficult for wildlife to find food to survive, especially in urban areas so, we really need to think about making our landscapes more of a buffet for wildlife. Apart from food the other essential item needed for a successful fall and winter wildlife garden is suitable habitat. Winter habitat comes in the form of the plant stems, leaves, and debris you should leave in place for the winter. Planting a selection of deciduous, semi evergreen and evergreen creates a color palette bridging each season.
Birds and native plants are made for each other, thanks to millions of years of evolution. Colorful fruits feed birds and, in return, birds spread the plant’s seeds far and wide, supporting whole ecosystems. Common bird species that do not migrate, such as northern cardinals, woodpeckers and mockingbirds, depend on berrying shrubs in winter to provide calories and crucial nutrients especially during the cold months when other natural food sources are nonexistent or buried in the snow. In addition to providing winter food, berrying shrubs are multi-functional. Shrubs planted densely in a border attract many more birds to your property like cardinals and thrushes seeking cover and nesting places.
Dogwoods do double duty in winter as the vibrant red, orange, or yellow twigs stand out in the landscape or as seasonal decoration. Songbirds migrating in late fall may stop on your property attracted to the high fat content of the white berries of the Grey Twig Dogwood, Cornus racemosa or the shrubby red-osier dogwood Cornus sericea, to fuel their journey. The berries attract robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, kingbirds, juncos, cardinals, warblers, wild turkey and grouse.
American Crabapple provides delicious red fruits into the winter seasons for wildlife to eat. Depending on what species you have in your area, you will see a variety of birds and mammals eating the fruit. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) offers ferny leaves that turn bold red in fall. It also features clusters of furry dark red fruit that hold on through the winter, supplying a variety of birds including robins and vireos. Fallen persimmons draw autumn-flying butterflies, and opossums enjoy the remains.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is sometimes known as “forsythia of the wilds” because its dense clusters of tiny, pale yellow flowers in early spring gives a subtle yellow tinge to many lowland woods. An important larval food plant of spicebush swallowtails and promethea silkmoths, spicebush supports wildlife in a number of ways. At least 24 species of birds feed on the fruit. Its thickets provide cover for birds and small animals. Its high-energy drupes are gobbled up by gamebirds and woodland songbirds, as well as mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and opossums. The aromatic leaves and bark of this plant may also be enjoyed by humans, made into a tea or dried and powdered as a substitute for allspice.