When The Morton Arboretum’s P.J. Smith works with his staff to clear snow from the 16 miles of roads and nine miles of trails at the Arboretum, he needs to do it quickly and in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. Smith, construction supervisor in charge of snow removal at The Morton Arboretum, now clears the Arboretum roads with a product containing an unusual ingredient – beet juice – which, when mixed with rock salt, clears the Arboretum’s roads and trails quicker than salt alone. And because there’s less salt in the product, it’s less harmful to the environment and the Arboretum’s more than 190,000 plants.
Rock salt, or sodium chloride, can also dry out landscape plants, which causes damage that may not be visible until spring or even years later. The risk is greatest for plants along drives and walkways. To minimize damage, the Arboretum looked to National Seed in Lisle, which provides the beet juice for the mixture, called Ice Bite. The Arboretum is one of the first locations in the area that has utilized this new treatment, which is prepared on-site.
Beet juice is an effective alternative to salt alone because it lowers the freezing point of water to as low as -20 degrees. Salt only prevents water from freezing at temperatures of 5 degrees or higher. Salt also bounces from the roads; adding beet juice lowers the bounce rate from 30 percent to 5 percent, reducing the amount of salt used on the roads. With the new product, the Arboretum is using nine times less salt, saving nearly $14,000 in material costs.
“Rock salt doesn’t just damage your car – it causes damage to soil, plants and trees, and even our water supply,” Smith said. “As an institution, we’re committed to making our world a greener place, so we feel good about using a product that minimizes our salt usage.”
In 2008, Smith created snow removal guidelines after learning of the dangers that winter salt can cause to the environment. Both he and Donna Smith, a horticulturist at the Arboretum, have worked to minimize the Arboretum’s reliance on the harmful ice-fighting material.
The Morton Arboretum has greatly invested in this alternative and has added a fleet of snow-fighting equipment including sprayers, power brooms, plows, boom sprayers and blowers that are all customized to work with Ice Bite.
“We do spend a good amount of time mechanically removing snow but the substance helps to make the task easier,” Smith said. “We are always looking at new and better ways to improve our program.”