COLUMBIA, Mo.- Homeowners should be careful when using ice melters close to trees this winter, said a University of Missouri Extension forester.

"Nearly all ice melters are salts," said Hank Stelzer. They work by lowering the freezing point of water to well below 32 degrees.

This can make sidewalks and driveways safer, but these same chemicals may poison your favorite trees if you are not careful. Once the salt crystals have done their job, the resulting saltwater solution can splash onto your trees or enter from runoff into the trees' roots, he said.

Both can lead to stunted, deformed growth and leave the tree vulnerable to insects and disease. Over time, the salts can accumulate in the soil to the point where they can kill trees.

To protect trees close to sidewalks and driveways, choose alternatives such as sand, cinders and biodegradable de-icers, Stelzer said.