Winter poses many threats to landscapes. Freezing temperatures, wind, heavy snow, and ice can all negatively impact your landscape’s beauty and health. There is another aspect of winter that can damage your lawn but doesn’t come from Mother Nature: winter salt. This is the salt laid down by municipal trucks or homeowners to prevent icy roads and sidewalks. Excessive salt can easily damage plants and lawns. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent landscape damage that comes from winter salt applications.
How Winter Salt Damages Lawns, Trees, and Plants
Sodium chloride is the most commonly used deicer. It can damage plants from roadside mist by desiccating the bud scales of plants, exposing the tender tissue under the scales. The immature leaves and flowers, left unprotected by bud scales, start to dry out and often die. Sodium chloride from the sidewalk salt that builds up in the soil around plants dissolves in water, creating separate chloride and sodium ions.
Sodium ions reduce the root uptake of necessary plant nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Chloride ions are moved into the plant and accumulate in leaf tissue. This then interferes with photosynthesis. The salt in the soil can dehydrate the plants as it pulls water away from the roots. Sensitive plants, such as roses, white pines, rhododendrons, and yews, can become weak, stunted and have dried-out foliage. In cases where salt use is very high, the plants may die.
Evidence of salt damage is first visible on evergreen trees and shrubs because they retain their needles all year. Damage may not be visible on deciduous plants until spring when they fail to produce leaves or to bud properly. Salt-damaged grass will be brown and patchy.
To minimize the potential damage from winter rock salt, remember these tips.
Use Only What You Need
When salting your driveway or sidewalk, use only as much salt as you need and only apply it where needed most. Avoid spreading salt to areas near your lawn or flower beds.
Don’t Let Salt Stand on Pavers or Concrete Surfaces
After the ice melts, remove any leftover salt products to prevent damage to concrete. Don’t spray or sweep salt into your flower beds or lawn, but deposit it in the trash.
Ensure Walkways Are Properly Graded
The grade or incline on your driveway or sidewalk determines where excess water flows. Ensure that these spaces are graded to encourage water to flow away from the plants. Always avoid planting where water and salt runoff may affect your plants.
Add a Screen or Snow Fence
Salt spray from passing cars can travel up to 150 feet. If you live along a busy street, add a burlap screen or snow fence along the edge of your lawn to catch the spray before it reaches your landscape.
Use Alternative Products
Using kitty litter or sand can help melt ice and provide traction without damaging your lawn or plants. They are also safe for concrete and driveways. Ice melters such as calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate, although more expensive than sodium chloride, are safer to use around plants.
Utilize Salt Tolerant Plants
Use of salt-tolerant plantings may be the most logical solution since it’s helping to reduce the cost associated with replacing damaged plants and reduce the use of more expensive de-icing products.
Prevent Landscape Damage with Water
When temperatures rise above freezing, it is helpful to rinse off your plants exposed to salt. This can dilute the salt and minimize damage.
Scientific Plant Service Is Your Go-To Source In Landscape Healthcare
Scientific Plant Service, located in Baltimore, is a privately owned corporation, chartered in Maryland in 1957 by Frank J. Burke. We started as a full-service Arborists specializing in the care of shade trees and ornamental shrubs, but today we are a Lawn Care company that is a huge part of the community. From aquatic environments and snow management to deer and mole control, SPS has services tailored specifically for your lawn and landscape.
We offer services in Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia, including: Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince Georges, Talbot, Queen Anne’s, Calvert counties in MD, as well as Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church in VA. For more information, contact us online, or call us at 410-321-0970. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.