Salt does a great job melting ice and snow to keep pavement safe. The unfortunate twist is that the same chemistry breaking down ice has a destructive impact on our plants. So the question is, how can we keep surfaces ice-free without sacrificing the landscape?
What does salt do?
- Salt is naturally occurring, in the world around us and in our bodies.
- Salt makes snow and ice melt and colder temperatures, but it also absorbs moisture powerfully, even pulling it out of plant tissue.
- When poured down all winter for ice control, it moves from pavement to the soil where it displaces nutrients necessary for plant life.
What can you do to address salt damage and – ideally – prevent it from happening?
- Review winter salt usage. Apply enough to melt ice without leaving a residue and limit where you apply it.
- Though more expensive, consider salt alternatives like calcium chloride or magnesium chloride that melt more effectively without applying as much.
- Flush salt-saturated soil in the spring and provide plenty of water for salt-stressed plants to compensate for their desiccation, or water loss. While irrigating, be sure the soil is well-drained to carry away the salt.
- If there is a concentrated salt spill, gypsum can help neutralize it and allow a dead spot in your turf, for example, to recover quickly.
- Plant salt-tolerant species in areas adjacent to salted surfaces. In addition, pile salt-soaked slush away from plants during the winter.
- Protect plants, particularly evergreens like arborvitae, from salt and salt spray with physical barriers like burlap. Addressing other stress factors too will help your landscape deal with all kinds of damaging factors that come their way.
You can read more in an excellent release (PDF) by the Tree Care Industry Association, the organization that established the accreditation guidelines we follow. In our own snow services, we strive to limit plant damage because it’s best for the landscapes we serve year round.