Road Salt Plant Damage

What is all that road salt going to do to your plants? And what can you do about it?

Soon tender blades of grass will peek through the snow, crocuses and daffodils will burst forth from their wintry prisons, and that’s when we’ll find out what kind of damage the road salt has done.

It’s true ― we need the salt so we can be safe on the roads, but we wish we could have the safety without the ensuing damage to vegetation.

Salt Kills Plants

You may think you don’t know anything about plants and damage from road salt, but think about it ― can crops be irrigated with seawater? Of course not. The brackish water kills the plants. It’s the same when the first spring thaw hits and rivulets of saltwater start trickling through the neighborhood.

Both the foliage and the root parts of plants are damaged by salt. Salt burns blades of grass or leaves on plants, and without healthy leaves, a plant can’t get nutrition.

At a plant’s roots, salt molecules cling tightly to water, leaving less for the plant, which will wilt and eventually die. In fact, many websites advocate the use of rock salt to intentionally kill unwanted plants.

Slow Death

In this manner, plants are slowly poisoned by the salt, which robs them not only of water, but important nutrients like potassium and phosphorous. The only way a plant can get rid of these toxins is through its leaves.

Conifers, which don’t drop their needles with the same regularity other trees and plants do, can’t rid themselves of the poison as readily, and therefore die more often in the presence of salt.

If the soil in your yard is poorly draining, such as soil with a high clay volume, the problem is compounded.

So what can you do to protect your plants?

Take Action

Much of what you can do is prophylactic. If you are using salt at home on your walkway, sidewalk and driveway, follow these steps to minimize damage.

First, clear as much snow and ice away on your own as possible. Consider scattering sand or kitty litter on slippery surfaces ― it’s better for the environment.

Salt is not only bad for plants, it’s bad for concrete, hastening cracking and crumbling. If you have pets, salt can also be a problem. It can get on the pads of their paws, causing burning and discomfort. When they lick their paws for relief, they can end up ingesting the salt.

Wash it Away

Extra water can help flush away the toxins, although a clay-type soil is going to need more water.

Any plants more than 15 feet back from the road (the accepted “splash zone”) will likely be unaffected, expect for those near walkways and driveways you may have salted.

If the spring thaw reveals burned grass near the road or concrete surfaces on your property, call Earthworks Landscaping. We can get your grass back in shape in no time. And next year, remember: no rock salt, it’s bad for your plants.