Salt damage to lawns and landscape plants normally comes from two sources. It comes from commercial salt used on city streets that may be splashed or spread on your yard, or from the use of an "ice melt" product that you may use to "de-ice" sidewalks or driveways. The easiest way to prevent the damage is not to plant anything close to the areas where they may be exposed to salt. Moving small shrubs or perennials is easy to do. It becomes much harder when it is a large tree, or extensive area of turf, like a parkway. The best way of preventing lawn and yard damage is not to use salt, or salt-like products.
Salt Damage Threats
Damage from salt occurs when the foliage is burned by the salt product being splashed on to it, or when the salt is absorbed through the root system. The greatest damage is on the side that faces, or is adjacent to, the street, sidewalk, or driveway. It may take several years for enough salt to accumulate to cause severe damage to the plants. Normal rainfall will usually wash the salt deep into the soil. Constant repeating of the activity will increase the concentration levels, which leads to more severe problems. The plants may weaken or die as the levels accumulate to higher levels. Some plants, like the white pine, are especially sensitive to salt damage. Others are more resistant, such as many of the southern turfgrass varieties of Bermuda grass, centipede grass, and zoysia grass. Unfortunately, these grasses will not grow in the northern climates. Their use is, therefore, limited to the South and the transition zone between northern and southern states.
Salt Damage Prevention
Prevention and modification are the best approaches to reduce salt damage. You can erect a barrier, using burlap or landscape fabric, in an effort to keep the salt from entering a landscape bed. You can cover plants with the same materials and that will help to keep the foliage from burning. If your parkway is always being damaged from salt, then consider replacing part or all of it with landscape bricks or decorative stones. Also, there is a variety of grass- fults pucinnellia distans, that has good salt tolerance. This may be used in a blend with other northern turfgrasses to develop a stand of grass that will not be damaged as easily.
Salt Damage Prevention Products
There are "ice-melt" products that you can use around your home that do a good job and will not damage the grass along the edges of the sidewalks or driveways. The name, "ice-melt" is a misnomer. Most of the products do not "melt" the ice as much as break the bond between the ice and the surface below it. Once the ice is loose, it can be removed easily. Commercial products that contain potassium chloride have a lower burn potential than ones that contain sodium chloride. Sand, kitty litter, and cinders will work as an aid to prevent someone from slipping on the ice, but do not work as well as an "ice-melt" compound. It is usually not a good idea to use regular rock salt, as it will damage the surrounding grass and plants easily, and it can damage concrete and blacktop. Having to deal with snow and ice is a "fact of life" when you live in the northern climates. Trying to remove it from streets, sidewalks, and driveways can be a challenge. Protecting your lawn and landscape from the adverse effects of salt and "ice-melt" products can be a bigger challenge. If you do some planning and use products that are less damaging, then you will not have as much turf care work to complete the following spring.
As always, contact your local Spring Green if you have questions regarding your lawn and salt damage prevention. Our experts are glad to help.
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