Plants, soil need protection from winter salt damage | Home & Garden

Plants showing damage from salt spray are easily identified since damage is concentrated on the road side of plants. In addition, the suspended spray often only reaches a specific height on affected plants, creating a distinct line where damaged foliage ends.

Damage to soil: A less common, but often more serious, plant aliment can occur if salt-laden meltwater infiltrates the soil profile. In these cases, soil very near a source of salt, such as a heavily treated sidewalk or similar surface, accumulates sodium. The impact is often very concentrated in well defined drainage paths, Pankau said.

“As sodium accumulates in the soil profile, it can have dramatic effects on soil properties over time, from raising pH to destroying soil structure that ultimately results in additional soil compaction,” Pankau said.

At times, it can create soil conditions unsuitable for root growth, but can also be detrimental to beneficial soil biota, such as mycorrhizae. In addition, salts in soils actually absorb soil water that would otherwise be available to the plants.

Shovel immediately: Since salt application is often essential for safety in the built environment, what are some ways we can limit the impact to plants? Pankau suggests moderate use of salt, when possible.

“I am always quick to shovel new-fallen snow since removal is much easier when it’s light and fluffy, as opposed to after the kids have tromped it into the sidewalk,” Pankau said.