Act Now to Save Your Plants from Salt Damage

By: albertaarb - January 9, 2015

You've likely noticed that trees near roadways have darkened leaves and needles. Some fade from glorious greens hues to unsightly browns. This can be avoided with the proper precautions.

How Salt Can Ruin Your Trees

Tree foliage loses its luster partially due to the presence of road salt. An amazing amount of salt is dumped into roadways throughout the winter. This salt can harm trees and plants in two different ways. The first is by way of an airborne spray that attacks dormant bugs through leaf scar.

The second occurs when salt builds up in the soil, where it separates into sodium and chlorine. Chlorine ions within the tree's soil are soaked up into the tree during the early part of spring. This allows them to penetrate the sap and shoots to stop buds from opening. The chlorine even reaches the leaf margins and creates leaf scorch that causes them to curl up and die.

The sodium ions within the soil move in unison with the tree's nutrients but block off potassium and magnesium. The blockage stops the tree's production of chlorophyll. In some instances, this can result in a severe decrease in potassium that impairs the tree from fighting disease and drought.

The presence of salt in tree soil can also create a physiological drought. When salt is present near tree roots, it often accumulates in a concentration that is greater than the tree's sap. This prevents osmosis and the tree's roots won't be able to absorb water. The result is a terrible drought. The branches near the road will turn yellow and brown needles will begin to drop.

Some deciduous trees will have the “witches' brooms.” These are twigs grouped together in clusters at the ends of branches. This occurs because the salt spray kills the tree's terminal buds.

How To Save Trees From Salt Damage

You can take action to prevent salt from damaging the aesthetics of your trees, shrubs and plants. Don't use de-icing salts. Instead, utilize coarse sand. It'll give you the proper footing that you need to walk on your property and it'll preserve the integrity of your trees and shrubs. If you absolutely have to use salt, don't use much. Also, don't scatter it all around. Limit it to a small space and always apply it before the area freezes.

You can also help by doing everything in your power to preserve the life of your trees and shrubs. If they are healthy, they'll have a better chance of surviving an onslaught of road salt in the winter. Be sure to plant salt-tolerant trees right by the roadways and sidewalks as they'll be better equipped to handle the presence of salt. Consider planting native species like Red oak, Red pine, poplars, birches and ashes in salty areas. Keep the salt-intolerant species like White pine, Sugar maple and Eastern hemlock far away from the road.

Do your best to improve the drainage around your plants and trees so that road salts don't find their way in to the root system so easily. When spring rolls around, you should flush the soil around your trees and shrubs with water. This will push salts away from the roots.

You can also apply barriers that will protect sensitive greenery from being infiltrated by salt. Make use of snow fencing, plastic fencing and burlap.

Above all, you should consult with the experts. An experienced arborist will equip you with the special products and advice that you need to maintain healthy and vibrant trees.

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