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Winter De-Icer and Your Landscape

This past winter, we were all glad to have ice melter available (well, most of us anyway). It was in such demand that all types of salts were used, from table salt, to rock salt, to sodium chloride, to calcium chloride, to water conditioner salt. Some people also used some home remedies like beet juice and vinegar. Most everything did the job, but we’re willing to bet that very few of us considered these substances’ impact on our landscapes.


Most of the salt from commercial de-icers is concentrated along the edges of sidewalks and driveways where it was directly applied (and where any “over-spray” may have occurred). Some is also scattered throughout lawns and landscapes where snow containing ice melt material was thrown. Some also gets deposited on the landscape by salty water spray from passing traffic. The point is — getting salt on a lawn can cause problems, no matter how the salts ended up there.


How Excess Salt Affects Plant Life

The deicing salts build up around plants and cause a salt imbalance. Thinking back to high school science, the term osmosis may ring a bell. Osmosis is the movement of water from an area of lesser concentration to higher concentration in an attempt to equalize the concentrations of dissolved salts in the liquids. Under normal circumstances, there is a higher concentration of salt inside plants than outside. This allows the much needed water to move into the plant.


When the opposite occurs, such as during salting from a particularly harsh winter, water moves out of the plant and into the surrounding water. This can actually dry out (and, in effect, “burn”) the plants. This process causes the plants to yellow and recover much more slowly in spring. In some extreme cases, the plants will die from this process.


Can We Reverse Salt Injury?

Lawns with yellow edges, plant material showing yellow tips, or plants not coming out of dormancy are all indications of salt injury. You may be wondering how to repair salt-damaged lawns and plants. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to correct the situation after it occurs. Spring rains may help to dilute or move the salts away from the plants, but the recovery is questionable. There are some products sold on the market that claim to neutralize the salt’s effects, and maybe they can. In our experience, though, when the process has taken place, any solution is too little too late.


For now, only time will tell if the affected sections of landscape will recover. Replacement of the damaged plant material may ultimately have to take place.


It’s truly amazing how resilient Mother Nature can be despite our efforts to prove otherwise. How has this winter affected your lawn?