As winter approaches, we need to think about protecting our plants and gardens, as well as our soil, from the elements. Cold weather, snow and ice can all cause plant damage, but one of the biggest dangers is salt used on walks and drives to melt ice or if you live along a busy thoroughfare the salt spray from passing vehicles.

Water is normally drawn from the soil into the plant through the roots, but water with a high concentration of salt causes a reversal in this process. As the content of any substance in water increases, whether it is salt or another chemical, the water in the soil becomes diluted and is no longer 100 percent pure. Water is then drawn out of the plant cells and into the soil to correct the imbalance. The roots dry out when water is removed, and the plant eventually dies.

Visible plant damage does not occur the day salt enters the soil but shows up later. As salt accumulation slowly builds over several years, the damage appears. A few simple procedures can reduce salt damage before it becomes a problem. One step is to switch from sodium chloride, or table salt, to calcium chloride. Look for calcium chloride on the bag label. It is white and comes in pellet form rather than the crystals of sodium chloride. Calcium chloride is also a chemical but is far less damaging.

Another way to reduce salt damage is to provide drainage grooves between the pavement and the soil. This edging along walkways, patios and driveways allows the salt water to runoff into the street and away from plants and soil. The grooves should be at least one-half to one inch deep.

Raised beds can also reduce potential salt damage to plants. Raising the soil height above the level of the walkway or driveway can be accomplished by mounding the soil or by using timbers, stone or brick walls. The beds should be raised four inches or higher above the walkway while still allowing room for the drainage grooves.

You can also follow a few protective measures in the spring to reduce salt damage. Consider replacing the soil near the walkways and planting annuals which need to be replaced every year anyway. It is also important to spray towards the street when hosing down the pavement and away from the lawn or plant beds.

Salt damage can be reduced by using more salt tolerant plants. Evergreens such as the Shore Juniper and Ink Berry work well. For shrubs, try the Bay Berry or Arrowwood Viburnum. Some good salt tolerant small trees include the Service Berry and Lavelle Hawthorn.

Follow these steps and your plants will fare better in the struggle against winter and salt damage.

Article by Fred Hower, “The Ohio Nurseryman.”
© The Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association. If you wish to reproduce articles in quantities of 10 or more, use an article in a class or training session, or reprint an article in a publication (print or web), you must obtain explicit permission from the ONLA.


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