Reducing Winter Salt Damage To Your Trees

Using salt to de-ice streets is essential all over the country to keep roads and sidewalks dry and walkable throughout the winter months. While of course this is a great invention and we are all able to get back to our lives much more quickly because of the salt, it can take a toll on your trees, shrubs, and other greenery located near the treated areas.

Mostly, trees will be fine after the winter season. If you keep them healthy throughout the rest of the year, you shouldn’t have a problem keeping them healthy through the cold, snow, and salt.

There are some basic things that you need to understand before you can successfully treat your trees and prevent even more damage:

3. Just How Does Salt Hurt Trees

tree lined road
Credit: Jason Thibault
  • At least, causes bark discoloration
  • Evergreens very susceptible
  • Can impact root systems

The most obvious problem that comes from trees and salt is the discoloration on trees and shrubs. This comes from salt going into the air and spraying the bottom part of the tree. On evergreens, the damage is more obvious because they keep their needles year round – you will see discoloration (yellow or light green) on the needles. While this can be ugly, it doesn’t necessarily cause too many problems.

The problem is caused when the salt leaches down into the soil and hurts the root systems. As the ice and snow melt, the salt goes beneath the ground, causing the salt content in the soil to increase. This will interfere with the natural minerals and nutrients that help to balance the structure of the tree. It makes it tougher for the tree to get the water that it needs.

One thing to note is that you do not see the problems right away since trees don’t need as much water in the winter months – but you will start to see signs in the spring, according to the University of Massachusettes.

2. Water Your Trees Whenever Possible

Spraying snow
Credit: Michael Mueller
  • Just like in humans, salt can harm trees by leaching water
  • Cleans off excess salt
  • Flushes salt from soil

On a warmer day, water your trees at the soil level and then wipe off as much of the salt as you can. This will help to ease at least some of the damage. Salt is designed to act slowly, so you can mitigate at least a majority of the damage if you are quick about clean up. You do want to wait until the temperature is above freezing or you can cause more problems than you are solving. If you have enough advanced notice, you might even be able to move it away before the storm – but make sure you keep pedestrian safety in mind.

Another tip from the University of Tennessee suggests: “Irrigate soils to leach sodium and chloride before spring growth. A saline soil condition is relatively easy to correct. Since most salts are water-soluble, applications of water will effectively leach salts out of the root zones. A general formula suggests that 6 inches of water should be applied to leach out about half the soluble salts. Leached potassium and magnesium can be replaced through the application of fertilizer.”

1. You Can Choose A Less Harsh Version

Road with snow
Credit: James Mann
  • There is salt that is safe for plants
  • Try calcium chloride
  • May cost more

If you buy your own salt for your sidewalk and/or driveway, you can at least mitigate some of the problems there. Road salt comes in different forms, and while the type that townships use is harmful to plants, the type you use doesn’t have to be, according to the Muskoka Watershed Council. While types that aren’t harmful to plants can be a bit more expensive, it will save you in tree care costs later on in the year.

Calcium chloride is a great option because it is less damaging. However, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be any damage, so you should still take other steps to keep your trees safe. You do want to be careful not to overdo it when you salt because this too will seep into the soil, which could cause growing problems later in the year. To abate this risk, you can mix the solution with sand or even sawdust, which will help to keep it above ground and will reduce the amount of salt you need to use thanks to the added traction.

Another step you can take is to plant trees that are salt tolerant. You won’t have many options when it comes to these, but you only really have to plant them in areas that are close to pavement or roadways. Some of your options include hedge maples or pin oaks. Make sure to do some research to see what your other options are and how you will need to take care of these trees in other ways.

Don’t think that you can just skip out on taking care of your plants, shrubs, and trees. They are an important part of your property and deserve to be treated as such. You should look around your trees after any big storm or weather event. If you think your trees are suffering from salt damage, infestations, sunscalding, malnutrition, or any other problem, you might want to consult a tree care specialist. We can help you to assess what’s actually going on and suggest treatment plans that will help you to get your trees back to the way that they were.

If you believe that you have a problem with your trees or in your yard,  give us a call today at (269) 216-6811 and we can set up a time to visit you and your beautiful trees to see just what the problem is – and how we can help you. Even more, if you have been facing issues with your trees and you just want to make sure that they have the best chance of survival into the next season, contact our professionals. There is no job too big or too small.

Header photo courtesy of Magdalena Roeseler on Flickr!

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