When you think of winter salt damage, you may think of your car. While it is true that salt from the roads and highways can cause damage to your car, what you may not realize is the detrimental effect salt can have on plants. If you use salt to melt the ice on your sidewalks and driveway and even if it is only the salt slush that comes off the bottom of your car, there are several steps you can take to minimize the damage.
You may be thinking that you have used salt on your driveway before and never noticed damage. Salt damage is not immediately apparent in the spring. Rather, it can take several years for the salt content in the soil to build up to kill a plant.
This occurs in the absorption process. Typically, a plant absorbs water through its roots. However, when salt is used on driveways and sidewalks, the melting ice causes the salt to wash into the soil. As the salt content of the water in the soil continues to increase, the imbalance causes the water to flow out of the plant’s roots. The loss of water causes the roots to dry out. Eventually, the plant will die from what is called “root burn.”
Many of the steps you can take to prevent plant damage from salt are surprisingly simple. First, examine the type of salt you are using. If you have used table salt, or sodium chloride, switch to calcium chloride. These white pellets dissolve more slowly and are less toxic to plants. Although calcium chloride is still a salt, it’s much less damaging.
Try to avoid shoveling salty snow off driveways and walkways onto plant areas and when hosing off, direct the spray to the street away from your lawn, flower beds and shrubs. Also consider digging drainage ditches along the edge of your driveway. Edge your sidewalks, patio and driveway with a groove about 2 inches deep and not more than one-half to three-fourths inch wide to aid water run off into the street and away from plants and soil.
Another protective measure to consider while you are digging the grooves is to raise the beds themselves, especially those next to the driveway. You should mound the soil about four inches above the level of the drive and/or sidewalks. For added interest, you can use some timbers, stone, or brick edge retainers. Leave room for the grooves between the driveway and the walls to further aid runoff.
At our house, we take a slightly easier way out and plant annuals in the beds next to our driveway. Since annuals must be replaced each year anyway, there is little chance for salt to build up sufficiently to cause lasting problems.
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.