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Protecting Your Trees From De-Icing Salt

Ice melting salt on stairs

The first snow of the season inevitably brings with it a mad rush to buy de-icing salt from the local hardware store. Though these products can help protect you from a slip and fall on a slippery sidewalk, they can also be fatal to trees, shrubs and your lawn. Here’s why de-icing salt for driveways is harmful and how to prevent salt from killing your trees this winter.

Why de-icing salt damages trees

When mixed with water, the sodium and chloride ions in de-icing salts separate. Sodium ions in the soil replace necessary minerals and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Plants absorb the chloride ions, but they build up in the leaves and disrupt photosynthesis.

Moreover, de-icing salt also absorbs moisture in the soil around a tree’s root system, dehydrating and stressing the tree. Salt also decreases a tree’s ability to withstand frost. Overusing road salt can in some cases kill affected trees.

Symptoms of salt damage

Trees damaged from road salt show the following symptoms:

  • Significant drooping at the top of the tree
  • Thin leaves
  • Stunted foliage growth
  • A later-than-usual blooming period
  • Premature fall colouration and defoliation
  • Browned leaves
  • Dead branches

How to prevent salt from killing your trees

Here are some tips on preventing tree damage from de-icing salt.

  • Avoid overuse. Many homeowners use overuse de-icing salt and apply it incorrectly. De-icing salt isn’t effective at extremely cold temperatures. Only use it when the temperature is around -15 C. If the temperature is colder than that, you’re applying more salt than you need.
  • Protect your trees. Wrap your trees in burlap or wood to protect the trunks from road splash. Apply a layer of mulch around the base of your trees to prevent seepage.
  • Prevent ice buildup, shovel your snow. After it snows, shovel your walkways and driveway as soon as possible to prevent ice buildup. Shovel snow away from your trees, lawn, hedges and flower beds. Flush areas that are prone to melt runoff with water whenever the temperature rises above 5 C.

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