University of Manitoba - Faculty of Agricultural & Food Sciences - Salt Damage
Salt Damage

Problem type: Environmental

Name of problem: Salt Damage

Plant name(s): All plants

Symptoms / Characteristics:
Deciduous plants exhibit a tufted growth pattern or "witches broom" appearance in winter. Plants may leaf out later in the spring, or buds, especially flower buds may fail to open. Leaf tips may appear scorched, twig or branch dieback may be evident and premature fall color or leaf drop can occur. Trees may show one-sided injury on the side exposed to the road. Repeated killing of twigs or shoots of woody plants can result in a shrubby or prostrate growth habit.

Evergreen damage from salt appears in late winter and intensifies in early spring. Needles turn brown starting at the tips, and will drop prematurely. With repeated injury, branches become bare and die.

Trees and shrubs exposed to high amounts of salt can become disfigured and die. Salt can cause damage up to 50 meters away from a road, and affects plants by either leaching into the soil or spraying directly onto plant surfaces by traffic.

Control / Preventions:
Avoid using salt for de-icing roads, sidewalks and driveways, but if salts are used, incorporate inert materials such as sand. Sand can cause its own problems, and if too much has accumulated, it should be swept up and removed in the spring. Lower the application rate and the throwing distance of salt. Improve drainage or slope the grade of soil away from plants to move salts away. If too much salt is suspected in the soil around plantings, flush soil with water in the spring when the ground has thawed, pushing salts through the soil profile away from roots.

Plants can be wrapped with burlap or other materials if highly susceptible plants are near roads, otherwise, avoid planting in these high risk areas.

Keep plants healthy so they can withstand some salt spray. Prune dead and damaged branches where practical and monitor for pest and disease problems.