Lingering salt could be bad news for plants & trees

Concerns as rain chances start to wash treatment away
It all comes down to what's inside the treatment and how it will impact plants and trees.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 6:22 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Our next storm system has rain chances lined up for Tuesday evening and our Wednesday across much of the Ozarks. While the rain is welcome to wash away any lingering salt treatment on area roads after our wintry weather, it may raise a problem for some area trees, plants, and soil. It has some area arborists, like Will Branch of All About Trees, concerned.

“Most of that is related to sodium chloride, like the table salt or rock salt,” says Branch. “We see it a lot with parking lot islands or commercial properties where they have large trucks coming in and spreading the parking lot.”

The problem Branch is focused on is the ability of the dissolved treatment to break down into sodium and chloride. Whether road crews or residents lay down salt to treat the roads, traffic running over washed-up treatment could splash onto grassy areas near curbs and onto some lawns. Branch says his concerns pick up as that splash could try to work into the soil and toward any nearby trees or plants.

“What it does in the root zone of the plant is it’s effectively going to force water away from the roots,” Branch explains. “To simplify it, your tree is going to dry up no matter how much water is around it.”

While area plants and trees can handle a little extra sodium, too much can cause the small feeder roots of trees and plants to stop taking in water. That will certainly lead to trouble for your plants and trees. Branch said that he already has seen these types of calls arise from residents and more could be on the way as we approach the growing season.

“There will be visible signs once the trees break dormancy or if they fail to do so,” Branch said. “You’ll see leaf scorch. You’ll have the ends of leaves that are burning back or looking brown. That would be a light salt issue. Most of the time, we’ll just see trees that failed to break dormancy.”

In terms of trying to mitigate any damage from sodium, Branch suggests saturating the soil as much as you can to dilute it and minimize its presence. He also has other tips for homeowners and businesses.

“If you use de-icing chemicals near your plants, just sweep up the excess when the snow dries,” says Branch. “That would help immensely. You’ll also want to know what you’re putting on your property. Instead of sodium chloride, there are alternative treatments that are labeled plant and pet safe. There’s a whole range of products including sand that can help with de-icing and you won’t have any chemicals involved in that.”

Plus, Branch says moderation is key. Use only enough treatment to treat the surface and make sure you don’t accidentally apply it close to any grass, trees, or plants. If you’re concerned about any potential sodium levels in your soil or damage to plants and trees, Branch says don’t wait. Greene County residents can give the University of Missouri Extension a call to have the soil analyzed. Tree companies can also come out to take soil samples and look at plants and trees to see if any extra steps need to be taken.

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