Plants prefer a low-salt diet

Winter: Harmful de-icers should be kept away from trees and shrubs.

January 27, 2002|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Hold the salt -- not just your table salt but also the salt you sprinkle on icy driveways and walkways.

Be careful about using too much de-icing salt around your trees and shrubs this winter. Severe salt damage may not be visible on a tree until the end of summer, says the National Arborist Association. In some cases, tree decline may not be visible for years.

"Salt deposits migrate to the stems, buds and roots of trees," says Robert Rouse, staff arborist with the association. "This causes disfigured foliage, stunted growth and severe decline in tree health. Salt runoff washes from pavement into the ground, increasing salt levels in the soil."

Here are some recommendations from the arborist association and other gardening professionals.

* Avoid the use of de-icing salts unless necessary. Mix salt with abrasives such as sand, cinders and ash. Nonclumping cat litter also works very well. Avoid tracking these materials into your home.

* Use alternative de-icing salts such as calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate. Look for these materials listed on package labels.

* Improve drainage in your soils. Add organic matter such as activated charcoal or gypsum, and use water to thoroughly leach salt residues from the soil.

* Erect barriers between pavement and paths.

* Plant trees away from any type of salt spray.

* Plant salt-resistant trees in areas where high salt spray is inevitable.

* Provide adequate irrigation and mulching to reduce water loss.

* Prune properly and add fertilizers to correct nutrient deficiencies. Proper pruning and fertilization keep plants healthy, which, in return, enable them to tolerate environmental stresses.

* Control tree-damaging diseases and pest infestations.



If you are unsure about your tree's health, consult a professional arborist who can identify and remove hazards as well as treat the causes of tree health problems.

To find a member of the National Arborist Association, call 800-733-2622, or do a zip code search at

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