Minimize Salt Damage to Your Lawn this Winter
Rock salt is heavily used at this time of year to make roadways, driveways and sidewalks safer by helping melt ice buildup and provide traction. But it can also cause noticeable damage to your lawn.
The most common rock salts are composed of Sodium Chloride (NaCl), which can have a detrimental impact when they leach into the soils bordering treated areas. High levels of this compound can result in severe damage to plants, often apparent as brown dead spots on your lawn in the Spring.
How and why does this happen?
Rock salt is water soluble, what that means is that when salt comes in contact with water (ice and snow in this case) it dissolves into its ionic forms – sodium and chloride. With each thaw, runoff will infiltrate the soils causing elevated and potentially harmful levels of both of these minerals.
A plant needs very little sodium but if there is an abundance in the soil, it will absorb it and because of this the sodium will block the uptake of other key minerals that the plant requires. This excess sodium will also impair the plant’s ability to take on water and it will also remove moisture from the soil which results in drought-like dehydration symptoms. In other words, killing your lawn.
Chloride ions are absorbed by the plants roots but if grass contains too much chloride, the plant could starve. The high levels of Chloride affect the plants ability to effectively produce chlorophyll, disrupting photosynthesis. If the sun’s light can’t be turned into to energy (food for the plant), the plant will effectively shut down. Oxygen is also produced by a plant as a by-product of it using the energy it created from the sun’s light. Hard to believe rock salt can even impact the air we breathe!
How can you reduce rock salt’s impact on your lawn?
Physical Barriers: It may be a little late for this method this year. However, using lawn covers like plastic and/or burlap or some snow fencing can minimize salt spray on your lawn.
Shovel early and shovel often: Great time to get a two for one. Get your workout in and protect your lawn from damage. If you shovel away fresh snow before it has a chance to freeze you’ll reduce the amount of salt required to keep your driveway free and clear. Avoid shoveling all the snow into a single concentrated area to limit the amount of salt getting on your lawn.
Use sparingly: If you need to use rock salt, use the recommended spreading rates on the bag to avoid excess getting on your lawn or into the soil.
Use alternatives: consider using a deicing agent safe for landscape use – check with your local garden centres or landscape professionals for recommendations. Sand and kitty litter are also good options to try on your slippery surfaces to add some much needed traction.
Sodium saturated soil can keep grass from growing for years, a few extra minutes and care this winter can save your lawn this Spring and for years to come!