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What causes salt damage?

Across the Midwest, the use of deicing salts in winter to maintain safe roadways, sidewalks, and driveways is a common practice. Despite the benefits, deicing salt deposited on trees and shrubs can cause extensive damage. Deicing salt is dispersed from roads by plowing, meltwater runoff, splash, and aerial spray. Plants sensitive to salts may show injury early and can decline quickly after exposure.

Damage is most severe within 60 feet of the road and decreases with distance, but sensitive plants can show burn at distances of 1,000 feet or more from roadways On evergreens, salt spray causes browning or yellowing of needles and twig dieback, often on the roadside portion of the plant only; sensitive evergreens planted within 300 feet of roadways can sustain severe damage.

How can I prevent my plants from dying?

To minimize injury, keep plants healthy by mulching to reduce water loss, and by irrigating to help move salts through the soil. Also, wait to apply a deicer until after shoveling and plowing. Avoid shoveling salt-laden snow over the root zones of salt sensitive plants. Avoid or minimize the use of salt around landscape plants.

List of Salt-Tolerant Trees & Shrubs

DECIDUOUS TREES

  • (Acer campestre) Hedge maple
  • (Acer ginnala) Amur maple
  • (Acer saccharinum) Silver maple
  • (Aesculus hippocastanum) Horse-chestnut
  • (Amelanchier x grandiflora) Apple serviceberry
  • (Betula nigra) River birch
  • (Carya cordiformis) Bitternut hickory
  • (Carya ovata) Shagbark hickory
  • (Catalpa speciosa) Northern catalpa
  • (Celtis occidentalis) Hackberry
  • (Diospyros virginiana) Persimmon
  • (Ginkgo biloba) Ginkgo
  • (Gleditsia triacanthos) Honey locust
  • (Gymnocladus dioicus) Kentucky coffeetree
  • (Juglans nigra) Black walnut
  • (Larix decidua) European larch
  • (Larix laricina) American larch
  • (Liquidambar styraciflua) Sweet gum
  • (Magnolia x soulangiana) Saucer magnolia
  • (Malus some cultivars) Crabapple
  • (x zumi ‘Calocarpa’, ‘Adams’, ‘Donald Wyman’, ‘Prairifire’)
  • (Nyssa sylvatica) Tupelo
  • (Ostrya virginiana) Ironwood
  • (Platanus occidentalis) Sycamore
  • (Quercus alba) White oak
  • (Quercus bicolor) Swamp white oak
  • (Quercus ellipsoidalis) Northern pin oak
  • (Quercus imbricaria) Shingle oak
  • (Quercus macrocarpa) Bur oak
  • (Sassafras albidum) Sassafras
  • (Syringa reticulata) Japanese tree lilac
  • (Syringa pekinensis) Peking lilac
  • (Taxodium distichum) Bald-cypress
  • (Ulmus ‘Regal’) Regal elm

EVERGREEN TREES

  • (Juniperus chinensis) Chinese juniper
  • (Juniperus horizontalis) Creeping juniper)
  • (Juniperus virginiana) Eastern red-cedar
  • (Picea pungens) Blue spruce
  • (Pinus mugo) Mugo pine
  • (Thuja occidentalis) Eastern arborvitae

SHRUBS

  • (Aronia arbutifolia) Red chokeberry
  • (Aronia melanocarpa) Black chokeberry
  • (Berberis thunbergii) Japanese barberry
  • (Buxus microphylla) Boxwood
  • (Clethra alnifolia) Summersweet
  • (Cotoneaster spp.) Cotoneaster
  • (Forsythia spp.) Forsythia
  • (Hamamelis virginiana) Witch-hazel
  • (Hibiscus syriacus) Rose-of-Sharon
  • (Hydrangea spp.) Hydrangea
  • (Hypericum spp.) St. John’s wort
  • (Ilex verticillata) Winterberry
  • (Myrica pensylvanica) Bayberry
  • (Perovskia atriplicifolia) Russian-sage
  • (Philadelphus coronarius) Mock-orange
  • (Potentilla fruticosa) Shrubby cinquefoil
  • (Prunus x cistena) Purpleleaf sand cherry
  • (Rhus aromatica) Fragrant sumac
  • (Rhus glabra) Smooth sumac
  • (Rhus typhina) Staghorn sumac
  • (Ribes alpinum) Alpine currant
  • (Rosa rugosa) Rugosa rose
  • (Sambucus canadensis) Elderberry
  • (Spiraea spp. *most) Spirea
  • (Symphoricarpos albus) Snowberry
  • (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) Palibin lilac
  • (Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’) Miss Kim lilac
  • (Viburnum dentatum) Arrowwood viburnum
  • (Viburnum lentago) Nannyberry
  • (Viburnum prunifolium) Blackhaw viburnum

Source: For more info, check out The Morton Arboretum’s full Salt Tolerant Plant Guide.