Word to garden-wise: Be careful with salt if you want landscape plants to thrive

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Watch your step as you are on walkways. And also important, watch where you are spreading that deicing salt! These can be disastrous for landscape plants.

Plants vary in their sensitivity to salt, with some plants seemingly unaffected by salt (halophytic) while others are killed entirely (glycophytes). In ancient times, salt was used for biological warfare to destroy an enemy’s crops. Salts deposited on the surface of twigs, branches and evergreen leaves can cause excessive drying of foliage and roots. They can be taken up by plants and accumulate to toxic levels. Sodium salts in particular can also cause a nutritional imbalance by changing the chemistry of the soil and harming soil structure.

The most apparent damage is death of buds and twig tips as a result of salt spray. As the tips of the plants die, the plant responds by growing an excessive number of side branches. However, accumulation damage is more slowly manifested and may not be noticeable for many months. Affected plants might show stunting, poor vigor, die back of growing tips, and leaf burn or leaf drop. In evergreens, damage usually appears in late winter as needle browning that starts at the tips. Keep in mind that snow-covered branches will be less affected than those exposed to salt spray.

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