If you have been wondering what sort of impact so much snow will have on the average lawn come spring, switch gears and think of salt and plowing. Unfortunately, where there is smoke there is often fire- where we have lots of snow- there has been plowing and salt use. A winter like the one we are currently experiencing means rock salt is going down everywhere- especially on roads, parking lots, and sideways. With so much rock salt use, the pure tonnage used during the winter means your soil will have problems this spring. In large quantities, salt causes soil to harden and upsets the normal flow of liquid into surrounding plant roots like your lawn, tree, and shrubs. Generally, a decent snow cover protects your lawn from the drying winds and low temperatures common to winter weather. However, if large amounts of rock salt are used, foliage and plants are likely to suffer damage. Visible damage will become apparent in April as the snow recedes to expose a seemingly lifeless landscape of brown.
The likelihood of a salt spray coming into contact with tree or shrub foliage increases dramatically with each passing snow or ice storm. This fact is especially true if you live on a main road or one which has town services such as salting. The resulting contact with a salt solution lifted up by passing cars can cause a reduction in cold hardiness of tree buds, especially evergreen needles like those on an Arborvitae. In the world of grass, salt upsets the balance of water and the ability of it to pass into the root system. The resulting affect of too much rock salt on a lawn is a drought like condition where ample water simply cannot be used- despite wet soil conditions or standing water.
The later in the season salt is used, the greater the damage. Using ice melts low in chlorides, especially calcium or sodium chloride should be avoided due to their enhanced plant killing abilities. CMA’s or blends of plant friendly ice melts are much less harmful and while they may not avoid all damage, greatly reduce the amount likely to occur.
To help offset sodium chloride (rock salt) in a lawn or soil area, use high calcium lime to displace the sodium by leaching with adequate amounts of spring rain/snow melt. Although not a miracle cure, the chemistry works out pretty good versus using gypsum which only further acidifies the soil environment. If you plan on liming this year or have used too much rock salt, have your lawn limed with a high calcium lime- not a standard pelletized lime. Turf loves calcium, a slightly acidic pH, and a softer soil improved by using only calcium based lime. I only offer a high calcium lime for not only the aforementioned reasons but for other benefits to a lawn system.
With March on our doorstep, spring is more than just a thought, its reality. Prepare for the plow and salt damage now before the opportunity passes as early spring fades into Memorial Day weekend!