Protecting your turf and landscape from winter salt damage

By Allyn Paul, filed under Lawn Tips.

Looking for Ice Melter? We Have It In Stock here.

lawn damaged by rock salt

You’ve worked hard and invested so much in your little patch of green lawn love, and it’s up to you to protect it from damage during these long winter months. I’ve already warned you about walking on frozen turf and “Cracking Your Crowns,” but another turf killer lurks these days: Rock Salt. You Can Buy Safer ice Melter Here

Salt damage to lawns and landscape trees and shrubs normally comes from two sources:

  • Commercial rock salt used on city streets that may be splashed or spread on your yard in mass quantities
  • Homeowner mis-use of ”ice melter” products used to de-ice sidewalks and driveways.

Damage from salt occurs when the foliage is burned by the salt product being splashed on to it (mostly seen in turf or with small shrubs), or when the salt is absorbed through the root system (occurs in larger trees and bushes). The greatest damage is on the side that faces, or is adjacent to, the street, sidewalk, or driveway.

It may take several years for enough salt to accumulate in the soil to cause severe damage to larger trees. Normal rainfall will usually wash the salts deep into the soil. Constant repeating of the activity will increase the concentration levels, which leads to more severe problems. The plants may weaken or die as the levels accumulate. Sadly, when this happens, it is rarely diagnosed as the tree or shrub in question declines over time and other factors are blamed. 

Some plants, like the White Pine, are especially sensitive to salt damage. Others, like white ash and crimson maple tend to do better in parkway areas where salt is heavily splashed. (for those of you from the South, the “parkway” is the area between the street and the sidewalk)

Since we’re talking about trees right now: Prevention and modification are the best approaches to reduce salt damage. You can erect a barrier, using burlap or landscape fabric, in an effort to keep the salt from entering a landscape bed. You can cover plants with the same materials and that will help to keep the foliage from burning.

When it comes to turf areas: If your parkway is always being damaged from salt, you may consider replacing part or all of it with landscape bricks or decorative stones. I personally won’t take such drastic measures. Instead, I have used Turf Type Tall Fescue blends of grass seed in my parkway, and they have performed quite nicely. Turf fescues have good salt tolerance. I always recommend seeding with blends or mixes that contain a high percentage of tall fescue, along with some perennial rye grass and maybe some bluegrass. My good friends at Google Adsense have an ad that pops in here and there for some really well adapted fescue. If you see that ad, that’s the stuff I am talking about!

Another good tip that you can use next December is to coat the parkway with a thin layer of peat moss. The peat will help to neutralize the sodium content in the rock salt. Peat moss is cheap and is widely used as a soil conditioner.

ice melt productsThere are ice-melt products that you can use around your home that do a good job and will not damage the grass along the edges of the sidewalks or driveways, but only when used in small quantities! Ice melt is not a “snow shovel in a bucket!” Got it!?!? 

For the record, the term, “ice-melt” is a misnomer. Most of the products do not “melt” the ice as much as break the bond between the ice and the surface below it. Once the ice is loose, air gets underneath and the ice melts between pockets. (that right there was worth the price of admission folks!!!!!)  

Commercial products that contain potassium chloride have a lower burn potential than ones that contain sodium chloride. Sand and kitty litter will work as an aid to prevent someone from slipping on the ice, but do not work as well as an ice-melt compound. It is usually not a good idea to use regular rock salt (this is what most municipalities utilize on their salt trucks), as it will damage the surrounding grass and plants easily, and it can damage concrete and blacktop too. (that’s why Chicago roads have terrible potholes everywhere)

Having to deal with snow and ice is a fact of life when you live in the northern climates. Trying to remove it from streets, sidewalks, and driveways can be a challenge. Protecting your lawn and landscape from the adverse effects of salt and ice-melt products can be a challenge. If you do some planning and use products that are safer, then you will not have as much damage to repair this Spring! Have no fear friends, if you do acquire some salt damage this winter, I’ll be sure to add a post on how to fix it! Stay tuned!


Here’s a great article on lawn grass seed.

Here’s another article that teaches you how to seed and fill in bare spots with grass seed.

Use the search feature above to find quality Turf Type Tall Fescues on line.


Wondering "what to" put on your lawn and "when to" put it down? Get my $7 Step By Step ebook and learn it! I am really proud of the results my readers are getting using this easy to follow lawn treatment schedule.

Lawn Care Step By Step Buy Now

Lawn Care Step

You can start at ANY time during the year... I wrote the book so it is easy to get into lawn care no matter what time it is... Just start NOW! Lawn Care, Step By Step

Leave a Reply