Rock salt does a great job of melting snow and ice in winter, however, it’s not the most plant-friendly way to make sidewalks and driveways safe for walking.

Common rock salt contains sodium chloride, which when splashed onto plants or carried onto lawns and garden beds in meltwater, can increase soil sodium levels to the point where roots are damaged and leaves turn brown. If you’ve ever seen a line of roadside arborvitae or boxwoods that are brown mainly on the side facing the road, splashed snow from the plowing of salted roadways is usually the culprit. Lawns that are brown only along the margins of sidewalks, driveways, and roads also are likely victims of salty runoff.

Salt damage along a road

Salt runoff likely contributed to this lawn-browning along the road. George Weigel

The tricky part about salt damage is that the effects usually aren’t seen until hot, dry weather when the water demands of lawns and plants go up but enough healthy roots aren’t available to supply the increase. That’s when grass blades and plant leaves go brown, leading gardeners to place full blame on the summer conditions.

Plants wrapped in burlap

Wrapping plants in burlap or snow-fence barriers will keep your plants protected from any potential salt contact during the winter. Yulyao / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Preventing salt damage

To head off possible salt damage to plants, look for bagged melters that don’t contain sodium. Some products contain calcium chloride, some contain potassium chloride, and the plant-friendliest are those with calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), a product made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid. Another option is to skip melters and put down gritty materials to aid traction, such as sand or kitty litter.

To prevent salt-splash injury from plows and snow-throwers, erect burlap or snow-fence barriers heading into winter to protect sensitive plants in landscaped areas. Or hose off salt-sprayed plants as soon as possible afterward. When planning a roadside bed, stick with salt-tolerant plants in the first place, such as junipers, shrub roses, lilacs, pines, and spirea.

Fixing trouble spots in lawn

In most cases, grass damaged by deicing salts will recover on its own. Spring rains are particularly helpful in leaching accumulated salt out of the root zones. If spring rain isn’t happening and your lawn isn’t bouncing back, consider irrigating it to help “flush” excess salt away.

If the lawn hasn’t recovered after three or four weeks of warm and damp weather – especially if surrounding grass is actively growing – the grass has likely died and it’s time to plant new seed. Then it’s time to rake-off and remove dead turf, loosen the soil surface, and plant new grass seed. By adding a starter lawn fertilizer such as GreenView Starter Fertilizer with GreenSmart to get the newly planted lawn sections off to a good start.