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Salt Tolerant Plants
by Carla Allen
by Carla Allen

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

Carla Allen has been gardening for the past 25 years, co-owned a nursery in southwestern Nova Scotia for 16 years.

Carla has an extensive image library and nurtures a network of horticulture in the region. She was the first president of the Yarmouth Garden Club.

March 30, 2003

This has truly been a winter for flinging handfuls of salt on doorsteps and walkways. While the use of deicing salts can reduce the chance of injury to humans, it can spell disaster for landscape plants. Whether the salt is sprayed on plants from passing traffic near the road, or is inadvertently sprinkled onto plants near the sidewalk, it can cause damage. You can avoid the use of salt by substituting clean cat litter, sand or sawdust to help improve traction on ice. But there's no denying the effectiveness of salt - the most popular ice melting agent.

Plants react in several ways to salt damage. Excessive drying of foliage and roots can result from salt deposited on the surface of twigs, branches, and evergreen leaves. Salt can also be taken up by plants and accumulate to toxic levels. Nutritional imbalance can occur from salt changing the chemistry of the soil. This can directly harm soil structure.

This spring, if you notice dead buds and twig tips on some of your plants, it's probably a result of salt spray. As the tips of the plants die, the plant responds by growing an excessive number of side branches.

Accumulation damage is more insidious. It may not be noticeable for many months. Sodium salts are the most common type used for deicing while calcium salts are used to a lesser extent. Salt damage from slow accumulation can appear as stunting, poor vigor, die back of growing tips, leaf burn or leaf drop.

On the other hand, there's hope if we receive typically heavy late winter and spring rains. This dilutes salt and washes it away from the root zone areas. When large amounts of snow melt, it also helps by washing away salt.

It's not too late to protect roadside plants from more exposure to salt, by constructing burlap or durable plastic screens to shield them from traffic splash. For those who live in areas that are prone to this damage, they may want to consider salt tolerant plants. This list is also a good one for those living adjacent to the ocean where a lot of sea spray is experienced.

Perennials that are especially resistant to salt include: Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima), Pinks (Dianthus), Karl Foerster Reed Grass (Calmagrostis acutifolia `Karl Foerster'), Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), Powis Castle Artemisia (Artemisia absinthium x Powis Castle), Silver Mound Artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana `Silver Mound'), Blue Festuca Grass, Hosta, Stella D'Oro Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrida `Stella d'Oro), Sedum Autumn Joy (Sedum spectabile `Autumn Joy').

Salt tolerant trees and shrubs include: Green Ash (Fraxinus americana), Shademaster Locust (Gelditsia triacanthos), Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra), Junipers (Juniperus species), Honeysuckle (Lonicera species), Bridlewreath Spirea (Spiraea x Vanhouttei) and Lilacs (Syringa species).

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