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Deicing Salt Damage on Lawns

4/9/2024

How to Care for Turfgrass Damaged by Deicing Salts

Have you noticed brown, dead-looking turfgrass along the edges of your sidewalks, driveway or boulevard? The problem could be caused by deicing salts.


How deicing salts damage lawns

Deicing salts easily become mixed with snow or slush that is plowed, shoveled or sprayed onto lawns. In Minnesota, sodium chloride is the most commonly used deicing salt. When sodium and chloride ions build up in the soil, they can displace other minerals and cause nutritional deficiencies in plants, increase soil compaction and pull water away from plant tissue toward the saline soil environment. Chloride ions absorbed by plants can also interfere with photosynthesis and, at elevated levels, cause leaf burn.


These stressors—nutritional deficiencies, soil compaction, chemical drought and toxicity—make turf grass more susceptible to drought, disease and competition from weeds.


How to improve the health of grass damaged by salt

Salts such as sodium chloride will persist in the soil until they’re leached away. If you have well-drained soil, water heavily. If the soil is poorly drained, you’ll want to first improve drainage by adding organic matter, for example by not bagging grass clippings when you mow and by aerating. You can also consider applying gypsum (calcium sulfate) to the affected areas so that calcium ions in the gypsum displace sodium ions; however, it’s worth first reviewing other possible effects of adding gypsum.


Other things to consider

  • De-icing salts without sodium are safer for plants than sodium chloride.

  • Salts applied in late winter generally result in more damage than salts applied in early winter. The more time salts have to leach away before active root growth begins, the better for your plants.

  • Damage to plants from salt in the soil may be delayed or may only become visible during periods of hot, dry weather.

  • Fine fescue grasses are more salt tolerant than other grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass.

  • Salt-tolerant perennial flowers or annual flowers that are replaced every year can be good options for sites at risk of accumulating salt in the soil.


More Resources


Writer Biography:

Ellen Tveit is a traveler and urban gardener. She has been with the Ramsey Country Master Gardener Volunteer Program since 2021.

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