Can De-Icing Salts Hurt Your Trees?

Winter is quickly approaching! If you use de-icing salts on and around your property, you should be aware of the different effects that de-icing salts can have on trees. Knowing what de-icing salts can do to your trees, how to identify damage from de-icing salts and what to do if your tree is poisoned by de-icing salts can help you care for your trees and also your property. 

Can de-icing salts hurt your trees?

Yes, de-icing salts can poison your trees with time. The longer and more intense the exposure, the greater the effect the salt will have on your trees.

How can you identify poisoning from de-icing salts?

Needles on evergreen trees will start to turn brown at their tips. This browning will continue up through the length of the needles, and then the needles will fall off. The side of the tree closest to the path or road where the salt was applied will be the first side of the tree to be affected.

On deciduous trees, de-icing salts may impact the growth of new leaves or the opening of buds in the spring. Leaves may fail to grow or may open late. Although there are many conditions that can cause this kind of problem, you'll be able to tell that de-icing salts are the problem if the side where the salts were applied was the first to be impacted.

What happens if you continue to expose the tree to salts?

Without leaves or needles, the tree's ability to conduct photosynthesis will be impacted. Over a long period of time, impacted areas of the tree could begin to die back. This weakening of the tree could lead to parts of it falling off during a storm or even at random. Eventually, the entire tree could die.

How can you prevent salt exposure from impacting your tree?

Of course, not using de-icing salt on your property is the best way to prevent salt from killing your trees. However, if you must use salt, it's important to watch your trees for signs of salt poisoning. If your tree is showing signs of salt exposure, you can leach the salt from the soil in the spring by applying several inches of water to the soil all at one time. This should be done all at once and the soil should be allowed to dry out afterwards to prevent excessive water from damaging the trees and other plants. Note that over-watering in this way can also leach out nutrients from the soil. Apply fertilizer afterwards to replace nutrients that have been lost.

If your trees are damaged by salt this winter, keep the phone number for an emergency tree service (such as Arborist Services LLC) on hand. If branches of the tree die, contact the emergency tree service to remove those parts of the tree. Dead branches are a danger, especially in winter when ice and snow can weigh the branches down and cause them to fall.