protect lawn from salt damage

It’s winter in Nebraska, and we see frequent snow and ice this time of year. We’re relieved when we see the snow plows out preparing the roads before a big storm, but have you ever stopped to wonder what the salt does to your lawn?

What Does Salt Do to My Lawn?

Salt can damage your lawn in two ways: through contamination of the soil and through spray on top of the plants.

When salt washes into the soil through runoff, it breaks down and blocks plants and grasses from being able to absorb moisture and nutrients, effectively creating a toxic, drought-like environment. The plants become dehydrated, turn brown, and experience stunted growth. Salt buildup can also cause compaction in the soil structure.

Salt can also damage lawns, trees, and plants, when passing vehicles spray salty water across the yard. This salt coating enters the cells and draws moisture out of the grass and leaves, which causes it to brown and become unable to grow.

Salt can be washed deep into the soil and past the plants’ roots by normal rainfall and winter precipitation. However, if the salt is applied during late winter and early spring, or if the area is experiencing dry conditions, the salt will remain in the soil. While one year may not cause this damage, the salt can potentially stay in the soil for years, accumulating each year until the buildup creates a toxic environment.

How Can I Protect My Lawn Against Salt?

Salt damage is more likely to occur in the areas of the lawn that face or are adjacent to the street, sidewalk, or driveway. These areas need special care, but you can protect your whole lawn from salt damage by taking these steps:

  1. As soon as the weather is warm enough and the snow has melted, give your lawn daily deep soakings to help drain the salt below the root level. Pay particular attention to those areas near the roadway.
  2. When shoveling, avoid moving snow from roadways–which may be covered with salt–onto your lawn.
  3. Try to use something other than rock salt to melt ice on your driveway or sidewalks. Sand or kitty litter may help provide traction on slippery areas, or many garden centers carry ice-melt products that are labeled safe for landscape use.
  4. Install temporary snow or silt fencing to protect the areas of your lawn near the road. This will block the salt. You can also just use plastic sheeting to cover your grass–be sure to anchor it with bricks, rocks, or other heavy objects.
  5. Consider creating a barrier from a thick planting of salt-tolerant shrubs running parallel to the road. This barrier can protect your lawn from the salty spray.
  6. Try to direct salty runoff toward drains and away from plants and grasses. Grading walks and driveways can help with this.
  7. Come spring, rake out as much of the dead grass as possible. You can apply a gypsum conditioner to your lawn to help the soil recover lost nutrients and improve aeration and drainage. To give your lawn new life, add a layer of compost and grass seeds, and keep the seeds moist until they are established.

Can I Use My Outdoor Faucets to Clean Off the Salt?

Step one above is to give your lawn a deep soaking once the weather is warm enough and the snow has melted. But aren’t you supposed to keep your hose disconnected from the outdoor faucets in the winter? Yes. Does this mean that you need to carry buckets of water from the house to the lawn? No!

While you should disconnect your hose during the winter to prevent bursting pipes, if the temperature has been above freezing (32*F or 0*C) for several days, you can use the hose for a short time, provided you take care to properly disconnect the hose and drain the pipes immediately after use. Saturating the lawn with water as early as possible will help prevent further damage and allow the grass to heal.

As soon as you are done, however, you must disconnect the hose and drain any outdoor pipes to prevent damage and bursting. If you leave the hose connected and the temperature dips below freezing, ice can form, expanding, and pressure can build up in the water lines inside your home. This can cause a leak or break and cause severe damage.

Help Me Restore My Lawn!

Need assistance in repairing your lawn from salt damage? Or perhaps you want to start building your soil structure with one of our Organic Programs? Contact Dave at 402-612-1527 or use the contact form on this page and see how Paradise Lawns can help you!