Whether on your own lawn or your neighbors’, most homeowners have seen it before: the snow finally melts, and the lawn is left with patches of brown or yellow grass surrounded by a crusty white buildup. The culprit? Road salts, popularly used on driveways and pavement to provide traction and melt dangerous ice. While these salts make daily drives in the winter much safer, they can wreak havoc on your lawn come spring.
Runoff from melting snow and ice can carry the salts onto your lawn, where they’ll gather at the lowest point or affect the edge closest to the road. Without enough rainfall or proper drainage, the salts can burn your lawn and dehydrate their root systems, preventing vital nutrients from being absorbed. Even if you yourself don’t use deicing salts, the spray from passing traffic can splash up to 150 feet, making it easy enough for road salt to invade your lawn.
Similar damage can also occur if your lawn is overfertilized. It may take years for enough salt to build up to actually kill the plant, but salt-stressed grass is prone to disease and pests, so the unattractive damage is still a problem worth addressing.
Reversing Salt Damage
While spring melts may alleviate the problem, you may need to help it along by flushing water through your lawn. Make sure the soil drains properly—aerating it can help—allowing the salts to run off or leech far enough below the root systems where it won’t be a threat.
Using a gypsum soil conditioner can also help, as the elements contained in gypsum encourage water retention, healing, and new growth.
Preventing Salt Damage
The best way to prevent salt damage is to stop using harmful deicing salts on your driveway (see the alternatives discussed below). If the source of your salt damage is out of your control—spray from passing traffic, for instance—the best thing you can do is try to minimize the damage.
When planting bushes or shrubs, keep them away from problems areas, like the edge of your lawn closest to the road. If they’re already there and you’re unwilling to transplant, rinse the plants thoroughly come spring, and consider protecting them with a snow barrier or burlap covers during the winter.
If you grass is consistently affected by salt damage, you can add a gypsum conditioner and rinse to your yearly spring lawn routine. You might also consider replacing affected areas with hardscaping.
Alternatives to Deicing Salts
Deicing salts cause a multitude of problems besides lawn damage—vehicle corrosion, serious environmental damage, and harm to pets. Kitty litter, gravel, and sand are all popular alternatives. While none chemically melt the ice, they provide traction, and sand adsorbs heat from the sun, which could aid in melting.
Urea is another commonly used product, which, while costlier, does actually melt ice. However, it should be used with extreme caution and not at all if your runoff drains into a body of water; urea causes algae blooms, oxygen dead zones, and other environmental problems.
A green-friendly choice to melt ice is alfalfa meal, which is typically used as a fertilizer. Grainy in texture, it provides extra grip on roads and melts ice, and it has the added benefit of fertilizing your plants during the spring thaw.
Questions about lawn conditioning, hardscaping, or repairing salt damage? Our team at Land Concepts is ready to help—contact us today!