Can Rock Salt Ruin Your Soil?

January 8, 2015

With winter here and the weather turning more bitter by the day, it’s only a matter of time until the roads are covered in snow and ice and you’re forced to break out the big guns: rock salt. You, your neighbors, and your local government will all have the same idea – that you need to use rock salt to deal with the snow and ice so that you can safely drive and park, lest you risk losing control of your vehicle and serious accidents. For the most part, rock salt is a relatively safe way to protect yourself and others from harming themselves in dangerous driving conditions, but there is one price to pay: the potential damage that can be dealt to your plants and soil.

Damage to Plants

Even if you are very careful about where you put your rock salt, so as to avoid getting any on your plants and soil, runoff from the road will still bring that salt into your landscape. Obviously, excessive amounts of salt can do serious damage to a plant, as plants rely on moisture and water to survive and thrive and salt, as we know so well, is great at sucking up moisture. Worse, rock salt can change your soil’s structure in such a way that it becomes “compacted,” making it difficult for nutrients, water, and oxygen to get to your plants.

The truth of the matter, however, is that most of that damage doesn’t happen when you lay down rock salt, but rather during the late winter and early spring when your plants begin to become active, and therefore require the nutrients, water, and oxygen that they need to renew themselves in the coming warmer season. If you find that you are having a problem with rock salt affecting your plants and soil, there are a few possible solutions…

Danger Zones Near Your Yard

During the winter, make sure that when you shovel snow and pile it you do not put it near or around plants or trees where that snow – with salt contained throughout it – can then melt and flow over plant root zones. Ensure that it is instead far away from such “danger zones.” During the summer, you can include large amounts of organic materials into your salt-damaged soil to improve its water and nutrient holding capacity, helping to rehabilitate your soil after a long, salty winter. Nothing is irreparable, but you can try to take more preventative measures to avoid damage in the first place.