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Tree Susceptibility to Salt Damage (SP610)

Tree Susceptibility to Salt Damage (SP610)

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Tree Susceptibility to Salt Damage
SP 610
Wayne K. Clatterbuck  Associate Professor  Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries
Agricultural Extension Service
The University of Tennessee
Although de-icing salts assist in keeping pavementdry and safe during ice and snow, their extensive use cancause damage to woody species along streets and highways.Trees and shrubs can be injured by salt spray and drift, bysalt that leaches into the soil or by a combination of both.
Symptoms of Salt Injury
On evergreens, injury from salt spray
rst appearsas browning of the needles facing the road. The browningoccurs at the tip of the needle and progresses to the base.Browning is evident in February and March and becomesmore prominent through the spring and summer. As injurycontinues, needles drop prematurely and the branches be-come bare. As needles die, the photosynthetic capacity of the tree is curtailed. Over several years, the amount of newgrowth is reduced, causing the tree to weaken, dieback and perhaps die.On deciduous trees, salt spray affects opening of  buds and twigs in the spring, with the
ower buds beingthe most sensitive. Injured buds are slow to open or fail toopen. Factors that in
uence sensitivity include bud size,nature of the bud scales, twig thickness and bark covering.Trees with thin bark, such as beech, are highly susceptible.Trees with resinous buds, such as cottonwood, are fairlyresistant to injury, as are trees whose buds are submergedin the twig, such as black and honey locust. Generally, plants with naked buds are injured more than trees withscaly buds. Salt symptoms on deciduous trees include re-duced green leaf coloration, smaller leaves with scorchedmargins, thin crowns with dying twigs and branches, earlyfall coloration and leaf fall, tufting and clumping of foli-age and sparseness of leaves, and small growth rings. Theirregularity in foliage thickness from year to year re
ects both the growth conditions and differences in the amountof injury each year.Salt spray injury is most severe on the side of the treefacing the road. Trees become more one-sided as needlesand branches are continually killed on the road side of thetree. Trees on the downwind side of the road are damagedto a greater extent than similar plants on the opposite sideof the road. Tree damage decreases with increasing dis-tance from the road.The degree of damage to plants from salt variesconsiderably from year to year. Fluctuations in the quan-tity and frequency of frozen precipitation determine theamount of salt applied each year. Weather conditions suchas wind and temperature will in
uence the amount of salttaken up by plants. Damage to trees is also affected by cli-matic factors such as frequency of freezing and thawing.
uence of Salt on Plant Growth
The accumulation of salt within plants and soils af-fects plant nutrition and water absorption. Sodium reducesnutrient uptake of potassium, calcium and magnesium bydisplacing those nutrients. Excessive sodium in soils causessoil aggregates to break down, resulting in poor aerationand slow water permeability. The resulting soil lacks gooddrainage and proper oxygen concentrations and leads toreduced moisture uptake by roots.The availability of water to plants is decreased be-cause of increased osmotic tension, by which water is heldin the soil. Water does not move into the plant and couldeven move osmotically from the cells to the soil with el-evated salt content. Increased salt contents tend to draw wa-ter toward the salt solution. Salts absorbed by the plant candesiccate leaf cells, causing browning and leaf abscission.
Minimizing Salt Injury
Although alternatives other than salt are available tode-ice roads, salt remains the preferred method becauseof its lower cost, availability and ef 
ciency in meltingsnow and ice. Assuming that the use of salt to de-ice road-ways will not change greatly, there are some managementtechniques that can be used to minimize damage to treesfrom salt.
All trees are affected by salt to some degree, but somespecies are more tolerant than others. Table 1 is a com- pilation from the literature listing trees that are the mostvulnerable and the most tolerant of salt. Trees that are
2relatively tolerant to salt should be planted in locationswhere salt accumulates in the soil or is sprayed throughvehicular traf 
c near roads.
Irrigate soils to leach sodium and chloride before springgrowth. A saline soil condition is relatively easy to cor-rect. Since most salts are water-soluble, applications of water will effectively leach salts out of the root zones. Ageneral formula suggests that 6 inches of water should be applied to leach out about half the soluble salts.Leached potassium and magnesium can be replacedthrough application of fertilizer. 
Apply gypsum (calcium sulfate) to soils that are highin sodium. The addition of calcium displaces the so-dium and lessens the dispersion of soil particles andthe loss of soil aggregates, improving soil aeration anddrainage.
Avoid sites at high risk from salt injury by planting treesaway from salt spray drift zones and areas where salt-laden brine and slush are likely to accumulate. Planttrees at least 60 feet away from the roadside. Trees thatare closer stand a higher chance of being affected.
Plants that are injured and exhibit dieback should bewatered, pruned and fertilized. Mulch should be appliedto reduce water loss. Weakened or stressed plants areoften attacked by insects and diseases.
. Design or engineer sites to keep salt spray, runoff and plowed snow away from trees. Examples includeraised planters to eliminate effects from runoff, low-ered speed limits to reduce splash and spray, and high-density fabric fencing around trees to protect trees fromsplash and spray. Grade salt-treated areas and install barriers so that surface drainage water does not accu-mulate near plants.
De-icing salt is detrimental to vegetation, especiallytrees and shrubs. Most of the injury results from the saltspray that is deposited on trees during the winter as well asincreased salt in the soil solution. Evergreens are particu-larly vulnerable, but developing buds of deciduous treesare also affected. Species do vary in their sensitivity to saltdamage. Management prescriptions for roadside plantingsshould use techniques that minimize salt injury and selecttrees for planting that are more tolerant to salt.
Literature Cited
Dirr, M.A. 1976. Selection of trees for tolerance tosalt injury. J. Arbor. 2(11):209-216.Johnson, G.R. and E. Sucoff. 1999. Minimizing de-icing salt injury to trees. University of Minnesota ExtensionPub. FO-01413-GO, St. Paul. 6 p.Lumis, G.P., G. Hofstra and R. Hall. 1973. Sensitivityof roadside trees and shrubs to aerial drift of deicing salt.HortScience 8:475-477.Lumis, G.P. G. Hofstra and R. Hall. 1975. Salt dam-age to roadside plants. J. Arbor. 1(1):14-16Rubens, J.M. 1978. Soil desalination to counteractmaple decline. J. Arbor. 4(2):33-42.
Marginal leaf burn is a common indication of salt injury.
   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   M   i  n  n  e  s  o   t  a   E  x   t  e  n  s   i  o  n   S  e  r  v   i  c  e
Table 1. Salt Susceptibility of Trees
Vulnerable to SaltMore Tolerant to Sal
Botanical NameCommon NameBotanical NameCommon Name
 Acer rubrum
Red Maple
 Acer platanoides
 Norway Maple
 Acer saccharum
Sugar Maple
 Albizia julibrissin
Carpinus caroliniana
American Hornbeam
Ginkgo biloba
Gleditsia triancanthos
 Fagus grandifolia
American Beech
 Juglans nigra
Black Walnut
 Liriodendron tulipifera
 Juniperus virginiana
Eastern Redcedar 
 Magnolia grandi
 Picea spp.
Spruces (most)
spp.Oaks (most)
 Pinus strobus
Eastern White Pine
 Robinia pseudoacacia
Black Locust
 Pinus sylvestris
Scotch pine
Tsuga canadensis
Eastern Hemlock 
Adapted from Dirr 1976; Johnson & Sucoff 1999; Lumis et al. 1975

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