Winter de-icing salt on a walkway with trees in Edmonton, Alberta.

Recognizing & Treating Salt Damage in Trees

Exposure to salt is one of the leading causes of winter tree damage.

Many Albertans rely on de-icing products to prevent their driveways and walkways from becoming skating rinks every winter. We also see an over-abundance of salt spread on our sidewalks and roadways for safety. Exposure to salt, however, is one of the leading causes of winter tree damage. Here’s what you should know about recognizing salt damage in trees, usage guidelines and treatment.


What are the signs of salt damage?

Salt-damaged coniferous trees begin to show symptoms in late winter. The effects of de-icing salt on deciduous trees, however, won’t be apparent until spring. These common warning signs may affect the entire tree or be limited to certain branches.

  • Browning or discolouration at the tips of needles or along the edges of leaves
  • Sparse and/or stunted foliage
  • Unopened flower buds
  • Premature foliage drop and autumn colouration
  • Twig dieback
  • Delayed bud break

Trees that are closer to a road or walkway will be more at risk of salt damage due to the increased exposure to salt spray, runoff and ploughed or shovelled snow.


What causes salt damage?

Trees can be damaged either by salt spray or salt-contaminated soil. The former is more common among trees that line highways or streets with fast-moving traffic. Salt spray infiltrates twigs through their leaf scars (the marks left by fallen leaves) and salt in the soil is drawn up through the roots.

Sodium accumulation within a tree reduces its ability to absorb essential nutrients and desiccates its leaves. Excessive sodium near the root system affects soil drainage and prevents the tree from absorbing sufficient moisture.

A reduction in healthy tree growth over several years will cause the tree to weaken, dieback and become more susceptible to disease.


How can you protect trees from salt damage?

The most effective way to prevent salt damage is to stop using de-icing salt. Instead, spread coarse sand over your driveway and walkways to make them less slippery and keep your trees safe. If you need to use de-icing salt, do so sparingly and keep it away from vegetation and soil.

Additionally, plastic fencing, burlap or other types of barriers can be used to protect trees from salt spray. Healthy trees are more likely to recover from salt damage, so prune your trees regularly (even in the winter!) and watch for the warning signs of disease.


How do you treat salt-damaged trees?

In early spring, take the following steps to save your salt-damage tress:

  1. Use freshwater to rinse your trees and flush out the soil around their roots.
  2. Apply fertilizer to replace the leached nutrients.
  3. Add mulch to reduce water loss.
  4. Prune your trees to promote healthy growth.


Tree Care Professionals in Edmonton Every Season of the Year!

The team at All Season Tree Service is committed to helping your trees survive Alberta winters and thrive all year long. For more information on how to protect your trees or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.