Salt provides plenty of practical uses in the garden, weed killing being one of the most common and effective, but what happens if that salt gets on your plants? While salt in moderation may be beneficial—excess sodium can prove hazardous for your vegetation. Can they survive, or will they face the same fate as those pesky weeds?
Plants can survive if they get salt on them, but reversing the damage is challenging and can’t always be successfully done. In some cases, providing your plant with plenty of fresh water and cutting off the source of the salt may help reduce damage.
It’s awful to lose your precious plants just to an oversight regarding over-salination. The rest of this article will explain the effect of salt on plants, how to tell if your plants have salt damage, and some reasons why there might be salt in your garden. I will also share some helpful tips for preventing salt damage in your garden.
The Effect of Salt on Plants
When you expose your plants to salt, the leaves begin to wilt and effectively dry out, even when sufficiently watered. The sodium in salt is highly damaging to most plants, blocking their ability to absorb the water it needs to thrive by slowing water transfer from root to stem.
Salt influences how a plant takes up water from the soil via osmosis. If the balance between the plant’s salt levels and the salt levels in the soil is out of balance, the osmosis process is reversed—leaching the moisture from the plant roots back into the ground.
Some gardeners sometimes use salt to kill weeds for this very reason. Sodium is so toxic to plants that it can kill them very quickly. However, you must be careful when using this method to kill weeds. Salt might not be your best plan of action if you intend to use the soil in that area of your garden for plant growth in the future.
When there are large amounts of salt in the soil, the soil will pull water from the roots of plants, causing them to dry out and eventually die. The effects of salt in soil can last for years— depending on the source and amount of salt.
If you have soil with very high concentrations of salt, whether it be from past weed-killer, a slug problem, or something more environmental, anything new that you plant there will be subject to whatever salt remains in the soil.
You can test your soil’s pH level and salt content with a simple soil test, but you should know that removing salt from the ground can be difficult.
I recommend using the MySoil Soil Test Kit from Amazon.com because it is simple, easy to test, and you can get your results online within 6-8 days!
How Can I Reduce the Amount of Salt in My Soil?
To reduce the salt concentration of your soil, you’ll want to install a highly effective drainage system that can wash away the soil content.
To further improve your soil, you can add a soil amendment like peat moss to adjust the slope of your garden and improve drainage.
Over time, with proper drainage and healthy soil amendments, the sodium levels will go down as you wash the sodium from your soil. Depending on the amount of sodium in your soil, this process may take days, weeks, months, or even years.
If the sodium level of your soil is too high to plant a successful garden, choose a different location to plant while you work on draining the high-sodium areas. Once the soil reaches a healthy pH and sodium level, you can begin growing again.
Signs That Your Plants Have Salt Damage
The plants in your garden might have salt damage without you even realizing the salt is there! Luckily, there are some common signs that your plants might be suffering from salt damage:
- The leaves turn yellow
- Growth is slow or has completely stopped
- Buds do not flower, or they completely die
If the plant affected by salt is deciduous, you will not notice these effects until spring. If you expose your plant to salt in the winter, you may be too late to counteract the damaging effects.
Can You Reverse Salt Damage in Plants?
In some cases, it may be possible to reverse the damage done by salt exposure by improving your drainage system. By enhancing your garden’s ability to flush water through, you can begin to wash out the soil and improve the soil quality.
Salt damage is irreversible in most cases, particularly in the case of deciduous plants. Once it becomes evident that the plant has suffered salt damage, the effects of the salt have already taken their toll, and you will not be likely to save the plant.
If your plants have been exposed directly to salt, and you can respond immediately, you may be able to save them. For example, if you were using salt to kill weeds or treat a slug infestation and accidentally exposed your plants to salt, you can attempt to prevent the harmful effects before they start to occur.
Flush Out the Affected Areas
Remove as much salt as possible if it has not already soaked into the soil. Use plenty of fresh water to flush out any salt accumulation, and be diligent in keeping the drainage going. If you can wash the salt out of the soil before it has a chance to soak into the plant’s roots, you might be able to prevent salt damage.
Research Your Planting Areas for Potential Salt Contamination
The best way to protect your plants from salt damage is prevention. Find out about possible salt sources in the area so that you can prevent contamination. By protecting your plants from being exposed to salt in the first place, you can eliminate the possibility of toxic salt damage and keep your plants thriving.
Why Is There Salt in My Garden Soil?
If you haven’t been using salt to treat a slug problem or overzealous weeds, you might be scratching your head trying to figure out why your plants have salt damage. You might ask yourself where the salt comes from—the answer might surprise you.
Salt could be in soil because of:
- Salt spray: If you live in an area where people use a salt spray as a de-icer, that sodium can enter your garden’s soil through runoff as snow melts or rainfall occurs.
- A faulty water softener: Water softeners leave a small amount of sodium in the water; however, if your water softener is defective, there might be more sodium in your water than you realize. If you are using this water to water your plants, you could unintentionally add excessive sodium to the soil.
- Flooding: If you live in an area affected by flooding, your plants might end up underwater for days or weeks. If the floodwaters come from a saltwater source, like the ocean, you risk damaging your plants from the increased sodium intake.
To grow a successful garden, you’ll want to identify current or potential hazards that might be causing salt or sodium to enter your garden soil. Examine your water softener, keep flooding possibilities in mind and be mindful of the potential for salt spray runoff on your property.
How To Prevent Salt Damage in Your Garden
To prevent salt damage in your garden, you’ll need to set up your growing space away from potential salt distributors. Planting your garden near busy roads or sidewalks where you know people use salt spray will almost always result in damage to your plants.
Consider your drainage system and ensure that your garden rests in an area where runoff does not accumulate. For example, if you know that water tends to pool in certain areas of your property when it rains, those areas will not be optimal for avoiding salt exposure.
Ensure your garden has a robust drainage system that allows plenty of fresh water to cleanse the soil regularly.
If you use de-icer on your driveway, sidewalks, and porch, opt for a solution that uses calcium chloride rather than sodium chloride, as it will be far less damaging if it comes into contact with your plants. Remember that sodium is toxic to plants, so if you can remove it, you can remove the risk of damage.
When plants get salt on them, it is challenging to reverse the effects, and usually, the plants will die. If the response to salt exposure is near immediate, you can potentially save the plant by removing the salt and flushing the soil with fresh water.
You may expose your plants to salt through weed and slug treatments, de-icer runoff, flooding, or faulty water softener systems. The best way to prevent salt exposure in your garden is to be aware of potential sodium sources and maintain an effective drainage system on your property.