Salt Damage on Turf

We've had a spate of nice weather here in the Omaha metro recently, which means one thing: people are outside and starting to notice their lawns again.

Well, when you were out in your yard, did you notice anything like the ugly mess in the picture to the left on your lawn? Did you notice a bunch of gravel along your easements? If so, your turf may be the victim of salt damage.

Usually salt damage occurs along the easements when plow trucks splash up some of their sandy/salty debris off of the road and into your yard. Another cause of salt damage is when people throw too much salt down on their sidewalks.

If you think that you have salt damage, don't worry - there are things you can do to mitigate the damage done by salt. First, let's talk about prevention.

Prevention tip #1:

Plant salt resistant cultivars where you have salt damage problems. If you have Zoysiagrass, it is relatively salt tolerant. If you don't have Zoysiagrass, you can try some of the following cultivars or mixtures:

  • Bluegrass is considered a salt-senstive species, but certain cultivars do better than others. Some of the more salt resistant cultivars include: Moonlight, Northstar, SR-2000, Limousine, and Eclipse

  • A Turf-Type Tall Fescue is probably your best bet. These Turf-Type Tall Fescues are coarser than Bluegrass, but have a deep green color just like Bluegrass and do well in partially shaded conditions to full sun as well as in high traffic areas.

  • Mixtures with salt-tolerant Bluegrass cultivars, Turf-Type Tall Fescue, and 10-15% Perennial Ryegrass (as recommended by the article in the link).

Prevention tip #2: If you use ice melt on your walks, make sure you don't throw down too much. In addition, instead of using Sodium chloride (plain old salt) which can cause damage to plants, concrete, and metal -- you may consider using some of these alternatives:

  • Calcium chloride - works better at lower temperatures and is less damaging to plants

  • Calcium magnesium acetate - this is a pricey option, but is a corrosion free, concrete safe, and environmentally (and plant) friendly option.

Now that we've covered a couple of ways to prevent salt damage, what can we do if we already have salt damage? First - flush the salt from the area by watering heavily and frequently for a day or two. A second optional step is to aerate the area affected by the salt, and lastly, reseed the area with one of the cultivars suggested above.


Picture courtesy of Lawn Blog Life and Lawns.

Sources and Further Reading:
De-icers: Nebline (November/December 2007)
Bluegrass salt-tolerance: Turf Grass Trends
Salt resistance of different plants and grasses: Colorado State Extension

Article published: March 20, 2009
Article updated: March 20, 2009


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Barna Lawn & Landscape
Phone: 402-515-5530
E-mail: jake@barnalawns.com