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This winter has been a rough one with cold temperatures dropping into the negatives and snow every couple of days. Homeowners and cities have been working hard to keep their driveways, sidewalks, and streets clear of snow and ice. As we all know, after we clear the snow from these surfaces the most effective way to remove or prevent ice is with a salt product. The salt is a necessity for everyone’s safety whether it be for the kids walking to the school bus or parents driving to work. Unfortunately, this salt product is harmful to many of our plants in the landscape. Salt can spread to the plants by spray from a vehicle driving by on a busy road, remaining salt on the street being plowed to the side with a mixture of snow, an overthrow of the salt from the truck onto the plants, runoff from salt remaining on the road after a rain, or even simply shoveling salty snow or careless application of salt on your driveway or front walkway.

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There are two ways to prevent plant distress from salt spray when it is out of your control. The first way is to create a barrier for the plant. For example, if your backyard backs up to a busy street you may have some wonderful Arborvitaes screening your view and the sound of traffic all year round. Sadly, this plant is one of the best options for a scenario like this, besides a fence. Let us say your Arborvitaes are mature, they have reached a perfect height and have created a seamless hedge. We don’t want to remove this wall of Arborvitaes, so we need to create a protection barrier. Most commonly, burlap is used as a barrier because it still allows for airflow, but will stop most of the salt from reaching the foliage. Now success depends on how close your Arborvitaes are to the road and how busy the street is. Gently wrap the exposed side of the Arborvitae and layer with one or two pieces where necessary. For additional protection use metal stakes to hold another burlap barrier about two feet in front of the plant. Think of it as a burlap fence line. When we can’t change traffic patterns and our landscape is already mature, this is the best option.

The second way is to design your landscape with all of this in mind. How do we do this you say? Well, whether you are installing the landscape yourself or working with a professional it is key to plan for these scenarios during the initial design process. Plants that suffer from winter salt must be planted a distance away from surfaces like this. This does not mean you cannot use a specific plant in the landscape, it just needs to be in the right place. Find plants that have a high tolerance for deicing salt and save the sensitive ones for a more protected location. For example, put tolerant plants along walkways, driveways, and front entrances and place sensitive plants in the middle of the planting bed, away from surfaces that require deicing salt.

It can be overwhelming when designing a landscape on your own. That is why using professionals, like Bret-Mar Landscape, can ensure the success of your landscape. Make sure to use an educated and trained professional that is knowledgeable about plant varieties and the concept of design. This way you will have happy healthy plants all year round. Check back next week for a list of commonly used plants and their tolerance to deicing salt.