Reducing winter salt damage on turf

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Look for it along walks, driveways, and roads

Look for bare spots or invasion by salt- and compaction-tolerant weeds along sidewalks, driveways, and roadsides. Soil is sometimes covered with white or yellow crust. Excess Sodium chloride (salt) used for de-icing causes the problem.

Rock salt and inexpensive bagged ice melt products are the usual culprits. Most of these inexpensive ice melters contain large quantities of unrefined Rock salt. Using No-salt or high quality reduced salt blends will keep damage to a minimum

Salt damage is often compounded by compaction from foot traffic, auto tires, and piled snow. Even if the damage is not enough to kill sod, it increases stress on the grass, making it more prone to diseases like snow mold and weed competition in the spring. Weak turf in these areas is especially vulnerable to runoff into storm sewers and surface waters.

Kentucky bluegrass is very sensitive to salt damage. Perennial ryegrass, fine fescues, and tall fescue are a little more tolerant.

To prevent salt damage, applications of Calcium Sulfate (Gypsum or Solu-cal S) just before winter , will help to move salts through the soil . A repeat application can also be made in early spring after snow melts. Avoid plowing or shoveling salt-laden snow onto turf. Apply only enough salt to do the job after you remove the snow. Calcium chloride-based de-icing salts don’t cause as much damage to turf as sodium chloride.

Even though it’s often suggested, do not use urea or other fertilizers as de-icing salts. They can run off when snow melts and pollute surface and ground waters. They also tend to be less affective.

Spring rains may leach salts from the soil if drainage is adequate. If it’s dry, you may need to water by hand to flush them out after an application of Gypsum or Solu-cal S.

If soil is poorly drained, improve it by incorporating organic matter to a depth of 6 inches, in addition to Gypsum applications . Improve soil before reseeding because salt can prevent germination and damage seedlings.

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