Salt Damage On Plants

During a cold, snowy winter, deicing salts help keep sidewalks, roads and highways clear and improve safety when walking and driving. Unfortunately, deicing salts leach into soils and are splashed onto plants by passing cars, where they can build up and often cause harm to plants. Even a light covering of salt on a large driveway can build up in nearby soils, as it mixes with snow which is then piled up on adjacent garden areas.

How to recognize salt damage:
Because excess salt in soils inhibits plants' ability to draw up water, salt damage can sometimes resemble drought damage. A strip of dead grass right next to a sidewalk or driveway that had salt applied to it is a sure sign of salt damage. Large, established plants in areas where salt has built up in the soil may show little or no signs of damage, but newly planted seeds are likely to have very poor germination and growth. Established plants that are splashed by salt spray can be recognized by stunted, twisted growth, and leaves that turn brown around the edges. Another clear indicator that damage is caused by salt spray is when the damage is clearly only on the side facing the road, where the salty spray comes from.

How to treat salt damage:
If you suspect your plants have been exposed to salt spray, wash the plants with fresh water when the temperature rises above freezing. Soils that have had salts leach into them should be watered deeply several times in the spring to dilute the effects of the salt.

How to avoid salt damage:
To avoid the damage caused by salt around your home, you can simply reduce the amount of deicing salts used on your property. When conditions are extremely icy, sparingly applied salts are unlikely to cause any damage if they are only used once or twice in a winter. For more frequent use, sand can be applied to icy sidewalks, and here in Edmonton, it is usually available for free at your nearest community centre. Kitty litter is also supposed to be quite effective at reducing icy conditions. If you wish to use an ice melter, a product with CMA (calcium magnesium acetate) will be effective in melting ice and should not damage plants, although it is generally more expensive than the chloride-based products. On the small scale required by most homeowners, however, the increased cost may be offset by the the savings of not having to replace plants regularly.

If the salt damage you are trying to avoid is out of your control because a neighbour or city crew is applying the salt, your options are mostly limited to planting salt-resistant plants. Some examples of salt-resistant trees are cottonwood poplars, honeylocust, Jack pine, Austrian pine, white spruce, Colorado spruce, bur oak, red oak, green ash, white ash and Russian olive. Some shrubs that might be successful are mugo pine, junipers, rugosa and scotch roses, caragana, saltbush, shrubby cinquefoil, Japanese spirea, lilac, alpine currant, arrowwood and European cranberrybush. When selecting perennials for salt tolerance, ones known to be drought tolerant will often have the most success. Some that are known to tolerate salt conditions are lady's mantle, sea thrift, 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass, amethyst sea holly, blanket flower, blue lyme grass, wooly thyme, perennial flax and yarrow.

How to Grow Oyster Mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms can grow easily in cold climates, and freshly gathered mushrooms are generally superior in flavour and shelf-life to those "gathered" from your local produce section. For those of us who can't or don't gather mushrooms in the wild, they can be cultivated in a shady place in your own garden. This could be a good solution for an area in a yard where there are not enough hours of sunlight for any other food crop.

What you need:
In early spring, make sure you have a source for oyster mushroom spawn (in Canada, try The Gourmet Mushroom Company). Mushroom spawn is not seeds, but when it is "planted" properly, it will produce the next generation of mushrooms. Once you have sourced your spawn, you will need to find a source for freshly cut logs, preferably poplar, but any deciduous tree species will likely work. The ideal size for the logs is about the size of firewood; four to eight inches in diameter and about a foot long.

What to do:
In late spring, stand your freshly cut logs on end. Cover the top end of each log with oyster mushroom spawn. Cover it with aluminum foil and secure it to the log to keep the mushroom spawn moist. When all your logs are complete, place them in black coloured garbage bags (to keep the light out) and store them in a sheltered place, such as an unheated garage or shed, for about 3 months. This gives the mushroom spawn time to colonize the logs. In the fall, dig a trench about six inches deep where you want the mushrooms to grow. Unwrap the logs and place them, upright, in the trench. Replace the soil around the logs and mulch the area with woodchips or leaves. Ensure that the soil doesn't dry out, and keep your eye out for mushrooms growing on and around your logs after the first hard frost. Mushroom logs like this can continue producing for up to five years.

If you don't have a garden at all, various online sources offer mushroom kits that can be grown indoors. Although you may never have heard of them, they are nothing new. My grandfather once told me that at one point in his sales career, may years ago, he sold mushroom kits.

How to Plant a Root-Bound Plant

When buying new plants, most customers try to choose one that looks reasonably healthy. However, it is easy to buy a plant with healthy-looking foliage, only to discover that it is extremely root-bound when it comes out of the pot. Plants become root-bound when they have been grown in a pot that is too small for too long. They will have many woody roots circling the bottom and even the sides of the container.

If the problem is not too severe, the roots can be gently pulled apart before planting, spreading them around the planting hole when placing the plant in. However, if the plant is very root-bound, it may be impossible to pull the many circling roots apart. If the plant is placed in the hole with too many circling roots, it will have a very difficult time growing any roots out into the surrounding soil, severely limiting its water uptake. I planted a cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) a couple of years ago that was very root-bound, but, being in a hurry to get it into the ground, I neglected to adequately separate the roots. Although we watered it quite often, it constantly looked drought stressed and slightly wilted. The next spring, we dug it up and sure enough, it had only grown one tiny root outside of the original, intact circle the shape of the nursery pot. If we had left it long enough, it may have grown more roots and survived, but I doubt it ever would have been very healthy.

The best way to remedy this situation is to rearrange the plant's roots before putting it into the ground. To do this, fill a large bucket with water, then submerge the plant's roots into the water. Swish it around a bit and massage the roots; the idea is to wash off most of the soil so that you can see the structure of the roots. Once the roots are free of soil, they can be examined and, hopefully, untangled. This sounds pretty straightforward, but let me assure you that if you have a large plant, it can be a job for two people! Although the plant will almost certainly recover from a few broken or pruned roots, it is best to be as gentle as possible. Be sure the planting hole is ready before you strip the soil from the plant's roots, but if it is not ready immediately, the plant can wait a short time in the bucket of water (not in the blazing sun, however). When planting, make a small mound in the middle of the planting hole and spread the plant's roots around the mound, pointing down into the soil. Fill the hole with soil, being especially careful to avoid leaving air pockets around roots that could dry them out. Pat the soil down firmly and water the plant thoroughly.

Ensuring that a plant has healthy roots gives it the best possible start in your garden. If we had planted our poor cranberry bush this way the first time, it would have grown much better from the start. After we finally dug it up, washed and spread out its roots, and replanted it, it has been much healthier and happier.