Top

How Does Road Salt Affect Soil Quality?

by Belle Bergner

Ever wonder why some plants stay greener longer in the fall? What causes the leaves to change colors and why are some leaves red, orange or yellow? What’s the big deal about this invisible gas, carbon dioxide? What’s the big deal about exotic plants? Is air pollution getting any better? It’s time to unleash the curious George in you, our inquisitive readers. We’re launching a monthly column where our local Ecologist will answer the ecological and environmental questions you’ve been dying to ask! Here’s one for starters: Q: I’ve heard that salt is bad for the soil. If so, why are we still using salt on the roads in winter? A: That’s true. Salt causes soils to become more acidic, altering the ionic exchange capability of the soil. This, in turn, affects the soils’ ability to transfer nutrients to plants. Salty soils cause plants, including your grass lawn, to become nutrient deficient because they don’t pick up enough of the nutrients they need, such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Subsequently, plants don’t grow as well, and important nutrients are leached out of the soil into the groundwater and exported from the ecosystem. Why we’re still using salt probably has to do with keeping ice off the roads so that we can continue to drive in winter conditions. Why don’t we just slow down a little or not drive as much when road conditions are poor? Rather than use salt, we should go back to old fashioned dirt. For your house or apartment, you can also use bird seed on your steps and walkway, feeding the birds while keeping you and your visitors safe. The soil, plants, and birds will thank you!
by Belle Bergner