Why does salt water kill plants?

Salt water can damage or kill sensitive plants, such as viburnums, yews and some maples. The use of rock salt as a de-icing agent exposes roadside plants to salt water contamination, while coastal flooding exposes crops and other plants to salt damage.


Salt water kills a plant by drawing water away from its roots and by interfering with the plant's ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. In water, salt breaks down into sodium and chloride. Sodium replaces soil nutrients needed by plants, and chloride interferes with photosynthesis in the leaves.


Symptoms of salt water contamination include browning, stunted growth and plant death. Plants that grow along a roadside may turn brown or die if rock salt is used to de-ice the road.


On your property, use sodium-free de-icing agents, such as calcium chloride or sand, on walkways and driveways. According to the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, rainfall or irrigation will leach salt from the soil, but the process can take several years in some soils. You can grow salt-tolerant plants or crops such as juniper or sorghum.

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About the Author

Judith Evans has been writing professionally since 2009, specializing in gardening and fitness articles. An avid gardener, Evans has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New Hampshire, a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School, and a personal trainer certificate from American Fitness Professionals and Associates.