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Sometimes snow removal practices can harm your trees--but it's not always the snow itself that harms them.

Simple Ways to Save Your Trees From Salt

October 21, 2014

Winter weather is on its way. Learn more about protecting your trees in winter now!

Shawn Kingzette is an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist and District Manager of Davey’s Northwest Chicago tree service office in East Dundee, Illinois. Shawn met with Lou Manfredini on WGN Radio 720 to answer questions and inform homeowners about the impact winter can have on trees and his main concerns as an arborist.

Do you live in an area that receives a large amount of snow in winter? Read below to find out what that snow—and snow removal practices—is doing to your trees: 

Question: Do I have anything to worry about with all of this snow built up against these trees?

Shawn: As an arborist it’s really the salt that concerns me. The snow, in some ways, is a good thing because if we get a nice gradual melt, that water penetrates the ground. And, after the drought of 2012, that kind of water is actually encouraging to trees that were struggling due to the drought. So, the snow and water do not concern me; it’s the salt that’s inside it that worries me sometimes. Trees do not like it. It’s bad for their roots; it causes them all kinds of problems. Sodium chloride is not good for a tree’s health.

Question: Typically you don’t like when there is a box or pavers around the base of a tree, right?

Shawn: Correct. That’s kind of like suffocating a tree. You don’t want to have a lot of materials around the root flare, where the trunk transitions to the ground, and to put stuff around there can cause the trunk to rot, decay and girdling root.

After snow melts from your trees, check for smaller leaves or die back to determine whether they are stressed. Leafing out late is another sign of stress.

Question: So, when I see big piles of snow that are taller than me pushed up against trees, that’s not a problem, it’s just the salt inside it?

Shawn: Yes, the salt inside the snow. Often what we see is plows and other mechanical things will actually hit the tree. They have nowhere to put the snow so they keep shoving it up against the tree, and at some point they actually hit the tree with the equipment they’re using. You don’t really notice it until the spring when the snow is all melted, and then there’s a big wound on the tree. 

Question: What are some things listeners can look for after the snow melts that may be a sign the tree is in distress?

Shawn: Leafing out late, smaller leaves and die back.

Question: Can we wash our trees?

Shawn: Yes, we can. What salt does is it actually pulls the water out of the bud or out of the root. So, yes, you can rinse the salt out of your trees and you can also rinse the salt out of your soil. Watering a tree near a parkway is a good way to reduce the amount of salt in its system and any further damage from the salt.

Do you have a question about one of your trees? Contact us for a free consultation! One of our professionally trained arborists would be happy to meet with you and answer all your tree care questions this winter.

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