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Robert A. Heinlein

Trees & Shrubs for Alkaline and Salty Soils

Life can be difficult...

Alkaline and salty soils often go together. They aren't quite the same problem

Alkaline clay soils tend to not have any structure to them. In summer they make good immitation of brick. They are nearly water proof.

For this discussion we're calling a pH of 8.0 alkaline.

Salt isn't just sodium chloride -- it's all the junk disolved in your water. Sodium is part of the picture, along with calcium and magnesium. The other side of the equation is mostly carbonate and bi-carbonate.

You can get a soil test kit at any garden centre to test for soil pH. You can bring a soil sample to me to have it tested for excess salts. Bring two samples: Each should be about a cup. (Cottage cheese or yogurt tubs work great) One from the top soil, and another sample from below the top soil -- usully a striking colour change -- about 8 inches down.

Ok. Let's make the problem more complicated:

Airborne salt.

Soil salt.

How much is too much? 1000 ppm (parts per million) is low. 1000-2000 ppm medium. Over that is high.

Think you have a problem?

More information here: (Local copy) Plant Materials for Salt Affected Sites

Original source retrieved 11 March 2020 Plant Materials for Salt Affected Sites

Reducing soil salinity.

From University of Virginia Cooperative Extension Service

Numerous options exist for reducing salt damage including:

Improving soil structure, drainage and moisture holding capacity by adding organic matter.

Planting salt sensitive plants uphill or on berms where salty water will not drain or accumulate. Also planting sensitive plants at least 50-60 feet back from paving that may be de-iced.

Leaching the soil with thorough irrigation after salt exposure. Flush salt through the soil by applying 2 inches of water over a 2-3 hour period, stopping if runoff occurs. Repeat this treatment three days later if salt levels are still high.

Irrigating thoroughly (deeply) rather than watering lightly (shallow watering). For established landscapes, one inch of water applied once a week is generally adequate.

Mulching to prevent evaporation and subsequent build-up of salt in the soil.

Fertilizing only when a soil test or plant symptom indicates that fertilizer is needed, and then only at rates recommended by soil analyses and fertilizer labels.

Use materials such as sand, cinders, flyash, coarse sawdust as traction aids instead of melting ice off.

Anyway: Plants that have some tolerance for these conditions:

Fairly high salt levels.



Moderate levels.



Low Levels of soil salt



If you have to plant grasses, try wildrye and wheatgrass.

Seek Help!

I am far from expert on these matters. I don't have soils like this nearby. Many counties have a full or part time horticulturalist. Call your county office, and ask. They will know more about the soil issues in your area, and can give you more guidance.

As you find things out, let me know and I'll update this page.

Got something to say? Email me: sfinfo@sherwoods-forests.com

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Want to talk right now? Call me: (8 am to 8 pm only, please) 1-780-848-2548

Do not arrive unannounced. Phone for an appointment. Why? See Contact & Hours That same page gives our hours of operation.

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Sherwood's Forests is located about 75 km southwest of Edmonton, Alberta. Please refer to the map on our Contact page for directions.