Every summer we deal with algae blooms in our lakes. Plants in our landscapes will also struggle or die unexpectedly. Our plants many times also need more water. We don’t usually connect these problems together, but we have one main issue that causes these problems: salt. We live in the dried-up basin of an ancient salt lake, so naturally our soil is salty. Salt pulls moisture and nutrients from the plants and soil around it. During the winter, we use salt to de-ice our roads, sidewalks, and entrances to our homes. During the summer we apply fertilizers and chemicals to our lawns, which are saturated in salts. As you can see, we dump more salt than is healthy on our landscapes.
The best way to deal with too much salt is to not apply so much of it as obvious as that sounds. We can put alternative items down to de-ice during the winter. We can also apply fertilizers that don’t contain salt. In order to reduce salt already in our landscape is to leach our soil so the salt drains down below the roots. But as you can imagine, this isn't the easiest thing and can even cause more problems if not done right. Leaching only works if the water stays in the area being leached. We as homeowners often cause the algae bloom every year because we over water, over fertilize, or leach our properties. Then all of the nitrogen and salt runs directly into our lakes. Not only are we contaminating our water supply, we are also making it hard for our plants to thrive in our unique climate. To make matters worse, much of the valleys have clay soil. Clay doesn’t share nutrients. And the second most common soil is sandy soil and that doesn’t have any nutrients to begin with but does easily drain away the salts.
As such, we need to give our plants food for them to thrive. Generally, fertilizer is the best option, but it should be chosen with care. Trees, shrubs and perennials need fertilizer that is easily absorbed into their roots so they can use the nutrients. The best fertilizer is compost. Applying fresh compost every year will do wonders for your landscape. But make sure to use a low sodium compost. Plant based compost works best by far. Fertilizer pellets as well as powdered fertilizers are made with salt and should be avoided. Organic and even sea-based fertilizers are also good choices, ones such as Yum Yum and Fish Emulsion. Even grass clippings can be left on the lawn and are a great fertilizer.
Ice is a dangerous hazard we need to deal with every winter. Unfortunately, adding salt to melt the snow will run into our landscape beds and contaminate our plants. It also runs off into our gutters and into our river systems. As you can imagine, the problem accumulates every year. Even though we can't really control what goes on the roads and freeways, we can do a few things at home to decrease the quantity of salt going that makes it into our yards. Sand is an effective way to make ice less slick for our sidewalks. Heated mats are a great solution that many people overlook. Even a home remedy of table sugar and rubbing alcohol will melt ice, but you will want to use them in small quantities. Partly because they are expensive, but runoff can be problematic as well.
All this runoff becomes our secondary water source for our irrigation systems. When we contaminate the natural water sources with our excess fertilizers and salt, they become our water source for our plants, so in essence we are causing our own plants downfall.
Fertilizers come in many shapes and sizes and it can be a headache to sort through them all. Slow-release pellet, 16-16-16, works great in Utah because of the heavy clay soil and sandy soil we have. If we were luck enough had loamy soil we could use the common fertilizer at the big box stores, but please don't do that. Generally speaking, it is recommended to apply fertilizer four times per year. The pellets should be placed where the water will seep into the ground for the roots to absorb. Also, make sure to distribute them in a fashion that will most easily allow for that to happen. So, make sure to add the pellets to where the water will help the ground absorb them. Then, water the fertilizer with a hose so the pellets can start to dissolve. Powder blue granular fertilizer is good for small plants, not large ones. But as stated earlier, it is high in salt. Fish or sea-based liquid is great for greening up your plants. These are organic so will need to be used frequently and contains little or no salt. Liquid high-strength fertilizers are great for small gardens because the liquid form is absorbed faster, but be aware they can still have salts. Avoid using chemical fertilizer on the leaves and fruit of plants you intend to eat, for obvious reasons. I also strongly recommend you use organic fertilizer on edibles when possible. Minerals mix will help enhance the fertilizer and give the plant an even better boost for a longer time, especially in our heavy nutrient-deficient clay soil. Yum Yum is an all-natural fertilizer that is similar to soil and is great for large yards. And finally adding gypsum to the soil regularly helps combat the salt leaching that frustrates the plants. These will need to be applied repeatedly to deal with the recurring salt build up.
In conclusion, plants need food, but due to our type of soil and water, be particular with what you feed your plants. Salts will strip your plants of nutrients and water, which is the exact opposite of the intent of fertilizer. Choosing annual applications of plant-based compost or liquid organic fertilizers will successfully feed your plants without too much salt, thus giving them the nutrients they need.