Does Salt Kill Grass

Does Salt Kill Grass? (what to do about salt damage to lawn)

Salt can be a problem for lawns, especially those near coasts or in areas where road salt is used during the winter. Salt damage to grass can be serious and difficult to correct, depending on the extent. But does salt kill grass, or can you help an affected yard recover from this damage?

Yes, salt will kill your grass. Even worse, it can make it hard or near-impossible to regrow grass in the same soil until the problem is addressed.

Today, I’m going to cover some of the main causes of salt getting onto your lawn and damaging it. Also, I’ll reveal treatments to deal with the issue and how to prevent salt damage in the future.

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Horticulturist Arthur Davidson, A.S.

What Is Salt Damage, And How Can It Affect My Lawn?

Salt damage is the accumulation of salt in the soil that prevents water and nutrients from reaching the roots of plants. This causes your grass to turn yellow or brown, and eventually even die off.

It’s important to be aware of what types of salts are used on walkways, driveways, and roads nearby. Some common salts used in this way include calcium chloride, sodium chloride, and potassium chloride.

What is Salt Damage and How Can It Affect My Lawn

These can accumulate in the soil over time, eventually leading to salt damage in your lawn. Over time you may see your grass become patchy from points where there is pooling of moisture. This may lead to pockets of high salinity (salt concentration), which affects the grass.

It can be a huge undertaking to remove salt from your lawn, but it isn’t impossible. Applying the right techniques and being patient can help you overcome this problem.

Causes of Salt Damage to Grass

The most common cause of salt damage to grass is exposure to de-icing salts used on roads and walkways during the winter.

These can be carried onto your lawn and accumulate over time, especially if there is no runoff or drainage to carry the salt away from your lawn.

There are other factors that may lead to high salinity in your soil. These include faulty irrigation systems or water runoff from nearby areas. This can lead to salt accumulating in pockets, leading to damage.

If your home is located near the ocean, then you may also find that high levels of salt in the air are damaging your grass. This can be difficult to combat, but luckily there are some solutions available.

Identifying the exact cause of salt damage in your lawn is the first step towards fixing it, and although it can sometimes be a long process, you can eventually get your grass to look healthy again.

Symptoms of Salt Damage in Lawns

Discoloration is the most common symptom of salt damage in lawns. This usually consists of yellow or brown patches.

Symptoms of Salt Damage in Lawns

Patches of your lawn may also become thin. Salt damage can even cause grass to die off completely, leading to bald patches in your lawn.

Poor growth is another symptom of salt damage. When salt is affecting your grass, it’ll be harder for new growth to emerge.

This may lead to patchy or bald spots where the grass is struggling to grow.

Do you suspect that salt is affecting your grass? There are a few simple tests you can do to confirm it.

Local garden centers and nurseries often sell testing kits that let you test the salt levels in your soil. Alternately you can perform a lab-based soil test on your lawn’s soil.

Best Overall Lawn Soil Test Kit

The Soil Test Kit I Use & Recommend

There are many options for testing your lawn’s soil, but I prefer a lab-based soil test that provides a detailed analysis of your soil’s nutrients and what’s needed for your lawn to thrive.

I use this one from MySoil every year. is reader supported. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

The type of grass you have on your lawn can determine just how your lawn will be affected by high levels of salinity.

Some types of grass with higher tolerance to salt can be more favorable to grow, especially if you live near the coast.

While it can be difficult to tell whether your grass is suffering from salt damage just by looking at it, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms so you can take the appropriate steps to fix it.

Types Of Salt That Harm Turfgrass

While all salts can have negative effects on your lawn, there are a few major culprits that may be responsible for causing salt damage.

Types Of Salt That Harm Turfgrass
  • Calcium chloride: Calcium chloride is commonly used as a de-icing agent, and it can accumulate over time in your soil. After winter, this can be one of the most common salts responsible for salt damage.
  • Sodium chloride: Sodium chloride is a very common form of salt that can be found in most soils. It is often applied to roads in winter for de-icing, and it can also accumulate over time if runoff isn’t controlled properly.
  • Potassium chloride: Potassium chloride can be used as a fertilizer, but it can also accumulate over time in your soil. This salt is particularly damaging to grass, and it’s important to be aware of it if your lawn is affected by salt damage.

While all of these salts may be okay in moderation, understanding the exact type that is affecting your lawn can ensure that you take the appropriate steps to reduce it.

How To Test For The Presence of Salts in Your Soil

Testing your yard for salts in your yard can be quite straightforward. However, it’s important to use a reliable testing company that has the correct equipment to give you an accurate result.

How to Test for The Presence of Salts in Soil

You should test your soil for salt levels at least once a year.

Go ahead and purchase a soil salt testing kit. You should be able to find one at your local garden center or hardware store.

These tests are usually based on a color-coded system and include instructions on how to use them properly.

It’s important to monitor your lawn for any symptoms of high salinity. From here, you can determine the best spots to test for salt concentration and find out exactly what type is affecting your lawn.

When I test my lawn’s soil, I take samples from multiple points around my lawn, mixing those samples together in a small clean bucket or tub, and then I test the mixture of soil.

This technique can give you a much better indication of the current salt level in your entire lawn, but if you know you have problem areas like around your driveway, walkways, and the road where the plow dumps a lot of road snow and salt all winter, you may want to sample this area separately.

From here, you can take action to reduce the salinity and restore your lawn to its former glory.

Tips For Preventing and Controlling Sodium Buildup On Your Lawn

Focusing on prevention is one of the best ways to keep salt from affecting your lawn. Be aware of the sources of salt in your area and take steps to limit their impact on your lawn.

Tips for Preventing and Controlling Sodium Buildup on a Lawn

If you live in an area where salt is used as a de-icing agent, it’s important to be vigilant in clearing it away from your yard as soon as possible.

Personally I try to use a sand mixture for traction on walkways after clearing them of snow and ice. This prevents slip hazards, and is generally easy to sweep or blow into the landscape in the spring with no ill-effects.

There are also steps you can take to limit the runoff of salt into your yard. For example, you can install rain gardens, permeable paving, and other forms of runoff control.

This will help limit the amount of salt that collects in your yard.

It’s also useful to have a type of grass that can deal with a salty environment. If your soil is particularly prone to salt buildup, you should consider planting a salt-resistant turfgrass species.

Salt-Resistant Grass Types

There are certain types of grass that are considered salt-resistant. That is why many homeowners who live near the ocean (and have to deal with saltwater affecting their lawn) plant them on their properties.

I’ll talk about two of these grass types below: Zoysia and St. Augustine. Both will perform better in the southern half of the United States, and I typically prefer an elite Turf Type Tall Fescue grass for northern climates..


Do you want a dark green lawn and need a salt-resistant grass? If you live in one of the warm-season grass growing regions of the United States, Zoysia grass is a great option.

Salt-Resistant Grass Types

If you want a Zoysia lawn, you should be aware that it does take a bit longer to grow than many other kinds of grass. However, if you’re patient and give your Zoysia grass the care that it needs, you’ll be rewarded with a thick, dark green lawn that spreads to fill in bare patches.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine is another popular salt-resistant grass. It does best in well-drained soil, but it’s flexible when it comes to PH.

You can have a healthy St. Augustine grass lawn in either full or partial shade. St. Augustine grass is available in different varieties that have different shades of green.

Best Practices for Managing Sodium Accumulation Around Your Yard

As I talked about earlier, fixing drainage and using the right irrigation is key. These are important parts of preventing and managing salt buildup in your lawn.

Best Practices for Managing Sodium Accumulation Around a Yard

Proper drainage can reduce how much salt can accumulate in your soil. It can also help flush away existing salt.

Every lawn is different. However, a little bit of hard work can go a long way when it comes to managing salt buildup.

Check your soil regularly and take steps to reduce the amount of salt that accumulates in it.

Make sure you top-dress your soil to ensure that water flows downhill to driveways. This can be the most direct step in reducing salt buildup.

As water flows downhill, you should have your lawn slightly higher than your driveway. This should stop de-icing products from flowing into your soil. Those products can do significant damage.

If your backyard doesn’t have proper drainage along the edges, pools of water can form in your yard – a topic I recently shared insights about with Amy Mcardle over at Livingetc. This will cause a buildup of not only salt but other products you apply to your lawn.

Removing the salinity from your lawn is a different story, but proper irrigation and drainage is the most effective way to manage future buildup and reduce salt in your lawn over the long term.

Remediation Methods For Salt On Your Lawn

Now to directly address the issue of salt in your lawn, you’ll need to take a few steps to remove the excess salt from your soil. The first step is to dilute the salt concentration by leaching it out of the soil.

Remediation Methods For Salt on a Lawn

You can do this with a simple process of flooding your lawn and letting the water drain away. Since you don’t want to damage your lawn during this process, it’s very important to give your soil the best chance of success by improving drainage in the area.

Using Gypsum to Fix High Salt Levels in Lawn Soil

Applying gypsum to your lawn is a very common way to remove salts from your lawn, as it causes them to form soluble solutions. When the salts become more soluble from the gypsum, they are more easily washed away. This can drastically reduce the salt levels in your soil.

SoiLab has an excellent video showing the science behind how Gypsum can help remove high sodium levels from soil which I recommend you watch if you even have a hint of science nerd in you:

I recommend this Gypsum product from Earth Science Growth Essentials for lawn applications. One 25 pound bag will cover 5,000 square feet. You can use my free lawn measuring tool to figure out exactly how much you’ll need to order.

When applying water to your lawn to remove salt, it’s important to take note of where the water starts to flow and exit the lawn, as you want to ensure that these pathways are unobstructed.

Having a nice clear path for your water to flow from your lawn gives you the ability to flush out the water which has high salinity and test it.

To avoid damaging your lawn from flooding, it’s best to avoid doing it on consecutive days. Instead, give your lawn a bit of time to recover in between.

I also recommend testing the water where it leaves your lawn, so you can get an idea of how much salt is still left to remove or if you’re already at a safe level.

How To Address Organic Matter Depletion Due To Winter Ice Removal Products

Another side-effect of high salinity is the depletion of organic matter from your lawn. This is due to the salt being so strong that it breaks down the organic content in your soil, including beneficial microorganisms.

How To Address Organic Matter Depletion Due To Winter Ice Removal Products

Organic matter not only helps keep your lawn healthy but also helps it withstand any changes in weather and climate. When your soil salinity increases, it damages your soil’s organic matter, making it less able to retain moisture and nutrients.

To remedy the loss of organic matter, you’ll need to revitalize the soil by adding compost or other soil amendments that are rich in organic material. This will help replace the lost nutrients and provide additional structure for your lawn to regenerate after salt damage.

Using an organic lawn care product can also help to restore organic matter as it can provide a slow and steady release of organic material into your lawn, helping it to recover faster.

Organic fertilizers sometimes require a little bit of extra time to take effect in the soil, but the increased complexity of microbes is much better in the long term and can even help to reduce any salt damage in the future.

Because there aren’t any one-stop solutions for removing salt from your lawn, it is best to prevent any buildup in the first place by ensuring that your lawn has good drainage and is irrigated properly.

Final Thoughts: Does Salt Kill Grass?

Salt is very harmful to a lot of different grass types, so regardless of your location, it’s very important to make things easy on yourself when it comes to the salinity of your lawn.

To recap, it’s a good idea to have good irrigation in place for your lawn and keep on top of lawn grading and drainage issues, especially if your lawn regularly accumulates salt.

If you have trouble removing salt from your soil, you can consult a professional. He or she will be able to advise you and help you find your best course of action.

However, a good application of gypsum and a good flush of water through your lawn should remove a great deal of the salt. This will give your lawn time to recover.

Always test your soil if you are worried about high salinity levels, and if you live near the coast, I highly recommend laying down some salt-resistant turf.

Mitigation is the best strategy when it comes to salt and its damage. So, by following these tips, you should be able to keep your lawn healthy and looking great.

Before you go, I invite you to learn all about one of the salt-resistant grasses I talked about earlier, St. Augustine, in my ultimate guide to St. Augustine grass.

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Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

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