Salt Tolerant Plants For the Midwest


I figured this would be good timing for a read like this, as the fall is the best time to plant trees. Now is the time to think about what type of tree you want and where you’re going to locate it.

It is common practice across the Midwest to use deicing salts (primarily sodium chloride) in winter to maintain safe roadways, sidewalks and driveways. Despite the benefits, deicing salts used near plants can cause extensive damage. Salt is spread to nearby plants from roads being plowed, meltwater runoff, splash, and aerial spray.

When air-borne salt lands on twigs, buds or needles, the salt draws moisture out of plant tissue, causing desiccation and scorch. On evergreens, salt spray causes die-back starting at the tips of needles. On deciduous plants, the symptoms of salt damage become visible during summer or hot dry weather, when leaf margins show scorching. Salt spray and excess soil salts can also cause branch die-back, stunted growth of stems and foliage, overall lack of vigor, and many times death. Turf along well-used sidewalks and streets usually show stress and dead areas due to excess soil salt.

Symptoms & Effects ~ Air-borne Salt:

• Plants damaged by aerial salts are more common than by soil salts in the Midwest.

• Salt damage is most severe within 50 feet of the roadway (farther if roadway speeds are higher), which decreases with distance, however sensitive plants can show scorch at distances of 1,000 feet or more.

• On evergreens, salt spray causes needles to turn brown or yellow and twig die-back, commonly only on the roadside portion of the plant.

• On deciduous plants, salt spray can kill or contort the buds and twigs. In the spring, new growth may appear as a clump of twigs known as a Witch’s Broom.

• Branches that are protected by snow, fencing, parked cars or other barriers are less likely to be injured.

Symptoms & Effects ~ Soil Salt:

• Soil salt collects in drainage systems adjacent to roadways where the salt-laden runoff is channeled or splashed. These systems can bring salt-laden water far away from where it was originally used.

•Snow that is filled with salt is many times plowed and shoveled directly on the root zone of plants to remove it from walkways and roads. This causes root dehydration.

• Soil salt damage causes browning along leaf edges, stunted growth, fewer and smaller leaves, less flowers, which means less fruit.

• Plants growing in soils high in salt generally are highly stressed, never look healthy and usually die early.

How to Minimize Salt Damage:

• Minimize or avoid using salt around landscape plants.

• Mix salt with fillers like sand, sawdust or cinders.

• Wait to apply a deicing salt until after shoveling or plowing.

• Avoid shoveling salt-laden snow on the root zones of plants.

• Construct temporary barriers made of burlap or fencing to protect low-growing plants susceptible to aerial salt damage.

• Keep plants healthy and correctly mulch (no mulch volcanoes!) to reduce water loss.

• Use salt-tolerant plants in exposed areas!

Here’s a list of plants that can tolerate salt. Plants in bold can handle more salt than the others. * means the plant can tolerate soil salt.

Deciduous Trees

Acer campestre – Hedge maple

Acer ginnala – Amur maple

Acer nigrum – Black maple

Acer pseudoplatanus – Sycamore maple

Acer saccharinum – Silver maple

Aesculus hippocastanum* – Horse-chestnut

Aesculus octandra – Yellow buckeye

Amelanchier x grandiflora – Apple serviceberry

Amelanchier canadensis – Serviceberry

Betula nigra – River birch

Carya cordiformis* – Bitternut hickory

Carya ovata – Shagbark hickory

Catalpa speciosa* – Northern catalpa

Celtis occidentalis* – Hackberry

Diospyros virginiana – Persimmon

Ginkgo biloba* – Ginkgo

Gleditsia triacanthos* – Honey locust

Gymnocladus dioicus* – Kentucky coffeetree

Juglans cinerea – Butternut

Juglans nigra* – Black walnut

Koelreuteria paniculata – Golden rain tree

Larix decidua – European larch

Larix laricina – American larch

Liquidambar styraciflua* – Sweet gum

Magnolia x soulangiana – Saucer magnolia

Malus (some cultivars) Crabapple  (x zumi ‘Calocarpa’, ‘Adams’, ‘Donald Wyman’, ‘Prairifire’)

Nyssa sylvatica* – Tupelo

Ostrya virginiana – Ironwood

Platanus occidentalis* – Sycamore

Prunus maackii – Amur chokecherry

Prunus virginiana* – Choke cherry

Pyrus calleryana – Callery pear

Quercus alba – White oak

Quercus bicolor* – Swamp white oak

Quercus ellipsoidalis* – Northern pin oak

Quercus imbricaria – Shingle oak

Quercus macrocarpa* – Bur oak

Quercus robur – English oak

Sassafras albidum – Sassafras

Syringa amurensis* – Japanese tree lilac

Syringa pekinensis* – Peking lilac

Taxodium distichum* – Bald-cypress

Ulmus ‘Regal’* – Regal elm


Evergreen Trees

Juniperus chinensis* – Chinese juniper

Juniperus horizontalis* – Creeping juniper

Juniperus virginiana – Eastern red-cedar

Picea pungens* – Blue spruce

Pinus mugo* – Mugo pine

Thuja occidentalis* – Eastern arborvitae



Alnus rugosa – Speckled alder

Amorpha fruticosa* – Indigo-bush

Aronia arbutifolia – Red chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa – Black chokeberry

Berberis thunbergii – Japanese barberry

Buxus microphylla var. koreana – Korean boxwood

Caragana arborescens* – Siberian pea-shrub

Caragana fruticosa – Russian pea-shrub

Clethra alnifolia – Summersweet clethra

Comptonia peregrina – Sweet-fern

Cotoneaster species* Cotoneaster

Forsythia spp.* – Forsythia

Hamamelis virginiana – Witch-hazel

Hibiscus syriacus – Rose-of-Sharon

Hippophae rhamnoides* – Sea-buckthorn

Hydrangea spp. Hydrangea

Hypericum spp. – St. John’s wort

Ilex verticillata – Winterberry 3-9 M

Lespedeza bicolor Shrub – bush-clover

Myrica pensylvanica* – Bayberry

Perovskia atriplicifolia – Russian-sage

Philadelphus coronarius – Mock-orange

Potentilla fruticosa – Shrubby cinquefoil

Prunus x cistena – Purpleleaf sand cherry

Pyracantha coccinea – Firethorn

Rhodotypos scandens – Black jetbead

Rhus aromatica* – Fragrant sumac

Rhus glabra* – Smooth sumac

Rhus typhina* -Staghorn sumac

Ribes alpinum* – Alpine currant

Robinia hispida* – Bristly locust 5-8 T

Rosa rugosa* – Rugosa rose

Sambucus canadensis – Elderberry

Shepherdia canadensis – Buffaloberry

Spiraea spp. (most) Spirea

Symphoricarpos albus – Snowberry

Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’* – Palibin lilac

Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’* – Miss Kim lilac 3-7 T

Viburnum dentatum – Arrowwood viburnum

Viburnum lentago – Nannyberry

Viburnum prunifolium* – Blackhaw viburnum

Viburnum trilobum – American cranberry-bush

© Ilex ~ Midwestern Plant Girl


28 thoughts on “Salt Tolerant Plants For the Midwest

    • I wouldn’t mind ash away from the front door.. Don’t want a big mess in the house! Many counties around here use sand and or some pretty odd things: Beet juice and cheese brine! It has to be put on the streets before a storm. It works pretty good tho!


  1. When we lived in IL, we used to drive by the Morton Arboretum. It was right of one of the major expressways. We used to think it was ironic that Morton aka the salt king, invested in a sacred place for nature and trees as he was the one who produces a very hurtful substance to them. 🙂 And he put his arboretum right next to a large highly salted expressway! They use sand up here in Madison and some sort of brine mixture made from cheese leftovers. Seems to do the trick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Too funny, I just read about the use of cheese brine. And Wisconsin is never going to be short of cheese brine! Haha! We use beet juice. It does seem to work better than just salt.
      That is pretty funny about the arboretum. Sometimes folks are opposite like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. That is quite list and you had to go to lots of trouble to type it all out. Really valuable info for anyone that lives where salt is used for pavement in the winter. Thankfully we don’t really have that here except on bridges sometimes in a rare winter.

    Liked by 1 person

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