Business Notes

Dealing With Salt in Your Garden Soil

By MARIA SCANDALE | May 02, 2013

This week’s column is courtesy of Bay Avenue Plant Co. in Surf City. The landscape service and garden boutique at 1808 Long Beach Blvd. has provided customers with a printed flyer detailing how to deal with salt in your garden soil, a problem in shore areas that were overwashed by Superstorm Sandy.

Salt contaminated soil in planting beds and vegetable gardens has two effects on plants. High salt levels block the pores that allow plants to take up water through their roots, causing water stress and reduced growth. Beds that have been inundated with salt water can have excessively high salt levels that actually draw water out of the plants through their roots. Both can lead to browning of leaves, defoliation and eventual death of a plant.

Steps to take in your garden after Hurricane Sandy to help get your garden soil back to shape include aerating the soil and irrigating your beds. The soil needs to be able to breathe. Saltwater flooding can leave sediment on top of the soil. Aerating the soil can be done by using a rake, walking in the soil with aeration spikes on the bottom of your shoes, or just using a shovel to turn the soil over.

Since Sandy occurred in late October, those with irrigation systems already had them shut down for the winter. They have had to rely on Mother Nature to deliver precipitation in the form of rain or snow to help leach some of the salt out of the soil. An article posted by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension states that by relying on irrigation alone, it could take a year’s time to leach excess salt from sandy soils, longer for heavier soils.

How Bay Avenue Plant Company can help: In order to speed up the process of ridding your soil of excessive levels of salt, we can apply gypsum to your beds, followed by 1 to 2 inches of compost.

Gypsum is an organic product, a mineral, mined from sedimentary rock formations from all over the world. It is composed largely of calcium sulfate and when tilled into soil with high levels of salt will replace sodium with calcium. Gypsum alone will not work. It must be followed by irrigation or precipitation to leach out the displaced salt.

In order to replace essential nutrients such as phosphate and phosphorous to the soil, we recommend applying 1 to 2 inches of compost to the soil. Ideally, 1 inch should be worked into the soil along with the gypsum and the additional 1 inch laid on top of the soil as a mulch to work down into the soil. We will be following the standard recommended by Rutgers Cooperative Extension – 50 pounds gypsum to 1000 square feet. Can you do this yourself? Of course. Bay Avenue Plant Company will have bags of gypsum for sale for you to pick up.

Bay Avenue Plant Company will not be using fertilizer on your plants this spring. Fertilizer contains salt. Fertilizers with high nitrogen can shock plants into rapid growth in soil that is unable to support it. Our recommendation would be that if your plants appear healthy this season, you have a fall fertilizer put down.

Those of you who see extensive plant damage to evergreens must know that trees can be taken out but replacing them with new trees planted in damaged soil will only continue your problems. Your soil will need to be tested before planting again. Bay Avenue Plant Company will have salt meters available for staff use and for sale to customers for initial readings. However, we recommend having Rutgers Cooperative Extension test your soil for salt in their lab before replanting. ... Bay Avenue Plant Company can take samples and send them out for you.

For more information, the telephone number is 609-361-8800 and the website address is

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