Dealing with Salt Damage in the Landscape

We maintain a commercial landscape that we designed and installed in 1999. It’s not your typical commercial landscape. I say it’s not typical because unlike most commercial landscapes where there are plants spread throughout a sea of mulch, this property has extensive landscaping. It was the site of a former estate. Even though the estate turned funeral home has a residential feel, the winter maintenance of the parking lot and sidewalks is definitively commercial. To keep the property safe, a lot of salt is used on all the paved surfaces through the winter season.  Using so much salt in close proximity to the landscape has created some challenges over the last 18 years. Often times, when we arrive in the spring, there are plants that show signs of salt damage. One of the plants that regularly sees some damage every year, is a stand of Vinca that lines a walkway. We have been dealing with the damage differently from year to year from letting it grow out naturally to painstakingly removing damaged foliage one leaf at a time. Through trial and error and my goal of always trying to do things more efficiently, we decided to try something different last spring. Rather than remove the damaged leaves which can be exhausting, we decided to remove the whole stand of Vinca right down to the ground. Below is a picture of us removing the Vinca down to the ground with a string trimmer.

Vinca with salt damage

I’ve learned a lot about horticulture over the years by doing some unconventional things to plants just to see how they responded. This was one of those times! To decide whether to cut down the Vinca and whether things would turn out successfully was a rash decision. I assumed that cutting down the Vinca would definitely save time but after seeing the Vinca cut to the ground, I started to panic that the Vinca would take forever to grow back. I also looked at the results and was praying that the property owner wouldn’t be irritated that I ruined his Vinca along his main entrance for the rest of the summer.

I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I’m not sure how long after the ‘after’ picture was taken but I remember it not being too long after the big cut. Below is the clean, new foliage.

Vinca after cut back

Vinca after cutback

If you have Vinca that is showing signs of salt damage, I wouldn’t hesitate removing the plant down to the ground. You’ll never know the outcome unless you try.

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