Over the weekend, Pittsburgh was hit by the fringe of a blizzard that left more than two feet of snow in parts of the East Coast.
Public works crews and residents diligently spread rock salt on roads and sidewalks —an effective de-icing measure. But the traditional sodium chloride salt can potentially harm or kill trees.
Trees in one part of Downtown, though, might be out of danger.
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is working to protect trees in the business district this winter, by using 21 tons of “tree-friendly” magnesium chloride rock salt to protect the district’s approximately 1,000 trees.
The conservancy partnered with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and PNC Bank to make the $6,200 bulk purchase from the Ohio-based company Green Machine.
Traditional sodium chloride rock salt can harm trees’ roots and soil quality, and cramped urban settings like Downtown increases the danger, according to Community Forestry Coordinator Marah Vecenie.
“It completely devastates the environment for trees if there’s a lot of chloride in the dirt. And trees have a very limited growing space,” Vecenie said.
Trees in the highly-trafficked area have more threats to their survival.
“Trees are trying to stay alive, it’s just a really harsh environment,” Vecenie said. “There’s a lot of pollution, the heat island effect, you know, the trees are up against the odds.”
The tree-friendly salt will be distributed to property owners in the business district over the course of the winter, she said.
The conservancy estimated that it would need about 21 tons of salt to make it through the winter, but Vecenie said there could be some left over.
“This year we haven’t had much of a winter so far, so we’ll see how it goes,” she said.
Vecenie said that the best ways to protect trees in winter are to mulch them in the fall season prior, take care not to spread rock salt onto trees while de-icing and to flush out tree pits with water in the spring to remove excess salt.
“Everybody keep fighting the good fight for our trees this winter,” Vecenie said. “We’ve been getting a lot of harsher winters recently and trees are very important, so take care of them.”