Soil salinity is a measure of the total amount of soluble salt in soil. As salinity levels increase, plants extract water less easily from soil, aggravating water stress conditions. High soil salinity can also cause nutrient imbalances, result in the accumulation of elements toxic to plants, and reduce water infiltration if the level of one salt element--sodium--is high.

Salt-affected plants are stunted with dark green leaves which, in some cases, are thicker and more succulent than normal. In woody species, high soil salinity may lead to leaf burn and defoliation. High salinity causes alfalfa yield to decrease while the leaf-to-stem ratio increases, influencing forage quality. Grasses also appear dark green and stunted with leaf burn symptoms.

Salinity tolerance is influenced by many plant, soil, and environmental factors and their interrelationships. Generally, fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals are more salt sensitive than forage or field crops. In addition, certain varieties, cultivars, or rootstalks may tolerate higher salt levels than others. Plants are more sensitive to high salinity during seedling stages, immediately after transplanting, and when subject to other (e.g., disease, insect, nutrient) stresses.

Climate and irrigation also influence salinity tolerance. As soil dries, salts become concentrated in the soil solution, increasing salt stress. Therefore, salt problems are more severe under hot, dry conditions than under cool, humid conditions. Increasing irrigation frequency and applying water in excess of plant demand may be required during hot, dry periods to minimize salinity stress.

Source: Kotuby-Amacher, J., R. Koenig, and B. Kitchen. 1997. SALINITY AND PLANT TOLERANCE. Publication AG-SO-03. Utah State University Extension. Logan, UT. Available at

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