Seedlings of four deciduous tree species maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), beech (Fagus sylvatica), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) and lime (Tilia cordata) were exposed to de-icing salt (NaCl) either through the soil or applied to the above ground plant parts. A soil solution of 1.65 g l-1 NaCl was maintained from the start of the experiment in January 1999 until termination in June 1999. The main effects caused by salt treatment through the soil were a reduction in photosynthesis of up to 50% and the development of leaf chlorosis or necrosis covering up to 50% of the total leaf area for the most sensitive species (lime and beech); maple and horse chestnut were relatively tolerant. There was no significant correlation between Cl or Na concentration in leaves and the relative sensitivity of the species. Saturated salt solution was applied to bark, buds or leaf scars on two occasions three weeks apart during the winter season. This affected the timing of bud break with delays of up to eight days compared with the controls. In the most sensitive species the above ground salt treatments partly prevented bud break (beech) or reduced photosynthesis (lime). Uptake through the bark was most important for the development of stress effects, compared with uptake through the other above ground plant parts.