“Wet Feet” of Ornamentals

“Wet feet” is the common term for a condition that affects plant species intolerant of wet growing conditions. This problem occurs when soils become saturated with water, which ultimately causes roots to suffocate. Once root damage occurs, plants decline and may eventually die. While “wet feet” is an abiotic disorder, declining root health and wet soil conditions can provide the ideal environment for infection by many root and collar rot pathogens.

Excess soil moisture may result from high clay content, poor drainage, lack of topsoil, drainage from other locations collecting at the site, low areas in the landscape (Figure 1), or overwatering.  Obvious indicators of “wet feet” are the presences of wet, soggy soils or puddles on the soil surface after heavy rains. Algae or moss may also be present on soil surfaces at wet sites. Plant symptoms that can result from wet feet include:

  • Wilting, yellowing, and/or browning of foliage (Figure 2)
  • Twig or branch dieback
  • Browning and death of deeper roots, while surface roots remain healthy.

Knowledge of a growing site, drainage, and irrigation practices are helpful in diagnosing “wet feet”.

For more information on “wet feet” and related disease problems, including symptoms, causes, prevention, and treatment, review the publication “Wet Feet” of Ornamentals (PPFS-OR-W-04)

Figure 1: Low-lying areas may hold surface water after excessive irrigation or heavy rain. (Photo: Julie Beale, UK)

Figure 2: Root damage from wet conditions can cause “drought” symptoms due to reduced uptake of water and nutrients. Resulting symptoms include wilting, yellowing, and/or browning. (Photo: Nicole Ward Gauthier, UK)


Additional Information


By Kimberly Leonberger, Extension Associate and Nicole Ward Gauthier, Extension Plant Pathologist



Posted in Landscape Trees & Shrubs, Ornamentals
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