“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 in 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 collectings at 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 (Figure 2); twig or branch dieback; and browning and death of deeper roots, while surface roots remain healthy. Knowledge of a growing site, drainage, and irrigation practices in 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 in symptoms such as wilting, yellowing, and/or browning.  (Photo: Nicole Gauthier, UK)

Additional Information

  • “Wet Feet” of Ornamentals (PPFS-OR-W-04)
  • Plant Pathology Extension Publications (Website)


By Kimberly Leonberger, Plant Pathology Extension Associate and Nicole Gauthier, Plant Pathology Extension Specialist

Posted in Landscape Trees & Shrubs