American author Ray Bradbury once said, “Too much of anything isn’t good for anyone.”
To the surprise of some, water falls into that category – at least when it comes to the necessary amount of hydration for healthy plants, trees and shrubs.
The first half of 2019 has been a meteorological hodge-podge of abnormal temperatures as well as above average snowfall and heavy spring rains for many parts of the United States.
While humans can regulate the amount of water leaching into the ground from garden hoses and automatic irrigation systems – making continual adjustments based on environmental conditions – there’s little to be done when the increased saturation comes from Mother Nature.
Oversaturated soil can be just as harmful to plant matter as drought conditions. While consistent moisture is essential for the health and longevity of plant life, too much can easily spell disaster and often leads to a condition called “wet feet”.
According to Richard Buckley, Director of Rutgers Plant and Diagnostic Laboratory in New Jersey, “Wet feet occurs when soils become saturated with water. Water fills the pore spaces between soil particles, which displaces available oxygen.” It’s this displacement of oxygen which actually causes the plant to suffocate if the soil is too wet.
As many us of learned during middle school science, plants undergo a process called photosynthesis in which plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air before combining it with the water they obtain from their roots. Sunlight is then turned into energy enabling plants to create carbohydrates and oxygen which the plant needs to properly flourish.
Plants actually do breathe, just like animals, in a process called respiration, which has been said to be like photosynthesis only running in reverse. Roots and other parts of the plant do not partake in photosynthesis, yet still require oxygen for optimal health. But if plant roots find themselves plagued by “wet feet”, the entire plant often drowns as its necessary air supply is essentially cut off.
According to Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Professor of Soil Management/Environment at Iowa State University, “The degree of soil wetness changes the proportional relationships of air (void spaces in the soil system) to water. The increase of one of the portions over another affects the rest of the soil’s physical properties, such as bulk density, infiltration rate, and soil elasticity.”
Few plants, with the exception of willows, bald cypress, flag iris and bog plants to name a few, can adapt to such continual moisture in the soil’s physical properties over a long period of time. Most plants can only adapt to a high concentration of moisture for a few days before finding themselves battling wet feet.
Symptoms of wet feet can often be difficult to identify, especially because the signs are so similar to many other plant problems. However, symptoms generally include:
- Stunting and yellowing leaves
- Twisting or dropping leaves
- Soft, spongy areas at the base of the leaf
- Roots turning dark, often with a rotting odor
- Lack of flowers or fruits
- And shoot dieback
What can be done if your plants have wet feet?
Sadly, there’s little you can do beyond waiting for the soil to dry out and evaluating the plants overall health moving forward. Try not to walk on the soil around the plants to prevent any further damage to the root system, clean the plants off gently with a hose to remove any sludge which may have accumulated on leaves and keep an eye out for any fungal diseases preying on the weakened plant.
If you suspect your plants may be impacted by wet feet, give SavATree a call today for more information and solutions.