Strange as it sounds, some houseplants don’t like wet leaves. Technically, their leaves are fine, but when the water pools in the “crown” at the bottom of their leaves, you can have problems. This is sometimes called plants with “wet feet.” Left in this state for too long, rot can take hold and slowly destroy that part of the plant. Larger areas of rot may also choke off nutrients and cause the foliage to die back.
How is this possible? Don’t plants get rained in the wild? Even tropical forest plants that like humid conditions in general can have leaves that don’t like being wet. The answer is a combination of factors. Water evaporates more quickly outside, and there’s a lot more airflow which also helps. Thus, rarely do you see large-scale problems with this type of water damage, but there’s nothing that says plants in the wild are immune from rot.
The other big problem with wet leaves occurs when using cold water. The thermal shock of cold water can disrupt photosynthetic activity and permanently damage the structure of palisade leaf cells. The result is white spots on the leaves that are harmless but close to permanent, like scars. Unless you are especially careless and use especially cold water, these spots won’t threaten the overall health of the plant.
Types of Houseplants that Don’t Like Wet Leaves
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does include the most popular houseplants that fit this profile. Moreover, some are more vulnerable to this type of water damage than others.
African Violets: These houseplants are particularly difficult to care for, but they do have a few eccentricities including not liking wet feet. More than just watering technique, it’s important to look at the foliage of your African violet. Individual plants may have especially tight crowns that need to be watched. This is also a plant that’s susceptible to cold water spots.
Orchids: Orchids are known for having large, broad leaves that are sensitive to both direct light and standing water. In nature, some types of orchids grow upside down reducing the likelihood that water gets trapped in the crown. At home, be mindful of water that runs down into the bottom of the leaves. Some people also use ice cubes to slowly release water but also to decrease the temperature during the winter to help stimulate new shoots and flowers.
Snake Plants: This houseplant is among the most susceptible to root rot from wet feet. Even misting can lead to enough moisture for rot to take hold. The good news is that snake plants don’t need water all that often, and they are otherwise among the most versatile plants with high tolerances for light exposure, humidity levels, and temperature.
Cape Primrose/Streps: This houseplant isn’t immune to root rot and wet feet, but it’s especially vulnerable to cold water spots and mineral stains. The cape primrose has broad leaves and a sprawling pattern that make a long-nosed watering can important for reaching the potting soil and keeping the leaves dry.
Pygmy Date Palm: Some houseplants are vulnerable to specific kinds of rot and fungal growth. The pygmy date palm is a good example. The pestalotiopsis fungus has a particular liking for these palms. They get a foothold with the leaves are wet, but can often beyond a chronic problem that houseplant owners have to continually treat with root rot.
Watering Tips for These Houseplants
One of the surest ways to make sure that leaves stay dry is by bottom watering the houseplant. Another basic, but effective, tool is the long-nosed watering can. Just because the potting soil is hard to see or get to and just because there’s some danger to the leaves, it’s still important for every part of the soil to receive enough water to release its nutrients.