How to Prevent and Treat Root Rot

Root rot is a very common disease in indoor plants and usually happens as a result of overwatering. If you catch it early enough and change your plant’s growing conditions accordingly, you can prevent root rot from getting worse and help save your precious houseplant. We’ll help you be able to identify the early signs of root rot, and show you how to treat root rot as well.

Orchid with root rot

Image Source: iStock(np-e07)

There are many ways to kill plants, but luckily there are also ways to help them recover. When it comes to the common root rot, that’s not always an easy task, but with the right care your plant can come back from the brink of death. Root rot is a very common disease in indoor plants and usually happens as a result of overwatering. If you catch it early enough and change your plant’s growing conditions accordingly, you can prevent root rot from getting worse and help save your precious houseplant. We’ll help you be able to identify the early signs of root rot, and show you how to treat root rot as well. 

 

What is Root Rot?

Root rot is a common plant disease that causes symptoms like wilting, yellowing leaves, and reduced growth. If left untreated, root rot can kill your plant. When roots get infected by pathogens, they become less effective at absorbing water and nutrients from the soil. This can cause the upper parts of the plant to die or become stunted due to not getting enough nutrients. Root rot is caused by several different types of fungi including Pythium, Phytophthora, Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, and Sclerotium. These fungi can enter the roots through wounds in the root system, like those caused by repotting or overwatering. Root rot is most common in plants that are over-watered, too dark, or too humid. It can also be caused by poor drainage or soil that is too compacted

 

How to Recognize Root Rot?

Root rot starts with the roots, so if your leaves are wilted or your plant is doing poorly, check the roots first to see if they’re discolored, mushy, or slimy. If they are, you probably have root rot. If you’re not sure and you’re not sure if your plant has root rot, you can also check the soil. Soil with amounts of excessive water is a good indicator that you’re dealing with or at risk for Root Rot.  If you’re not sure if you have root rot, it’s important to understand the symptoms of root rot. 

Common Signs and Symptoms of Root Rot include:

  • Your plant’s roots are mushy
  • Your plant’s roots have a foul odor. A healthy root system should smell earthy, but shouldn’t smell rancid. 
  • Wilting - this is a secondary symptom due to the fact that your plants roots are struggling to absorb what your plant is looking for. Many people believe that wilting and yellow leaves are a sign of underwatering, but it’s important to make sure that the potting soil in your pot is in fact actually dry before adding more water. 
  • While fungus gnats can occur in plants that do not have root rot, fungus gnats can be problem indicator that things below the surface are in fact too wet. 
  • While some plants prefer wet soil, most plants don’t enjoy having their feet (roots) soaked all of the time. 

How to get rid of Root Rot?

When dealing with root rot, the first thing you need to do is stop watering it too much. The main cause of root rot is over-watering, so reducing the amount of water your plant gets will help prevent it from getting worse.
If you’ve already over-watered it, you need to be more aggressive about getting rid of the root rot.

Step one - Remove the affected plant from its pot.

If you find the root system is slimy or there are mushy roots, you most likely have root rot. If the root system is discolored (a dark brown or black color), that also is an indication of root rot. 

Step two - Sterilize and clean the existing roots.

If you have root rot, you’ll need to repot your plant and change the soil. Make sure you disinfect the new pot and tools to kill off the rot. To disinfect your pot, combine 1 part bleach with 9 parts water and give your pot a good cleaning with this solution. After washing, make sure to rinse the pot with fresh water to remove any remaining bleach. With a plastic pot, make sure to test the solution on a small part to make sure it won’t cause any discoloration. Make sure that your selected pot has good drainage, preferably with a couple of drainage holes in the bottom. Other options for sterilizing pots include spraying, wiping down with a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide, or using a strong vinegar solution to scrub your pots clean. With either method, make sure you rinse thoroughly. 

Step three - Prepare your new pot and soil.

After cleaning your desired pot, try to remove as much of the waterlogged soil from your plant as possible without damaging the root system. Fill your selected pot to about one-third full with new fresh soil or potting mix. Do not press or pat this soil, as you want it to remain light and airy so that your plant’s roots will grow into it. 

Step four - Repot your plant with fresh soil.

Place your plant into the pot and fill the remaining space with fresh soil or potting mix. Again, it’s important to not compact the soil, though your instinct might be to pat it down. Though normally we might give our plant a thorough watering after repotting it, the roots of this plant likely need a little time to dry out. Wait a day or two to give your plant a light watering in, and then return to a normal watering schedule. Hopefully, you’ll have a healthy plant in no time. 

Other ways to save your plant from root rot

When you start seeing root rot symptoms, you have to act quickly. Make sure you’re not over-watering your plant. If the soil feels damp, you’re good, you plant is not too dry. If you’re noticing signs of root rot and feel that you may have been overwatering, try to place your plant in a drier area for a few days to see if you can remedy the problem. Areas with good air circulation and lower humidity can help. If you’re repotting your plant, make sure you use a clean pot.If you’ve been over-watering and have root rot, you need to let the soil dry out completely between waterings. 

 

Tips to Prevent Root Rot

Overwatering is the No. 1 cause of root rot, so make sure you’re not overwatering your plant. Make sure your plant is getting enough light. If it’s too dark, it can also cause root rot because your plant may not be drying out as fast as you think it should. Avoid repotting your plant too soon. Too many repottings can cause wounds in the roots that the pathogens can enter through. Make sure you’re rotating the plants in your house—not just the ones above ground.

Quick Tips to Prevent Root Rot:

  • Be careful not to overwater - you should see moist soil after a watering, but let the soil dry out between waterings. 
  • Air circulation - more air circulation will help prevent your plant from sitting in wet soil as it will dry the soil quicker.
  • Follow your plant care guide - it’s important to know how your plant likes the soil, wet or dry. You can find plant care guides for a range of plants here on the Neverland website or on the Neverland app! 
  • Give your plant the proper amount of sunlight. 
  • Repot sparingly - only when your plant needs it. 
  • Sterilize pots and tools like shears.
  • Avoid underwatering as well, because it becomes very easy to overwater immediately following a series of underwaterings. 

Conclusion

Root rot is a very common disease in indoor plants and usually happens as a result of overwatering, too much light, and/or a humid environment. If you catch it early enough and change your plant’s growing conditions accordingly, you can prevent root rot from getting worse and help save your precious houseplant.

Root Rot FAQ

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