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    How to Prevent and Treat Root Rot

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    Orchid with root rot

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    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 symptoms on a calathea white fusion.
    Image Source:Root rot is usually caused by overwatering or soil that's been wet for an extended period of time.
    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
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    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 1: Remove the affected plant from its pot.

    Using garden gloves, gently remove your plant from its pot. You'll want to whisk away softly any remaining soil and untangle the roots.
    Start to inspect the roots. 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. You'll want to treat this immediately for the best chance of recovery.

    Step 2: Sterilize and clean the existing roots.

    If you have root rot, you’ll need to repot your plant and change the soil and sterilize your pot immediately. First, prepare sterilized shears or garden scissors. You'll want to disinfect these using alcohol before touching the plant's roots.
    Find the diseases roots and trim them off. It's not a problem to cut roots as the plant, once it gets healthy, will be able to fully regrow the roots. You'll want to trim all signs of mushy roots and root rot.
    If you find yourself trimming more than 60-80% of your root system, it may be hard for the plant to recover, but you can always give it a try!
    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.
    Pro Tip Icon
    Use Hydrogen Peroxide or Vinegar Solution as Alternatives
    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 3: 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 4: 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.
    It's very important that you use appropriate soil for your plant. One of the biggest causes of root rot is using improper soil that isn't well-draining. You can always amend your soil with perlite, vermiculite, or other gritty substances to encourage proper drainage.
    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, your plant is not too dry. We recommend potentially waiting to water especially if you suspect root rot until your topsoil dries.
    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.
    Proper soil and light can also help prevent root rot. Always make sure to use appropriate potting soil for your plant especially if it requires well-draining soil. For succulents and cacti, you'll want to use a specialized succulent mix which contains amendments to encourage draining so that water doesn't pool and affect the plant's root system.
    Light can also impact the amount of moisture in your plant's soil. Consider placing your plant in a brighter spot so that it receives more light and the water is able to evaporate quickly.
    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 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. Light encourages evaporation of moisture.
    • 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 underwatering. 

    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


    What causes root rot?
    While overwatering is the most common action that leads to root rot, the cause itself is actually one of many different varieties of fungus that feed off of dying roots. 
    Can I prevent root rot?
    Root rot is an easily preventable disease. Knowing your plants preferred water conditions and avoiding overwatering can stave away the problem
    Can I cure root rot?
    While it’s difficult to cure fungal diseases in plants there are ways to mitigate the problem. Usually it involves repotting your plant and removing excess water from around the roots.
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