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How Do I Save My ZZ Plant From Root Rot? (Causes+What To Do)

Root rot is a common problem in ZZ plants. If you cannot notice the signs early on, you will not be able to save the plants as root rot eventually ruins the plant. But what causes root rot, and how can we save our ZZ plant from root rot? Let’s find out!

Overwatering is the primary cause of root rot in the ZZ plant. Other causes include pathogens in the soil, wrong potting mix, and blockage of drainage holes. To save a ZZ plant from root rot, take the plant out of the pot, trim its damaged roots and repot the plant in a new pot with a fresh potting mix.

You can only save your ZZ plant from dying if you detect the root problems early on.

In most cases, plant owners miss the signs, and as a result, the plants start wilting, and that’s when they get alert. But in most cases, it might be too late for your plants to bounce back.

If you are worried about your ZZ plant’s root health or you suspect they have root rot, then keep reading this article till the end, and I’ll make sure all your doubts are cleared by the end.

Please note: Simplify Plants is reader-supported. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made by our readers with no extra cost added to you all! Some links in the post are affiliate links and I get a commission from purchases made through links in the post.

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How to tell if ZZ plant has root rot?

Some signs that your ZZ plant might have root rot:

  • Drooping stems
  • Smelly or musty smelling soil
  • Algae visible around the base of the plant
  • The color of the roots become gray, brown, or black
  • Mushy roots

Drooping stems – Drooping stems are a sign of root rot in plants. If you notice that all the stems of your ZZ plant are getting soft and drooping, you should immediately check the soil and its roots.

When you have a growing plant, some stems may start to droop as the plant gets big and bulky, but when the number of drooping stems is more than usual, that’s when you need to get alert.

Musty smelling soil – A root rot is always followed by an unusual musty or damp smell, a clear sign. Sometimes you may not get a smell on the surface of your plant, but when you take it out from the container, you will get a musty or stale smell. If you notice anything like this, you need to check the roots.

Algae visible around the base of the plant – Your plant is suffering from root rot if you notice algae or mold around the base of your plant. Overwatering is a cause of this. Check the soil and the roots.

The color of the roots becomes gray, brown, or black – Usually, the color of a healthy root is white, and the texture is dry and crisp. In root rot, the color changes from white to either gray or brown or black! That is a sign of unhealthy roots, and the cause can be root rot.

Mushy roots – Just like the color, the texture can be a sign of root rot. If the roots lose their usual crisp texture and become slimy or mushy, your plant probably has root rot.

How to check ZZ plant for root rot?

It is reasonably easy to check if your ZZ plant is suffering from root rot. You need to check the roots to make sure of it and understand how bad the situation really is.

The first thing you need to do is take the plant out of the container. It would be best if you were careful while doing that as you wouldn’t want to damage the plant. If they hold the plant by the stem and jerk it out of the container, it might damage the plant!

So don’t pull up your ZZ plant. Instead, flip over the container and slide the plant out of it. If the plant is not coming out when you flip the container, you can squeeze or tap the edges. 

You can use a table knife to slide around the inside edge of the pot, and then you can flip and try again.

Run warm water in the sink over the roots of the ZZ plant. Rinse gently and remove as much soil as possible without causing any damage to the plant. 

If you notice that the roots are not white and crisp as they should usually be and instead look gray or brown and the texture is mushy, then it is root rot.

One more place that you need to check is the ZZ plant’s rhizomes, which is the reservoir of the plant, holding water and nutrition. 

The rhizomes resemble bulbs and should be white and crisp like the roots. If the rhizome is mushy or brown, this might also be a sign of root rot.

A quick tip: Make sure to wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after touching the roots of the ZZ plant.

What causes root rot in ZZ plant?

Some common causes of root rot in ZZ plants are:

  • Overwatering
  • Irregular Drainage Systems
  • Improper soil
  • Impenetrable container or pot
  • Pathogenic Infections

Overwatering – This is the most common problem that causes root rot in every plant. ZZ plants need a schedule when it comes to watering them. 

For an indoor ZZ plant, you should water the plant once a week, and in winter, it needs water once a month or bi-weekly.

Always check the soil before watering your ZZ plant. It would be best if you only watered them when the soil feels dry. Using a moisture meter is another excellent alternative. 

It would be best if you use rainwater or soft tap water. You should follow precautions if you are using tap water. In the case of outdoor ZZ plants, you need to water every month if there is no rain during those months. 

Make sure to water more often in summer, and you should skip watering in the winter as it is a dormant period for the plants.

Also read: How often should you water your ZZ plant?

Irregular Drainage Systems – If your ZZ plant lacks a proper drainage system, there are chances of root rot even if you are watering it as per the required schedule. 

If the pot or container that the plant is in doesn’t have the right-sized holes or doesn’t have holes, draining will be hampered or will not occur in the latter case. 

Water will remain in the pot and will become a cause of root rot for the plant.

Improper soil – Choosing the right soil is critical as a wrong combination can cause problems for the plant. The soil should consist of large pores so that the water can pass. 

If the soil is clayey, it will not let the water flow out and hold it in the pot for a longer period which will cause a similar situation as overwatering would. 

A soil that feels sticky is the wrong kind of soil for ZZ plants as it is a sign that the soil holds the water in it. You can add perlite, river sand, or succulent mixes to improve the soil’s drainage capability.

Impenetrable container or pot – Like the soil, we need to make sure that the container has enough holes for the water to pass out. 

Other than the drainage system, the size of the pot also matters. It shouldn’t be overly large or too small. The right size will not hold too much water and will prove to be suitable for the plant.

Pathogenic Infections – Another common cause of root rot in all plants. Pathogens such as Phytophthora, Pythium, etc., are present in the soil, and these pathogens cause diseases and root rot in ZZ plants. 

Some other bacteria and viruses also lead to infections. Again, water plays a significant role here as these pathogens get more active in wet soil and spreads the infection more quickly. 

How to fix root rot in ZZ plant?

Let’s find out what you can do to fix the root rot problem in the ZZ plant and bring your plant back to health.

Take the ZZ plant out of the container and rinse the roots with warm water. As mentioned already, you need to take the plant out of the pot or container by flipping the container. Be careful while doing it, as being harsh might damage the plant. 

Once you have taken out the plant, you can run warm water from your sink on the roots and remove as much soil as possible to take a better view of the roots.

Trim the damaged roots

Once you know that your plant is suffering from root rot, the immediate next step is to trim down the brown or black, mushy and slimy roots. That will help the plant to become healthy again.

Make sure to use clean and sharp scissors while doing this. You need to do the pruning carefully, ensuring that the cuts you make are clean and precise.

You have to clip all the damaged roots and rhizomes. The roots that have gone bad or started rotting will harm the plant if you don’t remove them. 

So you need to get rid of all the bad ones. 

The rhizomes that have gone brown and mushy need to be treated the same way as the rotten roots and need to be removed. Once again, make sure the cuts that you make are precise and not uneven.

Repot the ZZ plant

After getting rid of the rotten roots and rhizomes, you cannot plant the ZZ back to its old pot. You need to either clean the pot or get a new one. 

If you don’t clean the pot, the plant might get the infection back as the fungus will remain in the soil or pot and will harm the plant again.

You need to check and make sure that the drainage holes are not jammed and clean those properly. 

If the container doesn’t have drainage holes, you need to make them as drainage holes will let the water pass, and the soil will not hold on to water and moisture that might lead to root rot again.

You need to clean the pot or container thoroughly and let it dry, after which you can repot the plant in it.

Use a fresh soil mix for repotting your plant

It would be best if you got rid of the old soil that your plant was potted in. 

There are many reasons why that soil might not be suitable for your plant – if there is a fungus, it will infect your plant again. If the soil you were using were not the right type in the first place, it would not help. 

So don’t think of reusing the soil and get new soil to replant your ZZ in.

Choose soil that has a light texture so that the drainage of water happens with ease. Many people use the wrong combination of soil that retains water and causes root rot. You can add bark and peat moss to the soil to get the right texture.

Water the plant after repotting

After you have successfully repotted the plant, you need to water it lightly. Plants can have stress after they have been repotted. So to reduce it, you need to water the plant. 

Water the soil thoroughly and leave it to dry. Once you make sure that the soil is dry, you can water again. Please don’t go overboard with watering.

Trim any damaged foliage

You might notice that your ZZ has leaves that have turned yellow or brown, and getting rid of these is the best option as these are dying or dead parts that will not come back to life. 

You can pinch the yellow or brown leaves off at the base close to the stem, or you can cut them using sharp and clean scissors.

After you are done getting rid of the plant’s dead parts, please leave it in a dry area and let it recover from the stress caused by the repotting.

What about an extreme situation?

In severe conditions, there might be less chance of recovery. But there are some steps that you can still take to find out if you can make the plant survive.

Firstly, remove all the stems that are even slightly soft. You don’t want to take any chances. 

It would be best to give your plant the peace and energy to grow healthy roots and not focus on other parts that might not recover. 

For that, you need to get rid of all those leaves and stems that are unhealthy, even if it’s little.

After the pruning is done, your plant should be about one-third of its original size, which is the ideal thing to do in extreme situations.

Aftercare

You need to check on certain things if you want to let your ZZ plant recover fast.

Don’t use fertilizers

Fertilizers can cause damage, especially when there are cuts in the roots and the plant is getting over a stressful experience. So do not use fertilizers and give the plant some time to recover and get back to health.

Don’t overwater

Overwatering might have been one of the very reasons for the root rot in your ZZ plant, so don’t let that happen again. 

ZZ plants don’t need a lot of water. Remember to water only when the top two inches of the soil are completely dry.

Propagate

If nothing is working out and you know that you cannot save your ZZ plant, remove the healthy stems and leaves and propagate them to create a new plant. 

This might be the last resort as you know nothing else is working. 

However, one point to note is that propagating a stressed-out plant has very little chance of success. But, if there is nothing else you can do, then give this a shot.

Let’s take a look at the steps:

In case of leaves – 

  • Cut or pluck leaves that look healthy and green and are not damaged in any way.
  • Keep it aside for some hours.
  • Plant the leaves in a moist potting mix of soil that can let the water drain quickly.
  • Keep the container in a bright area that doesn’t have a harsh and direct source of light.
  • Water gently.
  • It can take around a month to develop rhizomes at the bottom.

In case of stems –

  • Cut a healthy stem.
  • Fill half of a glass container with water and place the stem inside it.
  • Please keep it in a bright indirect light spot.
  • Keep changing the water every 3-4 weeks to make sure it doesn’t get too dirty.
  • Wait. Once the rhizomes have grown at the bottom, you can repot them into a container with fresh potting soil.
  • Water the new plant and keep it in a bright place.

Note: You can place the stem directly into the potting soil and skip some of the steps.

How to prevent root rot in ZZ plant?

If you want to avoid root rot in your ZZ plant, follow these steps:

  • Don’t overwater – Follow a schedule and research the water requirement of the ZZ plants. These plants can survive with less water. So don’t overwater.
  • Use the right soil mix: Soil that can retain water is the wrong choice for ZZ plants. Go with soil that provides well-drainage. 
  • Use the right size of the pot: Using the wrong pot will not let the water drain properly, so make sure you are using the correct fit, and it should have drainage holes.
  • Provide a bright environment: Provide a bright place as light can help the plant not retain excess water and not grow any fungus or bacteria.

Sources: ZZ plant study, College of agricultural studiesUniversity of VermontNational science foundation.

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