Root rot is a deadly disease found in houseplants that do not get favorable conditions. We call root rot deadly because it can kill your houseplants if you don’t take action on time.
But how can we identify and fix root rot in indoor plants? Let’s find out!
Houseplants that experience overwatering, a poor drainage system, and lack of aeration can develop root rot. Root rot is a disease that affects the roots and starts decaying them, and the only way to treat root rot is by repotting the plant in a fresh soil mix after removing the damaged roots.
If you suspect root rot in your houseplants, you have landed on the right page, as we will explain how you can treat root rot in your houseplants.
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What is root rot?
When your houseplant sits in waterlogged soil for too long, it becomes prone to root rot. The excess moisture makes the roots soft and brown, and they start to suffocate due to a lack of oxygen in the soil.
In such conditions, the fungus starts developing and spreading, ultimately affecting the roots. If you don’t do anything about it, all the roots start rotting and turning brown and mushy.
There are primarily two types of root rot – Pythium root rot and fusarium root rot.
The pythium bacteria that feeds on the decaying roots causes the former, while the latter is caused by a soil fungus that populates due to overwatering.
Root rot doesn’t need any bacteria or fungi and can occur if the roots sit in the water for an extended period. Bacteria and fungi can aggravate the condition.
Here are some common signs of root rot in your houseplants:
- Brown leaves
- Wilting leaves
- Leaves falling off
- Foul-smelling soil
- Brown and mushy roots
- Slow growth
- No blooms
- Black leaves
- Dying plant
All these occur because the plants do not get nutrients or water due to the failure of root function.
What are the causes of root rot on indoor plants?
Before you learn how to treat root rot, you must first understand the reasons that lead to it. Understanding the reasons will help you not repeat the mistakes that caused root rot in the first place.
Overwatering is the most apparent reason behind root rot. When you give your plant more water than it needs, the soil remains soggy most of the time.
When the roots of your houseplant sit in the soggy soil for very long, they start decaying due to a lack of oxygen.
Poor drainage system
If the drainage system is incorrect, your plant will get overwatered even if you water it appropriately.
The drainage system consists of a well-draining potting mix and a pot with drainage holes.
If the soil you are using is too heavy or clayey, it will hold more water, causing root rot.
And if the pot has no or fewer drainage holes, the water will not flow out of the system, making the soil soggy, resulting in root rot.
Also read: Do all indoor plants need drainage holes?
Lack of airflow
If your plant is kept in a place with good airflow, the soil will remain damp for an extended period.
Without proper airflow, the soil will take longer to dry, and the roots will remain wet for long enough to start decaying.
Lack of oxygen
Roots require oxygen to remain healthy. When you overwater your houseplants, the water cuts back the oxygen flow into the roots.
Therefore, the roots start decaying due to a lack of oxygen.
Light is an essential factor that allows the soil to dry up fast after you water a plant. If your plant doesn’t get enough light, the water will not dry up from the soil.
Low light encourages excess water retention in the soil, pest infestations, and fungal and bacterial infections.
Also read: How much sun do indoor plants need?
Pot material and size
The material of the pot might also be responsible for root rot in your houseplants.
Materials such as plastic and fiberglass will hold water longer compared to clay and ceramic pots.
The water requirement of your house plants will vary depending on the pot material. If you don’t understand the difference, you will end up overwatering your plants.
Using a pot too big for your plant can also cause root rot. A big pot will require more potting medium that will hold more soil. More soil will retain more water and make the roots vulnerable to root rot.
Contaminated tools and soil
If you are using garden soil for your houseplant, it might not only be too heavy for the plant but also contain pathogens that might be responsible for root rot.
Not disinfecting the tools before and after using those can also lead to the spread of pathogens.
Fungal spores are natural and don’t be surprised to hear that they are present in the potting mix. But when you overwater your plant, the fungal growth increases.
This happens especially in the winter months and can cause root rot.
If you have a weak plant that has not received proper fertilization, care or has undergone stress, it will be more prone to root rot.
If your houseplant is healthy, it will not have root rot. Root rot always occurs on unhealthy and weak plants.
Buying unhealthy plant
When you buy plants from the nursery or order one online, you might end up with an unhealthy or sick plant.
You might not detect root rot or any other problem initially, but it may start appearing after a few days. So it is crucial to choose a healthy plant.
How to treat root rot in indoor plants?
If you suspect root rot in your houseplants, first, you need to inspect the roots.
Here are the steps of treating root rot in your houseplants.
Step 1: Check the roots of your plants
First, you must remove the plant from its pot to check the roots.
Hold the main stem right above the soil and try to take the plant out. Be gentle while doing it, as you don’t want to hurt the plant.
If a plant doesn’t come out easily, you can take a knife and run it along the edges of the pot to make the soil less restrained and then try to take the plant out. You can also tap the pot to loosen the soil.
To make it easier, you can also bend the pot on one side and then take the plant out.
Once the plant is out, take it to the sink and wash the soil from the roots. This will help you to take a better look at the roots.
If the roots are soft and brown, your plant is undergoing root rot.
Step 2: Remove the damaged roots
It is vital to remove the damaged roots to save the ones that have not been affected.
To remove the damaged roots, take sterilized scissors or pruners and cut them back. Make sure you don’t damage the healthy roots.
After removing the damaged roots, you can spray some commercial fungicide on the healthy roots to ensure that the infection doesn’t spread.
But if you want organic ways, you can add chamomile tea, dust cinnamon, or mix 1 tsp Hydrogen Peroxide with a cup of water and apply this solution to the soil.
Make sure to dispose of the damaged roots properly.
Step 3: Prune some foliage.
Since you are removing the damaged roots, the plant will be left with fewer roots.
In this case, it is best to cut back some foliage to reduce the stress and prevent the plant from becoming top-heavy and toppling off.
You can propagate the healthy foliage that you prune and dispose of the dead or damaged ones.
Step 4: Prepare a fresh soil mix and a new pot.
You cannot use the old soil for repotting as it contains fungi that can again lead to root rot. Therefore, you need a fresh soil mix.
When preparing the soil mix, make sure you keep drainage in mind. Since soggy soil makes the roots rot, you need soil that drains excess water efficiently.
You can add coarse sand, bark chips, or perlite to make the soil well-draining.
If you are getting a new pot:
- You must get a pot that is one size bigger than the size of your plant.
- Be careful about the material. Plastic or fiberglass pots tend to retain more water than terracotta or ceramic pots.
- Do not forget the drainage holes. Without drainage holes, the excess water will not be able to pass out of the system.
- You can drill some drainage holes if the pot already doesn’t have any.
If you plan to use the old pot, you must first clean it thoroughly. You can mix dishwashing liquid with warm water and scrub the plastic pot vigorously to eliminate all the bacteria and fungus.
If you have a clay or terracotta pot, you can use vinegar to clean it. Add 1-part vinegar with 20-parts water and mix it well. Soak the pot in this mixture for half an hour. Scrub the inside and outside of the pot well to remove any spot that the pot may have.
Step 5: Repot the plant
After you get the pot, it’s time to put the fresh soil mix inside it. But before that, spread a landscape fabric inside the pot just above the drainage holes.
- Now add some potting soil to the bottom of the pot.
- Place your plant in the center of the pot and start adding more soil from the sides.
- You can press the soil lightly with your hand or tap the pot gently to let the soil settle in.
- Keep at least half-inch space on top of the pot for watering purposes.
Step 6: Aftercare
After you repot the plant, you must water it to help it settle down. You can take the plant outside or to the sink, but make sure you don’t expose it to the direct sun.
Provide the basic requirements to your plant and make sure you water only after the topsoil dries out. Give it sufficient light, proper fertilizer, prune it on time, and repot it after every 2-3 years to keep it happy and healthy.
Severe root rot
If you notice severe root rot in your houseplant, you might not find any healthy roots. It might even not be possible to save your plant from this condition.
The best option would be to find a healthy stem and propagate it and get a new plant out of it. You must discard the old plant as it is the best thing to do, mainly to prevent the spread of the infection.
How to prevent root rot?
If you have saved your houseplant from root rot, make sure to follow the preventive measures so that the plant is not affected again.
Here are some points that will tell you how to prevent root rot.
- Use a well-draining potting mix. Do not use usual garden soil as most of the time it lacks drainage.
- Add perlite, bark chips, sand, etc., to improve the drainage abilities of the soil.
- Make sure to get a pot with drainage holes. If there are no drainage holes, make some yourself and then put the plant in the pot.
- Use the right-sized pot. A bigger pot will hold more water for a longer time.
- Your houseplant will require less water in winter as that is the dormant period, and the plant is less active.
- Do not water without checking the moisture level of the potting mix. You can water the plant after the topsoil dries.
- Do not keep your plants in low light conditions. If you do, make sure to water it less than usual.
- Empty the cache tray so that the plant doesn’t sit in the water.
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Root rot is a problem that is better to prevent than deal with. It might require a lot of effort for you to save your houseplant from root rot, so you must take care of your plants and provide the right living conditions to prevent root rot.
If you have a plant experiencing root rot, you must eliminate the affected roots and repot the plant with fresh soil mix in a new pot. If the condition is even more severe, you can propagate a healthy stem or leaf and discard the old plant.
Do not panic if you notice root rot in your houseplants. You can follow the steps mentioned in this article and treat root rot in your houseplants.