Bird of Paradise Root Rot (Signs, Causes And Treatment)


Indoor potted bird of paradise showing root rot symptoms

Root rot is one of the most prevalent diseases that affect the Bird of Paradise. Unlike most houseplant problems whose signs become evident shortly after an infection, root rot signs may pass for common issues that pass on their own. And this may not be the case as root rot, if not arrested in time, literally kills your bird of paradise plant from the ground up.

Root rot in your bird of paradise is caused by waterlogged soil and fungal infections. To fix it, you must avoid overwatering, use fungicides, or apply home remedies, such as charcoal, chamomile, or cinnamon. You can also re-pot or propagate heavily affected plants.

Prevention is your best bet when it comes to dealing with root rot in your bird of paradise. But the key is also to learn the telling signs and factors that lead to the disease. This way, you can catch it early, treat it promptly, and save your precious plant before irreversible damage is done.

In this post, I’ll show you the major signs of root rot in a bird of paradise and how to recognize potential causes. You will also learn how to diagnose and treat it. Even more important, I’ll teach you how to keep root rot at bay from your Strelitzia plant.

Bird of Paradise Root Rot Symptoms

As a disease of the root systems, the signs often appear from the ground up. If you don’t take timely action, its progression is fatal. So, keep an eye out for the following revealing signs:

– Brown and Soft Roots

You should make a point of routinely inspecting the roots of your bird of paradise. Check, in particular, when your plant looks sickly, lifeless, or distressed.

The reason why you may not detect the disease early is that it develops underground, often silently and out of sight. Obviously, the roots are the first victims. A healthy bird of paradise has numerous fairly long, succulent, tan, or white roots.

Note that healthy roots may also look pale or black. However, they feel pliable and firm.

On the flip side, rotten roots usually look dark brown and may literally fall off the plant when shook or handled. They are often soft and mushy to touch. Your nose may also pick up a distinct, unpleasant smell from the roots.

– Swollen and Mushy Stem

If the stem of your bird of paradise is swollen and feels mushy, you should check the roots for rot. These signs often show up starting from the base of the stem and progress upwards over time.

The stem may also look curled, twisted, or smaller than normal. When you take a closer look, the color of the stem may have changed. In most cases, the base of the stem will stink with rot, too.

– Stunted Growth

Stunted growth or no new growth can be signs of root rot in your bird of paradise. New leaves, if any, are smaller than usual. They may appear yellow, wilt, and then drop off.

If your plant is affected by root rot, it’ll not likely bloom, flower, or flourish. These often will persist despite proper watering, fertilizing, and ideal light conditions.

You must first rule out other potential causes of stunted growth, though. These may include poor pH, nutrient deficiencies, temperature stress, low light, poor watering habits, and salt build-up.

– Discolored Leaves

Significant yellowing of bird of paradise leaves is often indicative of root rot. I’m not talking about one or two leaves yellowing here. You may notice up to 60% of the foliage yellowing and dropping off if the root rot has progressed.

Leaves slowly turn yellow, wilt, and drop off. Then the process goes to high gear over time. If root rot is the culprit, leaf yellowing typically starts on the base of the plant.

Admittedly, the leaves of your bird of paradise may turn yellow due to a variety of other potential reasons. First, be sure to rule out overwatering, nutrient deficiency, sunburn, pest infestation, edema, and soil toxicity — just to name a few.

– Wilting

Widespread wilting is also another common sign of root rot in your bird of paradise. Again, this usually starts from the foliage on the lower part of the plants.

Wilting occurs because your plant cannot absorb water effectively. It’s your Strelitzia’s way of protecting itself from severe dehydration.

Before you blame root rot, watch out for underwatering/overwatering, temperature stress, cold drafts, pests, and other common causes of wilting in bird of paradise.

– Shoots Dieback

When the shoots of your bird of paradise start dying back, you may be dealing with root rot. The disease destroys the roots, making it hard for the plant to absorb nutrients and what it needs for the growth of shoots.

The fungal infection may also reach the shoots. This will damage the tissue and cause the shoots to dieback. It pays to note that shoots dieback can also result from overwatering, lack of humidity, chemical buildup, pests, and too much/too little light.

– Brown Leaf Tips

One of the most common early and mid-stage signs of root rot is when the leaf tips of your bird of paradise turn brown. The edges of the leaves may also turn brown.

Over time, the browning will run down the whole foliage. This will be accompanied by leaf yellowing, wilting, wrinkling, and dropping off. Eventually, the plant may die.

Causes of Bird of Paradise Root Rot

– Overwatering

From my experience, I’ve found that a bird of paradise is more likely to suffer from overwatering than too little water. When you give your plant too much water, the soil becomes waterlogged, making it hard for the roots to breathe.

That’s right; roots need oxygen to survive. Waterlogging chokes off oxygen, which makes the roots susceptible to opportunistic pathogens and diseases.

Aside from root rot, other symptoms of overwatering:

  • Constantly wet or soggy soil
  • Leaves turn brown, starting from the tips
  • Leaves wilt, droop and fall off
  • Leaves turn yellow

How to Fix

  • You should water your bird of paradise only once every 1-2 weeks
  • They love the soil to dry out a bit between watering, so avoid overwatering
  • Avoid overhead watering to prevent infection and rot

– Poor Drainage

For optimal growth, you must plant your bird of paradise in rich, well-drained organic soil. If it has poor drainage, the soil will become waterlogged. This is the perfect recipe for root rot.

How to Fix

  • Make sure your pot or container has draining holes on the bottom
  • Use a water tray or saucer to catch run-off, so you can dump out

– Poor Drainage Capacity Soil

Soil that remains wet and soggy for too long is often indicative of poor drainage capacity. That’s because heavy potting mix or planting soil tends to retain water.

This property means the soil will become waterlogged and thus harden like cement. This means your plant is primed for root rot.

How to Fix

  • Add more perlite, sand, mulch, vermiculite, or compost to improve drainage capacity
  • Ensure the pot has draining holes on the bottom

– Fungal Infections

Root rot is an infection, often caused by a wide range of fungi. It can be tricky to figure out the exact type of fungi pestering your bird of paradise.

These fungi often reside in old pots/containers, soil, or instruments that were already infected. They may also jump from one plant to the next. Here are common root-rot-causing fungal infections you should look out for:

Fungus NameDescription
PhytophthoraThis pathogen typically attacks up to the stem base of your bird of paradise, which looks scaly or peeled. It’s aggressively invasive when cold and humid. Leaves may appear droopy or discolored.
Fusarium solaniFusarium rot starts from the roots then proceeds to the base of the stem. Chlorosis, lesions on roots, stunted growth, and damping-off are common signs. It’s particularly invasive in temperatures between 70-86 °F (20-30°C).
Rhizoctonia solaniA bird of paradise infected by Rhizoctonia solani will develop dry sunken and rusty-brown lesions on roots and stems on the base. The foliage often turns yellow and eventually the plant will die. The pathogen thrives at low temps between 60-86 °F (15-20°C)
Thielaviopsis basicolaThe stem below the ground will become swollen and develop rough, black cracks. If Thielaviopsis basicola is the cause of the rot, roots will also display girdled, brown lesions. Leaves may turn brown along the axils.
PythiumPythium typically causes root rot as a secondary infection. If your plant is already weak, diseased, or heavily affected by pests, Pythium will creep in. As well as stunted growth, root discoloration, bark may loosen at the vascular bundles. The fungus thrives in wet conditions and temps of around 70 °F (20°C)

How to Fix

  • Dig out your plant immediately to check for root damage
  • Remove diseased roots and other plant materials to prevent further spread
  • Dip roots in copper-based fungicide. Or use baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, etc.
  • Let the soil dry out before replanting or simply repot
  • Avoid overwatering

For the treatment of fungal diseases. Here are the fungicides I recommend:

Name of The FungicideAmountAmount of Water
Bonide 811 Copper 4E Fungicide1-4 tablespoons (.05-2.0 fl oz)1 gallon of water
Garden Safe Brand Fungicide32 tablespoons (1 fl oz) 1 gallon of water
Southern Ag – Liquid Copper Fungicide3-4 tablespoons1 gallon of water

– Too Large/Too Small Pot

You may be tempted to pot your bird of paradise in an extra-large container. You probably think it will give your plant more legroom and space for growth. However, an oversized pot will create localized waterlogged regions that promote root rot.

The same is true if the container is too small. The soil will dry out far too quickly and cause root damage. The result isn’t pretty: root rot.

How to Fix

Pot your bird of paradise in a container that’s neither too large nor too small for it. The rule of thumb is to pick out a pot that’s 1-2 inches larger than the current size of your plant.

– Low Temperature

Fungi that cause root rot tend to thrive when in wet conditions and low temperatures between 70-86 °F (20-30°C). What’s more, your bird of paradise will also absorb less water when it is cold, leaving the soil wet for long.

How to Fix

  • First, make sure the soil drains well. This way, fungi can’t gain a toehold on your plant.
  • Take your plant indoors when chilly weather arrives
  • Move it to an area where temperatures remain around  65-70 °F (18-20°C) or warmer during the day and 55-65 °F (13-18°C) at night

– Watering during Dormant Period

Bird of paradise is a tropical plant. When temperatures deep below 50 °F (12°C), they reduce activity almost to the point of dormancy. During this period, they don’t use or absorb much water.

The soil will remain moist for days, if not weeks at a time. If you irrigate in these conditions, you’re asking for root rot because the soil will become wet, soggy, and waterlogged

How to Fix

  • Reduce watering frequency in winter
  • Remove the plant and dry out the soil before replanting
  • Get rid of any diseased roots, leaves, and other plant matter
  • To be on the safe side, wait until the soil has dried out before watering

How to Save Bird of Paradise from Root Rot

Step #1: Stop Watering

I must reiterate that your bird of paradise is more likely to die from overwatering than getting too little water. In saying so, your first action is to ease up on the watering can.

The last thing you want is to make the soil more soggy and wet. By stopping irrigation, you’ll give the plant more time to absorb the moisture, so that the soil can dry out.

The potting soil will dry out over the course of 3-5 days depending on the season. This method will do the trick for plants that aren’t experiencing root rot yet. If the waterlogging is too extensive, you have no choice but to dig up your plant.

Step #2: Remove the Infected Leaves and Parts

Whether the problem is due to prolonged overwatering, poor drainage, or a direct fungal infection, it’s important to get rid of the disease and affect plant matter. Inspect every inch of your bird of paradise for signs of damage.

Remove infected stems, leaves, flowers, buds, and other parts. This will help prevent a further spread of the fungi and stop root rot flare-ups.

Focus your attention on newer leaves that are showing signs of root rot. If you see yellowing, browning, wilting, or dying leaves, you must check for damaged parts.

If you have several plants in the same spot, quarantine the affected ones. Make sure there’s plenty of spacing between your house plants. You must ensure your plants are well-aerated and healthy.

Step #3: Unpot the Plant and Dry Out the Root System

  • Dig up your affect bird of paradise ASAP, as root rot progression is fatal. Once un-potted, wash the old soil off the roots under a running shower, sink, or tub water.
  • Don’t forget to wash off any affected root areas gently. Continue washing it off until the root system is well-defined and easy to spot diseased and healthy roots.
  • Take your potting mix and plant to a spot where they will dry out. This will help remove as much moisture from your root system as possible.
  • Even so, make sure not to excessively disturb the root system while brushing off and washing off clumpy or moistened soil

Step #4: Trim Off the Infected Roots

Use a clean pair of shears or scissors to cut off any dead or decaying roots. You can miss them – they’re either dark brown or black, soft and mushy to the touch. Try to keep the healthy root system as intact as possible.

After every few trims, clean the shears or scissors using rubbing alcohol. You don’t want to ship fungi to healthy parts.

Step #5: Re-pot Using New Soil and Pot

You’re going to re-pot your “treated” bird of paradise

  • First of all, you need to remove the old soil from the pot. In any case, you should use both a fresh potting mix and a new container.
  • Try not to disturb the root system too much. Dip the whole root system in a copper-based fungicide.
  • Alternatively, you can use a solution of charcoal, chamomile, or cinnamon.
  • Prune back around 1/3 of the foliage to offset the roots you trimmed away.
  • Now repot your plant using a fresh, sterile potting mix. Make sure it has enough nutrients and proper drainage capacity

Step #6: Watering after Repotting

  • Remember that the potting mix should be moist enough during repotting.
  • Wait until the new soil mix has dried out a bit. Water thoroughly until some water comes out of the draining holes on the bottom.
  • From here, avoid overhead watering and overwatering.
  • Wait until the soil has fairly dried out before watering again. This should take 1-2 weeks.

Step #7: Caring for your Bird of Paradise after Repotting

  • Your recently repotted bird of paradise is already vulnerable and stressed.
  • Create a regular watering schedule for more than 6 months after repotting.
  • Avoid overwatering. Only water when the top 2-3 inches of the soil has dried out slightly but not completely

Step #8: Propagating Bird of Paradise

When the root rot is so severe, your last resort is to propagate. Simply unpot your bird of paradise plant and separate healthy shoots into small divisions for propagation.

  • Make sure any diseased parts are trimmed away around the shoot. Next, treat your shoots with charcoal, cinnamon, or chamomile solution before replanting them.
  • Plant in a fresh, sterile potting mix.
  • Keep the mix consistently moist for three to six months. Or until the roots are thoroughly established.
  • Keep it in a warm spot that receives plenty of part sun and bright, indirect light

Organic and Chemical Treatment

– Treating Root Rot with Chemical Fungicide

The most common treatment is to use commercial copper-based and sulfur-based fungicides. Sure, they are effective but do come with a fair share of downsides.

For starters, there’s no one-size-fits-all fungicide for all pathogens. Besides, a virus, bacteria, or algae can be responsible for the root rot. Remember chemicals in these fungicides can be devastating for soil-enriching organisms.

If you must commercial fungicides, make sure to do a DNA MultiScan. This test will help determine accurately the kind of fungus troubling your bird of paradise.

– Homemade Fungicide for Root Rot

If you care about our planet and your plant, using home remedies is a no-brainer strategy. The most common homemade anti-fungal include

  • Charcoal: Activated charcoal not only kills fungi, but also prevents pathogens, repels pests, and removes impurities from the soil.
  • Cinnamon: Believe it or not, your common kitchen spice, cinnamon, has plenty of cinnamaldehyde. This is a natural anti-fungal that can help treat root rot in well over 40 plants, including a bird of paradise. Once you have removed the affected parts, generously apply cinnamon to the root system Don’t forget to mix some cinnamon powder into the potting mix.
  • Chamomile: This essential oil also boasts some anti-fungal properties. You should add to your watering can before you irrigate your plant.

How to Prevent and Control Bird of Paradise Root Rot

Preventing root rot in the first place is the best policy. 

– Avoid Waterlogging

Ideally, you should water your bird of paradise once every 1-2 weeks. But it’s hard to know how much water your plant needs. When is it too little or too much?

The best way to prevent overwatering is to water only when 2-3 inches of topsoil has dried out a bit. But not completely!

– Using Appropriate Soil Mix

Your bird of paradise plant will thrive in rich, well-drained organic soil. You can add compost to improve nutrient quality. Sand, perlite, and vermiculite can help increase drainage capacity.

– Watering Schedule

The soil must be evenly moist, so consistent watering is crucial. Check the soil moisture content every 5-7 days. If it is a bit dry to touch, you should then water it thoroughly until it comes out of the bottom. Even better, you can use a self-watering pot

– Loosen Soil

Loosen the soil and make offset the amount of clay by adding perlite, sand, mulch, vermiculite, or compost to improve drainage capacity

– Ensuring Care Requirements

A healthy bird of paradise plant is less susceptible to root rot. Make sure your plant gets plenty of light, but avoid too much exposure to sunlight. Protect your plant from cold drafts, temperature stress, pests, and sunburns

Last Words

Leaf yellowing, browning, wilting, stunted growth, swollen stem, and shoots dieback are common signs of root rot in a bird of paradise. Avoid overwatering, ensure proper aeration, loosen soil, and use appropriate soil mix to prevent root rot in the first place.

(Source: University of Florida)

Arifur Rahman

I'm the owner of gardenforindoor.com. After completing my bachelor of science in agriculture, I'm serving as a civil service officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh. I started Garden For Indoor to make your indoor gardening journey easy and enjoyable.

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