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Areca Palm from Root Rot (Sings, Causes and Treatment)

Nothing beats the tropical vibe a palm tree can give to any indoor setting. And for that, Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) is the kind that’s most popular among plant owners especially if you have a fairly bright interior.

But one problem you’re most likely to encounter is root rot so you have to be ready to deal with it once it occurs.

Here are the steps to save your Areca palm from root rot:

  • Limit your water application
  • Unpot the plant and check the root system
  • Trim off the infected roots with disinfected scissors
  • Rinse the heathy roots with fungicides
  • Repot using new potting mix
  • Water moderately and regularly after repotting

Signs of Root Rot in Areca Palm 

Indoor potted Areca Palm showing root rot signs

The signs of root rot are pretty the same in all potted plants. If you’ve had previous experience in handling root rot then it would not be difficult to identify its signs on your areca palm.

It takes experience to be familiar with them but there are some common things to watch out for.

Here are the two ways in which you can look for the signs of root rot. 

  • First, you can look at the aboveground appearance of the plant.
  • Second, you can check the belowground parts (roots).

Brown Leaves

One of the common signs of root rot is the browning of the leaves. This discoloration happens at the older and lower foliage near the base of the areca palm plant. They appear as mushy and water-soaked. 

The number of brown leaves increases as the damage caused by root rot increases.

It’s better to provide a solution at the onset of the damage to prevent the death of your areca palm. 

Stunted Growth

Areca palm is generally slow-growing when placed indoors. But, if you notice that the plant has not been making a remarkable increase in size even after a considerable amount of time.

Then it’s possibly suffering from root rot. Damaged roots impede the transfer of nutrients and water to other plant parts thus growth is stunted. 

Yellowing and Wilting of the Leaves

Aside from browning, the areca palm that suffers from root rot also shows yellowing and leaves curling or wilting signs.

Some of the leaves may turn brown while others may just exhibit intense yellowing. 

Read this post to find the causes and solution to palm leaves turning yellow

Leaf Margins Die

Areca palms have long slender leaflets attached to a frond resembling that of a feather.

If it’s healthy, those leaves would look vibrant and shiny green. If it’s suffering from root rot, those leaflets would have dead leaf margins. 

Roots Appear Dark Brown Or Black

Checking on the belowground parts, you’ll notice that the areca palm has its roots turning dark brown to black in color.

It depends on how advanced the stage of root rot is. Healthy and functional roots should be white in color.

Roots are Limp 

When you touch the roots, it would have a mushy and slimy feel. This is because of so much water. Under normal circumstances, those roots should be brittle and crisp. 

Outer Layer of Roots Strip Off when Pulled

Another sign that indicates root rot in plants is the stripping off of the outer layer when you try to pull it up.

The cells around that part have basically died and it’s quite easy to remove them. 

Roots Smell Awful

Everything that decays would smell bad. The same case happens to the roots when it’s rotting. They would smell awfully bad compared with the healthy ones. 

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Causes of Areca Palm Root Rot 

Root rot doesn’t happen overnight. More often than not, it is a result of a series of exposure to stressful circumstances both caused by biotic and abiotic factors.

If you’re clueless as to why your areca palm is having root rot, here are the possible reasons you could look into. 

Overwatering 

There’s no easier way to induce root rot in plants than overwatering. In potted plants, it happens more often because the roots occupy very limited space.

It’s easier to contain water in pots and create a flooded condition around the roots. 

There’s no doubt as to the critical role of water in plant processes but anything in excess poses threats than benefits.

Intact water limits the oxygen present in the soil because the pore spaces are occupied with water rather than air. That way, the roots will have difficulty performing respiration. 

How to Fix: 

Bear in mind that areca palms are sensitive to overwatering. You have to make sure it receives just enough water to avoid the perils of root rot. Following are the tips on proper watering:

  1. Water to keep the soil moist. Having moist soil is different from having a wet one. When you touch the soil, it must have a moist feel but not to the point that you can still feel the water in it. 

Also, avoid letting the soil get dry as this may lead the areca palm to wilt. 

  1. Keep the soil thoroughly soaked when watering. Deep watering is necessary because it will help the plant develop an extensive root system. Watering only on the surface leads to the shallow anchorage of roots in the soil. 

Ensure that the soil is saturated down to the bottom. Water the pot all around the soil and not just on one side. 

  1. Drain the water. It’s imperative that any excess water seeps out of the holes. We do not want to create a waterlogged condition in the pot. Take time to check if there’s stagnant water below the container and remove it. 
  1. Use rainwater or filtered water. Areca palm is sensitive to fluoride. Too much of it can cause plant damage so you have to use good quality water, one that has less fluoride content. If you have a filtration system, let the water run in it before pouring them on your areca palm. 
  1. Decrease watering frequency during fall and winter. Plants require very little amounts of water during these seasons because their metabolic processes are usually reduced at a minimum. At this point, you can allow the soil to go slightly dry before watering again. 

Poor Drainage

Unless you are that expert in watering potted plants, I suggest that you always go for pots with good drainage holes.

Some pots have no holes beneath them and it’s quite difficult to get rid of water in those types of containers.

Some pots, although they have drainage holes, don’t drain water efficiently. 

Poor drainage creates the same waterlogged condition as that of overwatering. 

How to Fix: 

  1. Check the pot for existing drainage holes. Inspect if draining holes are present or not. If yes, then good. If not, then it’s time you start digging some at the bottom. 
  1. Poke the holes at the bottom when water isn’t flowing efficiently. There are times when the holes get clogged. Using a barbecue stick, poke the holes until it is free of blockage. Pour water again to test if it will drain faster. 
  1. Add extra holes if needed. Even if existing holes are there, sometimes they may not be enough. In that case, you’ve got to add a few more to ensure that water drains out faster. Large pots would need more holes than smaller ones, obviously. 

Extra-large or Extra-small Pot 

Aside from draining holes, another important feature to consider is the size of the pot.

Extra-large pots can lead to overwatering as more and more water can be accommodated in the container. This invites for root rot to occur. 

If the pot is too small, the roots will get too bound and stressed. Stressed roots are generally weak and susceptible to diseases like that of root rot. 

How to Fix:

Repot the areca palm to a size-appropriate pot. Choose a new pot which size is proportional to the size of your areca palm. It’s time that you transfer your plant there. 

Poor Drainage Capacity Soil

One property to look for in potting mix is that it has to have a good capacity to drain water.

In order to do so, you need to improve the texture and structure of your potting mix.

It has to be loose enough to give way for more pore spaces that will accommodate enough air for oxygen supply. 

Those air packets get occupied with water when you pour some into the soil.

If the mixture is not loose, the water will get stuck. It will be difficult to drain water when the soil is compact. 

How to Fix:

  1. Choose the right potting mix. For areca palm, the best mix is the combination of peat: sand in 3:1 proportion or peat: pine bark: sand following 6:3:1 proportion. You can always buy commercial mixes if you’re not confident about mixing your own potting mix. (Source: University of Florida, IFAS)
  1. Test the draining capacity of the soil before using it. Pour water into the soil and see if the mix presses down. If it does, it means that the potting soil is loose enough. Otherwise, the soil is compact and you have to add more sand to improve drainage. 

Pathogenic Infection 

When pathogens infect the soil, it will easily creep into the plant’s system. Among the identified pathogens that infect palm roots are Phytophthora spp and Armillaria spp.

They produce spores into the soil and when the environmental conditions favor, they start reproducing and growing. 

One reason why pathogen infection persists is the use of previously infected soil and pots.

If you’re not careful, these pathogens will be transferred to your areca palm causing root rot. 

How to Fix:

  1. Isolate the plant and place it in a well-ventilated area. The problem with pathogens is that they spread easily. It’s important that at the beginning of infection, you isolate the plant and keep it away from the others. This will help contain the disease in a single plant. 
  1. Apply fungicide. Fungicides are designed to kill a particular group of fungi. So, you have to be careful to properly diagnose which fungal group attacks your areca palm. If unsure, consult a plant pathologist. 

Once you’ve found the right fungicide to use, make sure to follow the label. Be cautious in handling this chemical to avoid hazards. 

  1. Lower moisture level. To mitigate the growth of the pathogens, keep the humidity low and the soil must not be too moist. This means that you will need to reduce the watering frequency and find a drier place. Keep the areca palm under bright light. 
  1. Repot using fresh soil. To avoid further damage to the plant, you have the option to replant your areca palm in a new pot using clean soil. 

Trim off the rotten roots and discard properly. Treat the roots with fungicide before you plant it in a new container. 

Low Temperature

When the areca palm is exposed to 32oF (0oC) or lower for longer periods, it will suffer from severe damage.

Low temperatures increase the chance of getting diseases caused by pathogens. It also slows down the transpiration rate by which the plant loses moisture. 

Prolonged exposure to this temperature will lengthen the time by which the soil remains moist. If coupled with overwatering, the plant will surely die. 

How to Fix: 

  1. Less frequent watering. If the temperature is low, it’s better to skip the next watering schedule. Your areca palm wouldn’t appreciate the extra dose of moisture. To prevent root rot, water only when the soil is dry. 
  1. Add mulch on top of the soil. Not only mulch does help retain moisture but it also protects the roots from too much cold. Be sure to layer mulch on top of the soil of your areca palm when the cold season is almost near. 
  1. Find a warmer location. Surely there’s a place around your home where the temperature is higher and less destructive to your areca palm. Relocate your plant there until the temperature rises back to normal, around 38oF (3oC). 
  1. Insulate your areca palm. If the temperature gets freezing cold inside, better add extra protection to your palm using cotton sheets. You may wrap it around the plant but make sure not to make it too tight. Provide an extra source of light inside the covering. 

Watering in the Dormant Period

Late fall to winter is the period where palms go dormant. It’s often called a period of rest for plants.

Generally, there’s very little growth going on because the plant’s focus is to survive the cold weather. Thus, the plant would require a very little amount of water as well. 

Trying to water an areca palm during this dormant season will only do more harm than good.

The water will easily get stuck within the pot because the plant will not be able to utilize it as it normally does during warm conditions.

How to Fix: 

  1. Avoid watering the areca palm until the soil is dry. I suggested earlier keeping the soil of your plant moist. However, there’s an exception when the late fall and winter arrives. You’ve got to let the soil surface dry before watering again.  

Fertilizer Salts Build-Up

Through time, fertilizer salts build up in the soil causing damage to the roots.

These salts draw away water from the roots creating a drought condition. As a result, the roots become stressed and become vulnerable to diseases. 

Salts can also lead the cells to shrink. You’re most likely to observe the roots to acquire damage from shrivelling. Later, it dies and rots. 

How to Fix: 

  1. Regularly leach off excess salts. Pour water into the pot and let it run until it seeps out of the bottom. Do this again over a 2 to 3 hours interval. 
  1. Apply moderate amounts of fertilizer. There’s no need to overdo fertilizer application especially if the plant looks healthy and flourishing. Always dilute if using liquid fertilizer to reduce the concentration. No fertilizer should be added during the dormant period. 

Fluoride Toxicity

Areca palm is very sensitive to fluoride and it easily suffers injury from having it in excess. Once you water the soil with water containing 1 ppm of fluoride, it becomes toxic. As a result, the roots sustain an injury. 

How to Fix: 

  1. Use rainwater or filtered water. Tap water can sometimes contain a high amount of fluoride so it’s better to use rainwater instead. If not available, you can run tap water in the filtration system. Another way is to set it aside for at least 24 hours before using them on your palm. 
  1. Maintain the soil’s pH within the range of 6.5 to 6.8. Such a pH range would help tie up the fluoride into the soil so the plant doesn’t absorb it. You have to check the soil’s pH from time to time using a pH meter. 
  1. Avoid using superphosphate (0-20-0). This type of fertilizer has very high amounts of soluble fluoride. When used on areca palm, it becomes toxic. 

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How to Treat Areca Palm Root Rot?

Repotting

Repotting is essentially helpful especially if the damage in the roots has been severe. Here’s the step by step procedure on how to repot your areca palm:

  1. Water the pot thoroughly to loosen the soil. Once the soil is fully saturated, let it rest for an hour so that any excess water drains out. The soil must be moist but not soggy. 
  1. Carefully remove the palm from the pot. You have to be gentle in doing this because plants suffering from root rot will have a weak base as well. 
  1. Remove the surrounding soil around the roots. Shake off the roots a little to remove the packs of soil. The goal is to expose the root system. 
  1. Inspect the roots and its appearance. By this you would know which parts are already rotting and which parts are still healthy. Remember that healthy roots look white and are crisp to touch. 
  1. Trim off the rotten roots. Using a previously disinfected shears, cut off the rotten portions until only the healthy ones remain. 
  1. Treat the roots with fungicide. This will serve as an added protection against pathogens. Roots that are suffering from rotting are predisposed to diseases. 
  1. Prepare sterilized soil in a clean pot. Settle your areca palm in its new home using a well-draining potting mix. Ensure that it is not loosely planted in the soil. 
  1. Water the pot thoroughly. Let the water drain. Set it aside in a shaded area. 

Using Appropriate Soil Mix 

I’ve made it known how important it is to use the right kind of potting mix. First, the structure of your mix should be porous to ensure good drainage. Combine the right amount of peat, bark, and sand. 

Aside from that, your mix should be sterilized. This will kill the pathogens that might be there. A healthy soil greatly contributes to a healthy palm. 

Watering After Repot

After your areca palm is repotted, it requires regular watering because the roots are still trying to anchor on the substrate.

They need immediate help to make water available. However, refrain from overwatering as this may stress the plant. 

Remember to follow the watering techniques I’ve mentioned earlier. 

Care After Repotting

Propagation 

If your areca palm has gone close to its end, don’t wait for the plant to die before you save a part of it.

The best way to go is by propagating the plant while you still can. Follow are the ways to propagate your areca depending on its condition. 

  1. Cut off a healthy shoot if there’s any. Those small shoots can be planted individually in another pot. If none, cut a portion of the stem above. 
  1. Cuttings can be propagated by dipping them in a rooting hormone before planting it in the potting mix. The cuttings will grow their own roots in time. 
  1. Another way is to divide the root system of the plant. Remove the damaged portions and retain the healthy side. Plant it in another pot.  

Root rot is the most common disease of potted plants. If left untreated, it can easily kill the plant.

It pays a lot for you to remember the symptoms, the causes, and the solutions so you’ll know what to do once it strikes your beloved areca palm.