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Root Rot of Houseplants: How To Identify And Treat It

Did you know that overwatering your houseplants can cause their roots to rot?

Just because your houseplants are cute doesn’t mean they will be happy if you give them too much water. Instead, it may stress the plant and cause it to die.

Because the amount of water a plant can store at one time is fixed, it is critical to remember the proper way to care for your houseplants.

This article will inform you how to spot and treat root rot in your houseplants.

This is perfect for people whose plants have died from getting too much water or who want to know how to keep plants from going bad. I will also explain how to prevent and identify root rot in the latter part of the article.

Signs of Root Rot In Houseplants

Signs of Money Tree Root Rot

Since the roots are buried in the ground, it may be hard to tell when they start to rot because you can’t see them.

The following symptoms may indicate that root rot is present in your plants.

  • Leaves and stems lack vigor.
  • Stems and trunks are discolored (brown or blackened).
  • Branches and trunks have become soft.
  • Leaves are discolored and falling off.
  • Soil is not drying fast enough.
  • Mold is growing on the soil surface.
  • There is a rotten smell coming from the soil.

If you suspect root rot, take the plant out of the pot and check the condition of the roots.

When root rot occurs, the roots and stems gradually turn black. If the roots are discolored black and torn off, the plant has root rot.

If you observe the plant regularly, you are likely to notice it, but if you follow the symptoms only on the leaves, it may be too late. Signs on the leaves usually appear after the fungus from root rot has spread to the entire area.

It is a good practice to check the stems by touching them with your fingers to see if they are shaggy or if the soil remains moist, which will help you detect the root rot early.

Causes of Root Rot In Houseplants

It is crucial to be able to treat root rot when it occurs appropriately, but first, an analysis of the cause, such as “why it happens,” is necessary. Take a look at the following five reasons.

  1. Excessive water/fertilizer
  2. Poor Drainage capacity
  3. Poor sunlight
  4. Poor ventilation
  5. Mold in the soil
  6. Not using suitable soil for the plant

Excessive Use of Water/Fertilizer

Overwatered Ponytail Palm

Root rot can be caused by overwatering or fertilizing houseplants. Wait to water when the soil is wet; only water when the soil is arid. If you water while the soil is still moist, the roots will slowly die because the soil will stay wet for longer.

Too much fertilizer is also wrong because it will cause “fertilizer burn,” which will kill the roots because of osmotic pressure.

Roots die and dry out as a result of osmotic pressure imbalance. Also, when too much fertilizer is used, the water in the soil becomes denser than the water inside the roots.

Therefore, water will always seek out the nearest denser liquid solution until equilibrium is reached. As a result, the roots release water, lowering the concentration in the soil and causing them to wither and eventually rot.

Therefore, adhering carefully to the instructions provided when applying fertilizers is essential. To be safe, using half the strength of the recommended dose is sufficient to supply the nutrients.

Poor Soil Aeration And Drainage

Plants mostly take in water that has built up in the spaces between soil particles and the spaces between soil particles. They also take in oxygen from the areas left after moving the water.

Watering serves two purposes: it supplies oxygen-rich water while pushing out the old air and bringing in new air.

But in clay soil with a high ability to hold water, old water with less oxygen stays there for a long time, and because the soil doesn’t drain well, air gaps don’t form.

This causes a lack of oxygen. Also, the more dry the soil is, the more air it can hold. So if you water a lot and keep the soil wet all the time, the roots will suffocate and die. 

Lack of Sunlight Exposure

Poor sunlight makes it difficult for the soil to dry out, which can lead to root rot. Even if the plant receives the right amount of water, it will not thrive if the soil stays soggy for too long due to a lack of sunlight.

So, after you water the plants, please keep them in the sun as much as possible. If you can shorten the time that the roots are wet as much as possible, you can make the roots less stressed.

Poor Ventilation

As with too little sunlight, insufficient airflow can cause root rot because the soil doesn’t dry out, and the plant soil stays wet.

This is especially true when you grow plants in a small room or keep them for a long time in a place where the air temperature is high.

Poor ventilation keeps the soil damp and can promote fungus growth. This is unsanitary and dangerous because it can lead to root rot.

Indoors, it’s essential to blow air by “turning on the air conditioner” or “turning on the air circulator.” This is especially important in the summer when the room temperature rises, and the plants become humid.

Mold on the Soil

Mold on Soil

Mold is a sign of high soil moisture or humidity in the surrounding area. If left untreated, it can cause root rot.

Improving sunlight and ventilation is one way to address this issue. However, humidity is high, especially after you water, so handle it carefully.

After watering, leave the plants on the balcony or front door for an hour or two to reduce mold growth on the soil. You can keep your plants healthy by doing a little extra work regularly.

Take a look at my new article on how to get rid of mold on your plant’s soil.

Not Using The Correct Soil Mix

Because of their varied needs, different soil types are best suited to growing various houseplants.

For instance, soil with a high moisture retention property increases the risk of root rot for plants like cacti and peperomia-type plants (succulents). This is because soil with a heightened ability to hold water keeps water inside, making it hard for water to dry out.

Succulent plants don’t need soil that holds much water because they can store water inside themselves better than other plants. That is, they favor loose, well-drained soil.

Therefore, before repotting houseplants, you should think carefully about the plant’s “characteristics” and the “composition of the soil.”

Specifically, we advise starting with well-drained soil and tweaking the soil’s moisture levels as needed. Water the soil if it dries out, but don’t bother if it stays damp.

The key to reducing root rot risk is keeping wet conditions short.

How To Deal With And Revive Root Rot in Houseplants

If root rot occurs, try the steps below.

  • Remove the rotted plant from the pot and set it aside to dry.
  • Cut off the blackened (discolored) roots and stems.
  • Repot the plant in new soil.
  • Slowly resume watering after a few days.

If the problem is detected early, the plant has a good chance of recovering. Let’s look at each of them in detail.

1 – Remove Plants With Root Rot From Their Pots And Dry Them Out

If you have a plant with root rot, remove it from its pot and dry the roots before planting it in new, well-drained soil. The key is not to water the plant right after repotting but to let it dry out completely.

If the roots are wet, root rot may develop. Keep them in a well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.

If the roots are excessively wet, wipe off the moisture with newspaper to dry them quickly. When doing so, gently and lightly tap the roots rather than rubbing them.

2 – Cutting Discolored (Blackened) Roots And Stems

After drying the roots thoroughly, cut off the discolored parts with clean scissors or cutters. If the insides are still blackened when cut off, it is safe to cut until the healthy color becomes visible.

If even a small amount of discoloration is left, the fungus will quickly become infected, and root rot will occur again. To prevent a recurrence, cut it off thoroughly.

3- Repot the plant in new soil

After cutting off the discolored area, repot the plant in new soil. In addition, the following two points will increase the probability of recovery from root rot.

  • Mix a root rot inhibitor such as potassium silicate or hydrogen peroxide solution with the soil.
  • Do not reuse soil that has rotted roots.

You can repot without doing anything, but using a chemical agent is a good practice.

Mixing A Root Rot Inhibitor into Soil Mix Helps

To help prevent fungal growth, root rot inhibitors such as charcoal can be mixed into the new soil.

This is because mixing a root rot inhibitor into the soil keeps the soil fresh and moist and stops fungi from growing.

It also improves soil hygiene, which benefits healthy houseplants without root rot.

The effect lasts anywhere between one and three months. Therefore, it is best to incorporate it when repotting or during the humid season (rainy season and summer).

Do Not Reuse Root-Rotted Soil

It is best to discard the soil used to treat the plant’s rotting roots. Fungi may be present in the soil. If you reuse the soil, root rot may reoccur.

When repotting, use new soil. It is rich in nutrients and safe for the plant.

4 – After A Few Days, Gradually Resume Watering

Typically, you should water your plants immediately after repotting, but if you have root rot, your plants cannot absorb water because their roots have been cut.

Water after a few days after planting in new soil, not immediately. After that, place the plant in a sunny location away from direct sunlight for 4 to 5 days. By doing so, the plant can begin to establish itself.

You can not tell visually whether the plants are well rooted, so you can test them by touching them after a few days. This is because a firmly rooted plant will leave a feeling in your hand, similar to pulling a string.

If The Root Rot Is Getting Worse, Take Cuttings For Propagation

Syngonium Albo Propagation

If root rot has worsened, the roots may have been destroyed, so it is best to take cuttings if the roots are not good enough.

Cut off the healthy branches and stem parts and grow as a new plant. Taking cuttings 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm).

After cutting, soak the plant in fresh water for 2 to 3 hours before replanting it in new soil. It should root after a few days, so you can gradually resume watering.

We recommend you use cuttings for healthy houseplants and cacti, as they are a good way to add new plants to your collection.

Preventing Root Rot in Houseplants

Consider adopting the following three preventive measures to prevent a recurrence.

  1. Allow the plants to sunbathe two to three times a week
  2. Do not water until the soil is arid.
  3. Use an air circulator to improve ventilation for your houseplants.

This will help prevent root rot and, at the same time, promote plant growth.

Allow Them To Sunbathe Two To Three Times Per Week

You must ensure that houseplants receive consistent sunlight. Even if they are kept in the right place, they need more light and airflow. One way to compensate for the lack of light and air is to take them outside as much as possible.

Regular sun exposure not only helps the houseplant grow into a healthy plant, but it also helps to avoid high humidity. So, the chances of getting root rot will also be much lower.

If you don’t have time during the week, you can do it on your days off or when you water your plants. However, I strongly recommend incorporating this into your daily care routine.

When putting the plant outside, it is best to place it in a partially shaded area to avoid direct sunlight, which can burn the foliage.

Water Only When The Soil Is Completely Dry

When watering houseplants, wait until the soil is arid before watering again. The soil will remain wet if you water the plant while it is still wet. The soil will need time to dry out before the fungus can grow. As a result, root rot occurs.

If you need to learn to tell if the soil is arid, you can do so by rubbing your finger on it. If the soil is wet, it will stick to your finger; if the soil is dry, it will not stick to your finger.

The most reliable way to tell is to examine the plant by hand rather than visually or by watering it after a few days.

Use Air Circulator for Houseplants

Consider using an air circulator when caring for houseplants indoors. Artificial ventilation lowers the temperature and humidity, lowering the risk of root rot.

Opening windows and other openings is the most appropriate method for creating natural ventilation indoors, but this does not allow air to circulate throughout the room.

On the other hand, a circulator or similar device allows the airflow’s direction and volume to be freely adjusted, allowing adequate airflow to the room with the houseplants.

Because moderate airflow is said to be effective in encouraging plant growth, using a circulator all year may be a good idea.

How to Identify Root Rot in Houseplants

Observing your houseplants regularly makes it easy to notice changes in condition. Now, let’s look at some specifics.

Look to see if the leaves, stems, and trunks have changed color

When root rot occurs, leaves, stems, and trunks become black and discolored. This proves that the fungus has penetrated the plant’s interior via the roots and caused the cells to become blistered and rotten.

Succulent Root Rot Advancing Upwards

Once blackening occurs, the color will not return to normal, leaves will fall, and stems will break off.

The blackening of the leaves is caused by the cells dying because they cannot send water and nutrients to the tips of the leaves. However, if it is mild, it may come back again.

However, if only the stem base is darkened, there is still a chance for revival. Early detection is essential, so keep a close eye on it regularly.

Check The Trunk With your Hand To Make Sure It Is Not Brittle

Desert Rose Trunk is Soft and Brittle Due to Root Rot

As the fungus spreads inside the houseplant, the trunk will become soft and fuzzy. Depending on the progress of root rot, it may not be easy to recover the plant if more than half of the entire plant is soft.

The author has also experienced the death of a cactus due to root rot. The trunk had become soft, and I found it hollow inside when I cut it to revive it. The fungus had caused the inside of the plant to decay.

Root rot progresses faster than it appears, so you must be careful.

Make sure the soil is moist and the plants aren’t limp

As root rot progresses, the plant may not only become discolored, but it may also become limp and wilting.

This is because the inside of the plant has been rotted, and the plant itself can no longer support the body of the plant.

You may notice the change, especially if the plant grows upward and is prone to falling over.

Note that root rot progresses relatively quickly in miniature or not-tall plants, and it may already be too late when they go limp.

Key Facts

Root rot of houseplants develops from the inside, so by the time you see a change in the plant’s appearance, it is likely already too late.

Of course, if the recovery procedures outlined in this article are followed, the plant may recover, but this is not a sure thing. Therefore, to prevent root rot from developing, it is vital to regularly take care of your plants.

The most effective way to prevent root rot is to look back over the basic growing methods again and again and master them properly.

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