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Root rot is a scary two words for plant owners. I won’t lie—root rot is not a great thing because there ARE times when you won’t be able to save your plant. However, you’ll have the best chance of rescuing your plant if you act quickly.
In this post, we’ll learn about root rot on houseplants, what causes root rot on houseplants, root rot symptoms, and what to do to give your plant the best chance of recovery.
What is root rot?
Root rot is a condition of the roots in which they start to decay, leading to the death of the rest of your plant. Root rot can be caused by:
- A fungus that kills the roots
- Roots that are starved for oxygen
Both can occur in waterlogged soil.
Fungus thrives in wet conditions and will eventually kill your plants’ roots, which will eventually kill the rest of the plant.
And roots, being the lifeforce of the plant, need oxygen. When they are sitting in waterlogged soil they will literally drown and die, which will, again, cause the rest of your plant to die.
These two situations are why overwatering is such a common way to kill a houseplant.
What are the symptoms of root rot?
Root rot symptoms include:
- Significant yellow leaves, not just one or two, which is normal
- Significant leaf drop, not just one leaf falling off, which is normal
- Smaller-than-usual and pale leaves
- Brown splotches on the leaves
- Significant wilting
- Stunted growth
- Rapid decline of the health of your plant
- Unhealthy black or brown, mushy roots (instead of healthy white and firm roots) that might even fall off to the touch
These are all possible root rot symptoms, but examining the roots is the only foolproof way to determine if your plant has root rot.
In addition to examining the roots, consider if you might have overwatered your plant and use your finger to feel down into the soil to help determine the moisture level. Usually, root rot happens when overwatering is done consistently, not just once.
Now, I want to give a huge thanks to my Instagram friends, sproutingnmeowing and riverofodd, who’ve helped me out with the photos of root rot on houseplants below! They’re awesome, so give them a follow 🙂
How do you prevent root rot on plants?
The best way to treat root rot on houseplants is to prevent it in the first place. You can prevent root rot by doing the folowing:
- Ensure proper drainage – First and foremost, your plant should always have proper drainage. Ideally, a drainage hole in the pot, but if not, a layer of pebbles in the bottom of the pot so the plant’s roots won’t be sitting in water.
- Don’t overwater your plant – How do you do this?
- Don’t stick to a strict watering schedule. Water your plants only when they need it.
- Get in the habit of sticking your finger an inch or two into the soil to feel for moisture before watering.
- You can also use a moisture meter to help determine the moisture level.
- Consider bottom watering your plants if you’re a chronic overwaterer (see my post on bottom watering for more details)
- Use the right material pot – If you’re a chronic overwaterer, I’d suggest you use terra cotta pots which are porous and don’t hold water for long. I’ve always struggled with plastic pots because they hold water for WAY longer.
- Use the right size pot – If your pot is way too big for your plant, it will hold excess moisture for longer making your plant vulnerable to root rot.
- Use the right potting mix – Use a well-draining indoor plant potting mix. I always like to add a handful or two of extra perlite into my mix for even more drainage.
Knowing how often to water your houseplants isn’t always easy. I wrote a post on how to tell when your plants need to be watered with other helpful watering tips, so check that out!
Can root rot be reversed?
No, you cannot reverse the process of root rot or “unrot” the roots, but there are some things you can do to treat it.
How do you fix root rot?
Depending on how bad the case is, your plant might be a goner, but it is certainly possible to save the plant if you act quickly.
- Remove the plant from its pot and wash away ALL of the soil from its roots. You need to do this to make sure any fungus is completely washed away. Dispose of the rest of the soil—you cannot repot your plant back into it.
- Use clean scissors to prune away all parts of the roots that are rotted so that only the healthy roots are left. Yes, that’s right. You must remove ALL affected roots, even if that means removing the majority of the roots.
- If you do have to remove the majority of the roots, sterilize those scissors or use new, clean scissors to then prune back some of the leaves so the plant can save more energy on regrowing roots. Depending on how big your plant is and how many roots were removed, you might have to prune off up to one-half of the plant’s leaves.
- Sterilize your pot (or use a different pot) and repot your plant in fresh potting mix. It’s very important that whichever pot you choose has good drainage to help avoid root rot in the future.
- You MUST sterilize your scissors after using them for this to avoid spreading any fungus to other plants.
Does hydrogen peroxide kill root rot?
Hydrogen peroxide can also be used to treat root rot, although it will be a slower process and it’s kind of hard to know whether or not it has worked. (If you suspect you have a bad case of root rot, I’d recommend just going with the process I described above.)
To use hydrogen peroxide to treat root rot:
- Wait for your plant’s soil to dry out
- Mix one ounce of 3% hydrogen peroxide with one quart of water
- Water your plant with the solution. Your plant doesn’t need to be soaked, just damp
- Continue to water your plant with this method until the root rot is gone. When doing this, water when the top two-or-so inches of the soil is dry.
If you suspect your plant has root rot, don’t feel bad—overwatering happens to everyone. If you’re unable to save your plant, consider it a learning experience for next time!