One of the most common problems that arises in houseplants or potted plants is root rot. Although this disease is both preventable as well as treatable, if left too long, it can be fatal for the affected plant.

If your green friend has been displaying symptoms such as dropping its leaves, wilting, or showing yellow foliage it may be time to stop what you are doing and check its roots! 

What Is Root Rot?
A potted plant with root rot

Root rot is a common disease that typically affects potted plants. This disease is a result of either a bacterial or fungal infection, and affects the root system of a plant. 

This disease is caused by prolonged exposure to soil conditions that are too wet. Wet soil conditions are caused by two main sources. The first is overwatering. Overwatering can result in the roots not getting enough oxygen which leads to them rotting and eventually dying. 

The second source of this disease is two types of harmful fungi that are often present in the soil but thrive in wet conditions. The two types of harmful fungi that can cause root rot are known as pythium and fusarium. Pythium is most commonly transmitted from fungus gnats and is a bacterial organism. Fusarium is a soil fungus that is quite common and thrives on plant tissues that are dead or dying. 

What Causes Root Rot

Plants are susceptible to root rot when they are exposed to overwatered conditions for a prolonged period. Potted plants and indoor plants are more susceptible to getting root rot than plants that are grown directly in the ground. This is because water stagnates more easily in potted plants. 

Overwatering your houseplant can happen for several reasons, most commonly improper drainage and  giving your plant more water than it needs. 

Some plants are more susceptible to root rot than others. Plants that prefer conditions on the drier side, such as succulents or cacti, are more easily overwatered than plants that prefer a moister environment. 

How to Treat Root Rot? 

Thankfully, if caught early enough, root rot is treatable. If left too long without attention, it can mean the end of your beloved plant. Once the root rot has been established, it can be difficult to cure. If this is the case, the best you can do for your plant is remove its dying and rotting parts. Once that is done, you will also need to replace the old soil with fresh soil. 

If the root rot has spread through the majority of your plant and is affecting its roots and foliage, you may be too late to save it. If there are some healthy roots left, you may be able to rehabilitate your houseplant. This can be attempted by doing the following: 

  • Remove the Plant from Its Soil and Inspect Its Roots

Checking houseplant roots

Carefully remove your houseplant from the container, and gently break as much soil away from its roots as you can. Then, inspect the roots and leaves to identify the portions that are rotting. Rotting roots appear brown and are stringy or squishy. Healthy roots are white or green and are firm. 

  • Cut Away the Rotting Portions of the Plant

Cutting away the rotting parts of a plant

With a pair of sharp, clean, pruning shears or a pair of scissors, gently cut away the rotting portions of your plant. Make sure you remove all affected roots and leaves. While pruning the dying and rotting parts of your houseplant, be careful not to damage any of the healthy growth.  

  • Repot your Plant with Fresh Soil

Preparing a pot with fresh soil

After you have removed all of the rotting parts of your plant, it is time to repot it. Do not repot in the same soil. When repotting, you will need to completely replace the soil with fresh soil for your plant. Make sure you choose a new container that has holes for drainage. Also, be sure that you are using the right soil mix for your plant. 

How to Prevent Root Rot

The best root rot treatment is prevention. There are several ways you can prevent your green buddy from becoming overwatered and possibly developing root rot. The first method of prevention is familiarizing yourself with your plant’s ideal care instructions. While some plants thrive in constantly moist conditions, others prefer to be kept on the drier side. Knowing your plant’s watering preference will help you to avoid overwatering it. 

Potted or indoor plants also require a lot of drainage. Without proper drainage, water is likely to accumulate around the roots. Two things can affect drainage. The first is the type of soil that is used and the second is the type of container. 

Different types of soils and soil mixes have different degrees of drainage. Clay-type soil retains water quite well and drains poorly. Sandy soil, on the other hand, is thought to be very well-draining. Each plant has its own soil requirements. Some prefer heavier soils while others thrive in sandy, well-draining soils. For best results, be sure to do some research on the specific plant and see which soil type suits their needs. 

Additionally, it is always best to pot houseplants in containers that have holes for drainage. These holes allow for any excess water to drain from the soil. A lot of plants that are used for decorative purposes do not have drainage holes. It is best to check your plant’s pot and repot it into a plastic nursery pot if it does not have drainage holes. Then you can place the plastic pot inside the decorative pot. If this is done, it is best to remove the plant from the decorative pot when watering to allow for the excess water to drain. Once it has drained, you can replace it in the decorative pot. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it possible to reverse root rot?

It is not possible to reverse root rot. The treatment of this disease involves removing the affected portions of the plant. Once the rotting or dying parts have been removed, they can then be repotted in fresh soil to give the remaining healthy roots a fresh start. 

  • What does root rot look like? 

Symptoms that your plant may be suffering from root rot include wilting or yellowing foliage or dropping leaves. The only way to be absolutely sure if your plant has root rot is to check its roots. If there is no sign of rot in the roots and the leaves look healthy, it may be suffering from another issue. 

  • Is it possible for a houseplant to recover from root rot?

If you catch the disease early enough, it is possible to rehabilitate your plant. You will need to take the appropriate steps to treat the root rot to give your plant a second chance. Unfortunately, if the root rot is left for too long and there are no remaining healthy roots, your plant can’t recover.