Root rot can be quite a traumatic experience for growers, it is often hard to treat and things can turn bad very quickly. If you don’t get onto it quickly then often it can leave plants unsalvageable, that is why it is so important to be diligent and not to let things get out of control.
The good news is that treating root rot is rather simple and it consists of two main parts. First is to remove the rotted roots, and the second is to change the environment that the plant was in which caused the rot in the first place.
What causes root rot?
Root rot is caused in one of two ways, the most common of which is overwatering or a prolonged exposure to overwatering. Oversaturated soil can deprive roots of oxygen which causes parts to shut down and die. These decaying roots will then begin to rot and this rot can spread to otherwise healthy roots. This is why root rot is so dangerous for plants, it can start in one small section but spread extremely quickly to the rest of the plant.
The other cause of root rot is fungal infection. Fungus can lay dormant within the soil and can suddenly flourish (this usually happens after being overwatered too). The newly growing fungus attacks the roots causing them to die, decay, rot and spread to the rest of the plant.
As you can see it isn’t difficult to understand why root rot happens and how it can affect your plant, but what is more challenging is being able to spot that you have a problem early enough.
What does root rot look like?
It is hard to see root rot for an obvious reason; the roots are covered in soil. So we need to look elsewhere on the plant to see if we can pick up any cues. Plants that are suffering from root rot will often begin to turn pale, slowly wilt and leaves will turn yellow. This is because the roots aren’t doing their jobs properly and not providing it with the nutrients it needs.
To definitively know that it is root rot damaging your plant, you need to look at the roots. Effected roots will be black in colour and mushy, you will be easily able to squash them, these roots may fall away from the plant as you move it too.
Heathy roots may also be black in colour however they will feel firm and pliable.
How do you treat root rot?
Regardless of the cause of the root rot, the treatment is the same. It is also important to get onto the solution as quick as possible as root rot left unattended can leave plants unsalvageable.
To treat root rot first you must remove the plant from the soil and wash the roots. While being gentle with the plant run the roots under a tap and remove as much soil and affected roots as you possibly can. The reason for washing the roots is to make sure that any fungal spores are removed.
Next step is to further removed affected roots. Grab a clean, sharp pair of scissors or shears and trim away all of the remaining affected roots. When you treat root rot, you may have to remove a significant amount of the root system if the plant is badly affected. If this is the case, clean the shears or scissor with rubbing alcohol and prune back one-third to one-half of the leaves on the plant. This will give the plant a better chance to regrow the roots, as it will not need to support as many leaves.
This next step isn’t essential however it can help a lot. I like to dip the plants roots into a fungicide solution to kill off any remaining spores and ensure that it doesn’t come back.
So that’s the first half of treating root rot, the next part is preventing it from coming back and to do this you must change the environment in which the plant lives. You will need to dispose of the soil and wash the pot that it was in. Prepare the pot with some well draining soil and repot the plant in the new potting mix. Make sure that your pot has good drainage and try to water your plant a bit less. For a more complete guide of the best practices to use when watering your plants, check out this article we wrote.
As your plant is recovering don’t use any fertilizer on it as that can lead to shock or burning of the remaining roots. It will be able to heal itself and return to the beautiful plant it once was.
So now you know all about root rot and how to treat it! The fix isn’t difficult at all, the hardest part is knowing when there is a problem and acting in time to save your plant. However now you should be able to spot the signs of root rot and your plants will thank you for it!