Root Rot – Everything You Need to Know

Root Rot – Everything You Need To Know

As living beings, plants are prone to getting diseases and serious conditions, just as humans do.

Our role as the gardener and plant owner is to be aware of these potential issues so we can not only identify them when they arise but prevent them from occurring at all.

Root rot is one of the biggest issues that our beloved plants face and once your plant has been infected, it can be hard to bring them back to health.

Thankfully, not all is lost, and if you know how to spot this nasty condition as well as how to prevent it, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.

So, how do you get rid of root rot?

Once you’ve established that your plant has root rot, you’ll need to establish how serious it is.

Some roots have been so infected by the fungus that they can’t be saved, and you’ll need to dispose of them and their potting soil straight away, but those with just a small amount of rot may be saved by repotting in new soil with adequate drainage.

This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the condition, how to identify it, treat it, and prevent it from happening again.

Being aware of this single fungus and acting fast can mean the matter of life or death for your plants, and it’s something every savvy gardener needs to know.

The Role of Roots in Plants

The Role of Roots in Plants

The roots of a plant are its most important parts, and they do more than just one thing.

Firstly, the roots are what holds the plant in place so that it stays firmly in the soil and doesn’t get toppled over from the wind or washed away from mud and running water.

Secondly, the roots allow the plant to absorb nutrients, water, and oxygen from the soil, as well as stimulating the soil and supporting the micro-organisms that grow there.

These important elements travel through the stems and leaves of the plant and ensure that all parts of it receive them.

Finally, the roots can also be a place to store energy that was created by the plant during the process of photosynthesis that all plants need to live. While stored here, the roots can then make this energy available as needed so they’re a support system as well.

Any issues with the roots of the plant will ultimately affect the entire plant, and as they’re responsible for so much of the plant’s growth and survival, it can be detrimental when something happens.

Ensuring a healthy root just as important as watering or fertilizing your plant otherwise diseases like root rot will become prevalent.

What is Root Rot?

What is Root Rot?

Root rot is a common disease that affects plants and it’s prominent in potted plants that have inadequate drainage.

This disease is a fungus that comes from either the Pythium, Phytophthora, Fusarium or Rhizoctonia fungi which spread their spores through wet soil which eventually make their way to the roots of the plant.

This condition usually occurs in wet soil as it allows the fungus the ideal opportunity to grow and then it attaches to the roots and spreads through the rest of the plant.

A plant with infected roots that have turned mushy won’t be able to absorb nutrients from the soil as well as it could before and the fungus will only continue to spread.

Even the smallest amount of soil infected with root rot can be transferred to other plants so many plants have to be disposed of. 

Once infected, it’s only a matter of time before the plant stops being able to absorb any nutrients at all, and the roots fall away from the plant, leading to its eventual demise.

In some extreme cases, the fungus can cause a plant to die within 10 days of the initial infection, so it’s important to act quickly.

Common Causes of Root Rot

Common Causes of Root Rot

There is one key player when it comes to root rot, and that’s moisture.

Plants that live in wet soil without adequate drainage are those that will develop root rot usually, which is why it’s essential to focus on this element when growing anything.

The soil can also become infected with the fungus which can then spread to other plants quite easily.

Even a small amount of soil can carry it, and if you’re planting pots next to each other or sharing potting soil in a garden, you can transfer root rot to another, even if that plant has adequate drainage.

Once a plant has been infected with root rot, you’ll need to dispose of it, or it can spread easily to others.

Then, you’ll need to work on improving drainage measures around the garden and in containers and pots, using well-draining soil and other materials, otherwise, the fungus will persist.

Identifying Plants With This Condition

Identifying Plants With This Condition

It’s the responsibility of the gardener to know what to look for in their plants and to observe them for signs of problems.

Root rot is one of these conditions that gardeners should be aware of, but as the issue first attacks the root of the plant, it’s not always so easy to identify.

The best way to tell if a plant has root rot is by inspecting its roots and looking for signs of damage or difference.

The roots of an infected plant will look brown and will be softer than usual, compared to a healthy plant that has strong and hard roots that are white in color.

This brown discoloration is from the fungus that has spread through the roots from spores in the soil, so it starts here first. As it spreads, the root will turn this color, go soft, and eventually die.

You’ll need to inspect the damage to see how far it’s gone and if it doesn’t seem there is any white or healthy part of root left, the plant won’t be able to be saved.

Once the root rot has progressed further, you can identify it more easily through its leaves. You’ll notice they start to wilt, may fall off, turn yellow, or slow down in growth.

If your plant is showing any of these signs, it’s best to dig down and check its roots just to be sure it’s not root rot. Use a hand trowel to loosen the dirt at the base of the plant and pull it out of the pot to inspect the roots thoroughly.

How to Treat Root Rot

How to Treat Root Rot

After inspecting your plant and discovering that it’s developed root rot, there are two main options.

First, you can throw the plant away entirely, and secondly, remove the rotted roots and repot the plant into healthy soil, but it depends on how far the condition has come.

In the cases where you must throw the plant away, these will be those roots that have been severely affected.

You’ll probably find most parts of the roots have turned brown and mushy and it may have already worked its way up to the leaves and stems as well.

If this is your plant, dispose of it and the soil, and have the container or pot that it’s been living in sanitized before using it again.

If your plant has only had some of its roots affected and there are still healthy, strong white roots to be found, you can try a transplant.

Grab a clean pot and fresh potting soil and make a new home for your plant by following these steps:

  • Pull the plant out of the old soil and wash the roots under softly running water.
  • Clip off any parts of brown or mushy roots with clippers or scissors by trimming just above the brown part, and then clean the scissors and disinfect.
  • Place the plant into the new pot with fresh potting soil within a few hours of removing it from its original home.

Prevention and Tips for Healthy Roots

Prevention and Tips for Healthy Roots

As with many things, prevention is easier than cure when it comes to root rot, and there are some simple ways to protect your plants from the disease.

Follow these tips for healthy roots and fungus-free soil and roots.

  • Fill in any low parts of the garden with an organic matter layer underneath to help with drainage, and move to higher ground if needed.
  • Any pots or containers need to have drainage holes on the bottom. Most plants will benefit from another layer of drainage, whether it’s at the top or bottom, with common materials being gravel, pebbles, and sand.
  • Avoid using any root rot treatments on plants until you know for sure that this is causing the problem. Even then, many of these chemicals can do more harm than good, and if the fungus has progressed far enough it will be a waste of time.
  • Try to keep plants in raised beds when they’re in the backyard. Having this extra height will help with drainage and allow you to add another layer to the bottom that prevents waterlogging.
  • Make a point of inspecting your plants regularly and take a look at their roots if you suspect an issue. something as simple as slow growth can be an indication of root rot and should be inspected immediately.
  • Never attempt to wash or clean soil that has been exposed to root rot. The spores from this fungus can spread easily and aren’t simple to get rid of, so you should always use brand new potting soil.
  • A healthy root or root tip will be white in color and look strong. Anything that looks different to this will likely be infected with root rot or another disease.

Say Goodbye to Root Rot

Say Goodbye to Root Rot

Try as we might to give our plants all of the attention and love they need, it’s easy for a disease like root rot to slip by you and do damage from time to time.

With this fungus, you might not notice at first that anything is amiss until the plant starts showing signs of damage and by then, it may be too late.

The best way to protect against root rot is with prevention and the key element is providing adequate drainage for your plants.

Whether it’s a raised garden bed, container, or pot, you’ll need to allow the soil to dry out correctly and prevent waterlogging in between watering, so a unique approach should be taken for each of your plants.

Related Questions

Root rot is one of many diseases that can affect our beloved garden plants, and it doesn’t discriminate between containers, pots, and garden beds either.

If you have more questions about health issues plaguing your plants or want to help them recover, check out some of these frequently asked ones to see if yours has been answered.

Why Are Plant’s Leaves Yellow?

There are many reasons why a plant might have yellow or discolored leaves but it’s usually because of hydration issues.

If a plant doesn’t receive enough waterit won’t be able to absorb the essential nutrients, so you may need to increase watering. In other cases, it can be due to a condition like root rot or lack of nutrients from poor fertilization, so be sure to check all avenues.

Can Plants Recover From Overwatering?

A plant that has been overwatered will show signs in its leaves or will develop issues in the roots as the soil has become waterlogged.

You’ll need to allow an overwatered plant to dry out and improve its drainage system, and then schedule watering for only when the plant needs it and the soil feels dry.


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