Wondering how to get rid of root rot? If your plants are wilting and you just can’t figure out why, this condition may be to blame.
This pesky disease presents symptoms similar to those you'd see if you underwatered.
But sadly, the root cause is typically the exact opposite - overwatering. Just about any kind of plant can suffer from root rot, but houseplants tend to be the most vulnerable.
You need to move quickly when you notice root rot signs. You will need sterilized scissors/shears, new potting soil, bleach, and a fungicide from your local nursery or garden center.
Quick Guide on How To Fix Root Rot
- Remove the plant from the pot and break off the soil from the root ball. Wash the plant roots under running water to clean the soil off.
- Use sterilized scissors to trim away rotting roots.
- Prune back the foliage of your plant. It’s heartbreaking but less foliage means the new smaller root system doesn’t have to work as hard and will have time to grow. Trim back the foliage at about the same rate as you had to remove roots (if you trimmed back ⅓ of the roots, trim back ⅓ of the foliage).
- Toss the rest of the original soil.
- Wash the pot with a bleach water solution to kill any fungus or bacteria.
- Dip the roots in a fungicide solution to prevent re-infection.
- Repot in new, clean potting soil.
Continue reading for the full guide and what root rot is and everything else you will need to know in order to identify and prevent it.
What Is Root Rot?
Root rot has two potential causes. On is prolonged exposure to moist conditions. When you overwater your plants, it can cause your roots to die back.
They are not only flooded out, but they struggle to access oxygen. As the plant roots die, they will rot away - hence the name of the disease.
Unfortunately, root rot isn’t something that is left to harm just one plant, either. As the roots continue to rot, the rot can easily spread to healthy roots and kill them, too - even if the initial problematic soil conditions are no longer present.
This is only a problem if you grow in a raised bed though. If you use individual containers for your plants like we recommend, you won't deal with this rapid spreading.
Root rot can also be caused by a fungus in the soil. This fungus can lie dormant in the soil, just biding its time until the optimal conditions occur.
Usually, the fungus will strike when your plant has been overwatered just once or twice. The root rot will go after the roots, quickly causing them to die back.
Signs Of Root Rot
There are a few telltale symptoms of root rot that you should be on the lookout for when you inspect your garden.
One is when the plant begins to wilt and the leaves start turning yellow.
The tricky part about root rot is that the symptoms often mimic those of plants that are underwatered.
Keep track of your watering habits to make sure that root rot is actually the issue - and not underwatering. This is pretty simple. if your soil is soggy, underwatering is obviously not the issue.
In general, you can check the roots if your plants are wilting for no apparent reason. To do this, remove the plant and feel its roots. This will stress your plant out, but it is a necessary diagnostic tool.
Roots affected by this condition will appear black and somewhat mushy. They might fall off the plant, too.
Compare this to healthy roots, which typically appear white and firm. You should be careful and gentle when touching your roots, but they won't break apart or fall off to the touch like a plant suffering from root rot would exhibit.
Plants that are affected by root rot also won't have small white rootlets near the top of the soil at the base of the plant.
Known as feeder roots, these roots are essential for providing your plant with everything it needs.
How to Prevent Root Rot
Its incredibly important that you work to prevent root rot in the first place. Once your roots start rotting and you see the symptoms, you'll have a tough time restoring conditions in your pot or container.
So, follow our advice below and you can drastically cut back on your risk of developing this condition altogether. Ultimately, preventing root rot comes down to choosing the proper pot and media, and practicing good watering hygiene.
Choose The Right Container & Grow Media
Preventing root rot starts with the very first day of your plants’ lives. You need to make sure you select the ideal container.
Look for a pot with proper drainage holes. Without good drainage, your plants are going to be more susceptible to root rot.
Additionally, you need to make sure that container is filled with soil that is well-draining. Too-dense soil is a breeding ground for root rot.
One great product that comes to mind to prevent root rot and overwatering is the Botanicare ReadyGro Aeration Formula, which provides excellent drainage. This has the added benefit of allowing you to feed more frequently. Check out our article on the best garden soils for more recommendations.
Sandy soil is the best draining option, so it’s uncommon for root rot to develop in light, sandy ground.
You may find that root rot appears after a bout of unusually wet weather. Unfortunately, if you are growing plants outdoors, there’s not much that you can do to prevent this. Just make sure you don’t continue to water your plants when the rainfall is already more than adequate.
Practice Good Watering Hygiene
The easiest and most effective way to prevent root rot is to practice good watering hygiene.
To determine whether your plant really needs to be watered, stick your finger in the soil up to your first knuckle (an inch at most). If the media is dry, this means you can water again.
We have an entire guide on how to properly water plants.
We recommend you start there before growing at all, as this will provide you the greatest chance of success, and allow you to avoid the most common mistake new growers make.
How To Get Rid Of Root Rot
There are several ways you can get rid of root rot. However, in order for any of them to be effective, you are going to need to act quickly.
This will give your plant the best chance at survival.
Clean & Trim Your Plant
When you first diagnose your plants with root rot, remove the plant from the soil.
Wash the roots beneath running water and get rid of as much soil (and the affected roots) as you can. Sick roots will just fall away, leaving behind mostly clean, healthy root mass.
Next, you need to use a clean pair of scissors to trim back any rotten roots. This could mean removing a large portion of the root system.
You might also have to remove part of the plant itself - up to a third or a half of the leaves on a plant, in fact.
This will give your plant a better shot at survival, since it won’t have quite as many leaves for the roots to nourish and support.
Basically, you're going to have to take a step back. Your plant will need to regrow most of its root mass, and things will be slow for a bit. Be patient!
Get Rid Of Old Soil & Clean Your Garden Pot
Whatever you do, don’t put the plant you are treating for root rot directly back into the original container it was grown in.
You need to get rid of the soil - and when that’s done, you should wash the container thoroughly with a cleaning solution.
This will remove any potential contaminants that could then re-infect the plant that you put back into the pot.
How To Use A Fungicide For Root Rot
You may also want to dip the remaining roots of your plant in a fungicide before you replant them.
This can help prevent the spread of pathogens to new plants (or to the roots of your affected plant).
After you’re finished with the fungicide, repot in clean potting soil.
Which Fungicides Are Best For Treating Root Rot?
Here at Hydrobuilder, we have all kinds of fungicides for root rot. These are specifically formulated to treat this condition, and here are some of our favorite:
- Organocide Plant Doctor Systemic Fungicide
- Central Coast Garden Products Root Cleaner Concentrate
- BioSafe TerraClean 5.0 Fungicide
- PureCrop1 Fungicide & Insecticide
Put Your Plant In A Bright Spot
For a few weeks, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about caring for your plants. Consider the fact that you just transplanted a sick plant, so it will be stressed for a while. Don't be discouraged if it continues looking sickly for a bit.
If they’re growing in containers, put them in a well-lit location and water only when the very top of the soil is dry.
Your plants should take root and bounce back in a few weeks!
Consider Transplanting to a New Location
If you’re growing plants in the ground and continue to have problems with root rot, it may be time to change up the scenery a bit.
You may want to transplant your plants to a spot that has soil that is more naturally well-draining. Don’t have the luxury of space?
You can add some compost where you intend to replant. This should provide a bit more structure so the soil drains better on its own.
Get Rid Of Root Rot By Checking Plants Often & Getting Ahead Of It
Left untreated, root rot can and will easily kill your plants. Unfortunately, for many gardeners, the extent of damage to their plants is so severe that they aren’t able to salvage their plants before the disease finishes wreaking its havoc.
Knowing the early warning signs (and causes) of root rot is vital. Make sure you are aware of all of the potential symptoms of this devastating disease.
Learning how to identify root rot can often make the difference between plants that make it and thrive - and those that are killed.
These tips on how to prevent and get rid of root rot should help you on your quest to become a better gardener! If you want to stay prepared for other bugs or illnesses, our article covering the top garden pesticides & fungicides is a must-read!