Root rot can be a very discouraging disease, especially if you tend to a garden with clay-heavy soil. Root rot thrives in cold-ish and damp conditions making it a common problem for waterlogged soils. Not all hope is lost once your plants have contracted this disease, timely actions can not only subdue the spread of Root rot but also save the infected plant.
9 Steps to save your plants from Root rot:
- Identify the issue – Are you facing root rot or just waterlogged roots
- Get the plant to a save space
- Trim away any dead or infected roots
- Re-pot the plant in a sterilized environment
- Use appropriate products like Fungicide, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Alcohol for your tools.
- Adjust your soil to avoid conditions in which root rot thrive
- Check nearby plants for root rot indicators.
- Prevent future cases of root rot by improving growing conditions.
- Clean up infected soil and sterilize your tools
Is it possible to save plants from root rot
Root rot is one of the more common ailments among plants. If your greens have contracted root rot, timely action can not only stop the further spread of the disease but also save the plant entirely.
As with all types of diseases, the first step towards the cure is the correct diagnosis. Once you identify the root of the problem, it is only a matter of eliminating the cause and applying the right treatment. Once you find the telltale signs of root rot, immediate action can prevent healthy roots from catching it. However, if you delay the treatment or fail to notice it in time, and all the plant roots rot away, only then is the damage beyond repair.
Since roots are underground, you can’t immediately tell if there’s anything wrong with them until you see signs on the stem and leaves. By the time you begin seeing the foliage getting pale and falling off, your plant has already contracted the disease. Only immediate treatment can save the plant from certain death and bring it back to health.
How to fix root rot (Focus on fixing root rot without the use of products)
Luckily, there is still a lot you can do before chucking your diseased plants in the trash. With timely diagnosis, precise treatment, and proper looking-after, plants infected with root rot can make a full recovery.
Once you get a confirmation that your plant is indeed suffering from root rot, there are three things for you to do. First, you have to remove the plant from rot-causing conditions immediately. Then, you must trim away the infected bits from the healthy ones. After that, you have to re-pot the plant in a safe environment and carefully help it recover its strength. So here’s how to go through each of these steps:
Getting the plant away from the infected zone
First things first: move your plant away from the rot. Uproot the plant cautiously, taking care not to damage the stem, leaves, or roots in the process. Now that you have removed the plant from the soil, it’s time to remove the soil from the plant.
Rinse the roots thoroughly under tap water – cold water preferably. Clean all traces of dirt from the roots and scrutinize them. You need to check the extent of infection and identify which roots are infested. If you can’t see any healthy roots, then there is no use in treating the plant. You’re better off throwing it away. However, if you’re lucky enough to find a few signs of life among the rot and ruin, you should move on to the next step.
Trimming away the dead and dying bits
Take a sharp tool – like scissors, snips, or shears – and start cutting off all the roots that appear brown, slimy, or rotten. Healthy roots can be identified by the presence of smaller, hair-like feeder roots or rootlets. The absence of rootlets means the root is no longer alive – snip it off. Once you’re done, sterilize the cutting utensil to kill off any leftover fungus that may be residing on it.
Now that your plant is only left with healthy roots, you need to make sure they can bear the burden above the ground. The plant won’t be absorbing nutrients as effectively now that its root system is depleted. Therefore, you should also snip a third to half of the leaves of the plant. This will lighten the load on the healthy roots and aid in plant recovery.
Re-pot the plant in a more favorable environment
Now that you have a healthy plant on your hands, you can plant it back underground. However, you should know that this plant needs special care. That’s why it needs to be grown in a suitable environment where it can recuperate more effectively.
Whether your plant was growing in a pot or garden before, you should place it in a clean container now. If you’re re-using the pot from earlier, make sure to throw away the soil and clean the pot thoroughly before putting the plant back in. Also, ensure the container has draining holes at the bottom.
After placing the plant in a new pot, you need to give it a fresh substrate. However, this cannot be regular garden soil, for it carries fungal spores and pathogens which can attack the plant in its fragile state. Use dry, light, and sterilized potting mix.
From there on out, water the plant only when the substrate feels dry to the touch. Do not be tempted into using fertilizer just yet, as a weakened plant may get shocked and die. Wait for the roots to take hold and for the plant to start producing new leaves. Once it does, pat yourself on the back; you’ve nurtured a dying plant back to life!
Best products for root rot
While treating root rot can be effectively done using home-made solutions, there are products available in the market which claim to be helpful against root rot.
Premade potting mix is disinfected and sterile and is perfect for use in potted plants. This way, the plants get a clean environment to recover and grow without the threat of any pre-existing fungi in the substrate.
Fungicide claims to rid the soil from fungi. However, it isn’t of any help unless you know what type of fungus is troubling your plants. Once you narrow down the culprit, use the appropriate fungicide to treat the soil and infected plants’ roots.
It is vital to cleanse your tools, gloves, and shoes when working with diseased plants. Rubbing alcohol is readily available and quickly cleans any microbes lingering on your garden equipment.
Hydrogen Peroxide for Root rot
You probably know hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant or bleach, but it has excellent use in your garden as well. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of hydrogen peroxide make it a potent concoction against various plant diseases, including root rot.
While hydrogen peroxide has various proven benefits for plants, you have to be careful with its quantity and concentration. Using it in higher concentrations or too frequently will be detrimental to the plant. Think of hydrogen peroxide as a medicine – you wouldn’t use medicine unless you have a disease to treat.
How does hydrogen peroxide work?
H2O2 chemically represents hydrogen peroxide. As you can see, it’s like water but with an extra oxygen molecule. This extra oxygen, when released, wreaks havoc on small organisms like bacteria and fungi. It also expands when the oxygen releases and can be great for evenly aerating your tightly-packed soil.
When I said the extra oxygen kills small organisms, I mean it kills ALL small organisms. This also includes helpful microbes and bacteria that are necessary for a plant’s growth. That’s why using hydrogen peroxide regularly can do more harm than good.
Hydrogen peroxide is available in 3%, 6%, 9% and higher concentrations. To treat root rot, we will talk about the 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. We will also discuss two aspects of hydrogen peroxide in the context of root rot: prevention and treatment.
How to use hydrogen peroxide for root rot prevention?
Hydrogen peroxide can be used to prevent root rot from ever-growing, especially in potted plants. Treating the soil with peroxide and water before potting sterilizes it. This will kill off any pests, larvae, and most importantly, fungal spores that may be present in the soil.
Fill an empty container with a substrate. Make sure the container has proper drainage at the bottom. Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide in 9 parts plain water. Generously douse the substrate with this solution. You will notice hissing and bubbling of the releasing oxygen as the soil expands. Let all the solution drain from the bottom and let the substrate dry. After it’s dry, you may plant your greens of choice in that pot.
How to use hydrogen peroxide for root rot treatment?
If your potted plant has already contracted root rot, hydrogen peroxide can be an effective treatment. If you have a very mild case of overwatering, you don’t even need to uproot the plant for treatment.
Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide into 9 parts of water. Pour this solution on the soil of your plant. It will simmer and fizz. Make sure the pot has adequate drainage at the bottom and let the solution drain from the bottom. Let the soil dry out completely and water it with the same solution for a few more days. The peroxide will effectively kill any living thing hiding in your roots without harming the plant. It will also evenly aerate the substrate and provide a boost of pure oxygen to your roots.
For severe root rot cases, taking the plant out and giving it the full treatment is necessary. After treating your plant using the method mentioned above, fill a pot with fresh soil and sterilize it using hydrogen peroxide solution, as discussed before. Your recuperating plant has a much better chance of recovery in this sterilized soil.
Avoid Conditions in which root rot thrives
When roots drown, they suffocate and die. Overwatered conditions, inadequate drainage, and poor aeration also allow naturally occurring soil fungi to overgrow and attack the plant roots, infecting them and killing them off, one by one.
Fungi like Pythium, Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, Phytophthora, and Armillaria may lie dormant in your soil. But once favorable conditions are available, they thrive, overgrow, infect, and spread among the roots.
Even if your soil is sterilized from all these fungi, your plants can still contract root rot if the conditions are met. So, what exactly causes are favorable conditions for root rot?
Watering your plants too frequently or too much can form ideal conditions for root rot. Fungi love damp, cold-ish conditions (55-65°F // 13°-18°C), and overwatered soil is perfect for their propagation. Roots affected by the fungus begin to die and decay, and the fungus spreads from root to root quickly. This, in turn, deprives your plant of feeding on nutrients, and it slowly begins to die.
Once your roots have contracted rot, simply removing the overwatered conditions won’t do. Dead roots can’t come back to life. And leaving them decaying with healthy roots will just spread the rot. Similarly, once the fungus has spread, it will continue to feast on your roots even if you stop watering your plants.
You may not be pouring an excessive quantity of water on your plants, yet they may still show signs of rot. This happens when the water has nowhere to go and stays in the soil, and thus, the roots of the plant. This has the same effect as overwatering your plants and would invite root rot.
Stagnant water keeping the roots damp provides the perfect conditions for fungi to thrive. This will promulgate root rot the same way overwatering does. And once your roots get infected, it’s only a matter of time before the fungi spread to other roots and, eventually, other plants in proximity.
Poor drainage deprives plants of oxygen. While it may not seem like a characteristic of something that stays underground, roots do need to breathe. By remaining submerged, roots get deprived of oxygen and start to die. As they die, they rot, affecting other nearby roots as well.
As you’ve read above, roots need to breathe. Proper aeration of the soil helps roots absorb fresh oxygen efficiently. If your dirt is too densely packed, plants will have a tough time absorbing any oxygen through their roots. This will suffocate the roots and cause them to weaken.
Fine-grain soil packs tightly and allows little space for aeration. It also has a higher moisture-retaining capacity than soil with coarse grain. Water retention is desirable for your outdoor plants during hot and dry seasons. However, if your environment doesn’t get hot all that often, this trapped moisture can invite root rot. Either use coarse soil or mix organic additives like pine bark, shredded leaves, grass clippings, etc., into your soil to improve its quality.
The wrong type of pots
Plants growing in containers are usually more susceptible to root rot as they don’t offer the natural drainage that the ground has. Your pots must have adequate drainage holes at the bottom to let excess water flow off. Plastic pots aren’t porous like clay pots and don’t offer the same ventilation clay pots have; they must have drain holes.
If you use a drainage tray below your pots, make sure to empty it regularly to prevent the excess water from getting absorbed back by the soil. If your containers are big and emptying the tray is inconvenient, spread a layer of gravel on the tray before putting your pot onto it. The gravel will elevate the container and keep the water runoff separate from the soil.
Tall pots have better drainage than short ones. This is because the soil passes water down quicker in tall pots under the influence of gravity. Small-sized pots retain humidity longer and can be easily overwatered.
You have another problem If your pots are too cramped, and your plant has been growing in them for a while. The roots may have grown so dense that they ruin the drainage and aeration capabilities of the soil. This can also lead to conditions favorable for rot. Consider carefully moving the plant to a better-sized pot with enough room for the roots to spread.
Soil gets contaminated once a plant has contracted root rot in it. Even if you manage to remove the affected plant and treat its roots, planting it in the same soil will ascertain a root rot re-infection. Fungal spores in that soil can lie dormant for long periods and quickly regenerate if they get favorable conditions.
If your soil has been home to a previous case of root rot, it is now useless and must be discarded. There is no way to recover that soil. Empty the pot and fill it with fresh soil with good drainage. If the case took place in your garden, all nearby plants that sit in that soil are at risk. Carefully remove the plants and change the substrate. Check those plants for rot before planting them in the fresh soil.
If you suspect a large area of your garden to be infected, changing the soil may not be that practical an option. In this case, you may consider solarization of the soil bed or a fungicide drench. For best results, consider seeking professional help if the situation is dire.
Growing in pots vs. in the ground
Plants grown in pots and containers are more susceptible to root rot. However, plants sown outdoors are not entirely safe from this disease.
Growing in pots
Pots and other types of containers have limited space where excess water can spread to. If the container is small, even a little extra water stays collected in a closed space. This will slow down evaporation and keep the soil wetter and more humid.
This isn’t much of a problem in larger-sized pots. There is plenty of soil to absorb excess water, and the surface area allows for better evaporation. The pot’s extra height allows gravity to pull excess water more effectively to the bottom, where it can drain out from holes.
Of course, no pot will keep plants alive for long if it doesn’t have drainage holes. These holes work best if they’re at the bottom of the pot to allow water pulled down by gravity to seep away. If your pot doesn’t have drain holes in them, either drill them yourself or use them as decorative cache pots to cover a regular pot.
Clay pots have pores that let some excess water seep out and allow the roots to breathe. However, they must have a bottom hole (or holes if the pot is large). The natural aeration and ability to drain water partially through their walls give clay pots a significant edge over plastic pots.
Growing in ground
In the ground, you would think that water has a lot of places to go to. Also, the outdoor wind and sunshine assist in the evaporation of moisture from the soil.
Sadly, the threat of root rot still looms over garden plants. Root rot can affect any plant, no matter how small or big. Even fully grown trees can fall victim to this disease and wither away. Soil with high humidity is a breeding ground for the rot-causing fungi. Hot weather propagates the growth of mold and mildew, and watering garden plants excessively can subject them to rot much like potted plants.
What’s worse about rot contracted in garden soil is that it can spread in all directions. This is unlike the root rot of potted plants, which stays restricted to one pot and doesn’t automatically spread. Fungi can extend their reach more effectively outdoors through the wind, water runoff, bugs, and dirty garden tools. In addition, plants close to the diseased ones can easily get infected. If left untreated, root rot can make the whole garden perish.
Watch out for the Signs of root rot
Some signs are telltale of root rot. These appear all over your plant, and a gardener should take immediate action once any of these conditions arise.
The first thing that should cause alarm that your plant is living in unfavorable conditions is the soil’s humidity. If your soil feels moist to the touch up until 1-2 inches, you are overwatering your plant.
The leaves of an affected plant start wilting. They may also begin to lose their color, turning pale or brown. This is a clear sign that your roots are suffocating.
A sniff test can tell a lot about what’s going on underground with your plant. If you sniff the soil near the bottom of your greens, you will smell rot and decay. This is because the roots underneath are dying.
If you take a plant with root rot out of the ground, you will see the roots are turning brown and mushy. Healthy roots will be white with rootlets growing from them. Diseased and dead roots will be darker and void of rootlets.
Symptoms of root rot
Root rot sets your plants on a fast track towards death. The typical progression of the process is as follows:
- To start the rot cycle, overwatered conditions are necessary. Once that happens, the process truly begins. Overwatered conditions are evident from the high humidity of the soil.
- Once your soil becomes overwatered, it will become a difficult place for the roots to breathe. This will suffocate them and significantly hinder their ability to absorb nutrients. Above the surface, the leaves will begin losing their color and wilting.
- As the roots choke and begin to die, they will also start to rot. This rot will spread to other roots that are also drowning and weak. Above the surface, the leaves will start falling off.
- If your soil has fungal spores present, they will significantly benefit from the humidity and multiply. The weakened roots will be a perfect feast for them.
- The spores will aid the rot and accelerate the plant’s death. You will be able to smell this decay near the plant’s bottom.
- Once all the roots have died off, your plant will lose any semblance of life and wither away.
Different Types of root rot (Different fungi that cause Root rot, whats the difference)
|Armillaria||Causes shoestring rot|
|Phytophthora cactorum||Causes cankers on trees|
|Phymatotrichopsis omnivora||Causes Texas root rot|
|Rosellinia necatrix||Causes white rot|
|Pythium||Forms thread-like tendrils in roots|
Most common in the Southwest, Armillaria causes shoestring rot. It specializes in affecting trees and can easily infect smaller plants and their roots. This fungus is found in a dormant form in soils worldwide and can flourish once it meets favorable conditions and a host.
This appears as a water mold and is found in places where standing water is abundant. In gardens, it can attack various plants if they are being overwatered. Phytophthora prefers warm, humid environments and can be prevented by ensuring adequate drainage.
This fungus loves infecting fruit-bearing plants, but the most common victim is the cotton plant. This fungus is one of the leading causes of loss in cotton crops. The fungus can turn the stem brown, and the roots are littered with brown threads of this fungus. Proper aeration can prevent this fungus from developing.
Rosellinia necatrix is a diverse fungus affecting a wide range of plants. It is one of the pathogens associated with white root rot disease. Affected trees exhibit white or gray mats. Its development in the soil can be controlled by solarization and using fungicides. Treating and sterilizing the soil can eliminate the chances of this rot forming.
Pythium isn’t exactly a fungus but spreads like oomycetes. It is characterized by thin threads extending outwards from the infected plant. Soil with high salt contents is most susceptible. Furthermore, it proliferates in wet conditions. Once Pythium infects the plants, removal of the plant and full treatment is necessary.
What happens if you leave root rot unchecked
Simply put. Your plant will die. If that’s not bad enough, leaving root rot to flourish will sentence your other plants to doom as well.
Let’s say one of your plants is showing early signs of root rot. Leaving it untreated will worsen the condition with passing time.
- Your leaves will begin to wilt. You might be tempted to water the plant more, thinking the wilt is due to them being thirsty. Doing this will only make things worse.
- Your leaves will then start to lose coloration. They won’t appear as green and will either start getting pale, yellow, white, brown, or black. This is a clear sign that your plant is suffocating.
- The plant will give off a distinct rotting odor from near the root. The stem will start to brown, and any remaining foliage on the plant will wilt and die.
- Now that your plant is dead, the soil is rich with fungal spores. These can be airborne and can be carried off via several agents.
- If those fungal spores do get carried off, the nearby plants will get infected. However, the rot will only take hold if overwatered conditions are present. Once any of your plants experience these conditions, the spores will flourish and attack the host plant’s roots.
- These plants will, in turn, infect other nearby plants. Soon enough, root rot will spread to all parts of your garden.
- Now that your whole garden is a ticking time-bomb, the soil is virtually useless for any sort of agriculture. Anything planted in the garden will ultimately contract root rot, and the ground will become barren.
How to prevent root rot
They say prevention is better than cure. This is true for root rot as well. The best way to save your plants from contracting this disease is to ensure none of the conditions which cause roots to rot is ever formed.
The biggest culprit, in this case, is water. Yes, water is life, but excessive water that keeps the soil wet for prolonged periods will sentence your roots to doom.
If your soil is waterlogged, the roots won’t receive enough oxygen. And just like any other living thing deprived of oxygen, they will start dying. As your roots begin to die, they will rot, and the decay will spread to other roots. At this point, even if you fix the overwatered conditions of the soil, it would be too late, and the roots will keep on rotting until your plant dies.
To keep rot-friendly conditions from ever developing, here are some steps you need to take:
Ensure proper drainage
If you are growing your flora in a container, such as pots, you need to make sure they let the water drain instead of storing it in. This is especially true for plastic pots. Clay pots are naturally porous, which allows water to evaporate, yet that evaporation is still not enough, and they too need to have a drainage hole for excess water to escape.
For garden plants, improve drainage by adding rocks or pebbles underneath the soil. Or by planting your greens in a raised bed.
Water only when needed
Instead of watering all your plants heavily at once, you need to understand each plant has different watering needs, and you may be giving some plants more water than they need.
An easy way to know when to water a plant is to dig an inch into the soil surrounding the stem and check how it feels before watering. In case it feels dry, then water away. However, if it feels humid, then you don’t need to water the plant. If it feels too damp, you may need to cut back on its water intake and check for signs of rot.
Take special care when watering during winter seasons or humid days. If you use sprinklers, run them only when needed and make sure the water evenly covers all parts of the garden instead of puddling at certain spots.
Use the correct soil
If your soil is too fine or too densely packed, it can trap moisture for extended periods. It can also suffocate the plant as the roots aren’t able to breathe in soil too dense. Use coarse grain soil with good drainage. Try mixing organic additives to lighten the substrate. Never re-use infected soil.
For plants growing in containers, use a ready-made potting mix instead of using garden soil. Garden soil carries fungi spores and weed seeds that may attack your potted plants. Garden soil is also denser and retains water longer, making it unsuitable for potted plants, for it may increase the chances of their roots getting rot.
Conversely, don’t use potting mix in your garden. It is too expensive and lacks sufficient nutrients to sustain your garden plants.
When choosing the soil for your plants, make sure you do it based on the type of plants you’ll be growing in it. Each plant has different nutritional needs and water requirements. For plants that don’t require too much water, dense soil would invite rot. For plants that need lots of water, light soil would dry them.
Let your roots breath
Your roots need oxygen. Without proper ventilation, they will rot and die. Keeping the soil wet, using finely packed dirt, and not having adequate drainage will suffocate your plant’s roots.
Regularly aerating the soil allows your plants’ roots to breathe while also letting excess moisture escape. Just make sure you don’t injure plant roots in the process. Some friendly critters like earthworms dig holes in the soil, naturally aerating it without harming the roots.
Give your plants the right amount of sunshine
Lack of proper lighting can also promote root rot. However, it would be best if you don’t go overboard with it. You must take the sunlight requirements of each plant into account and keep the exposure within those limits.
Too much sunlight is just as detrimental to your plants as too little sunlight. Root rot also thrives in warmth, and if your soil has poor drainage, sunlight will only enhance rot growth in the damp underground layer of your garden or pot.
Control the spread
Root rot can spread. The fungal spores responsible for destroying one of your plants can infect and kill your other plants if you’re not careful. Root rot can spread through wind, insects, water runoff, dirty garden utensils, soil transfer, or it can simply grow far enough underground to affect the roots of nearby plants.
When you see signs of rot in your plants, immediately isolate them from the rest. Inspect the plants nearby for any signs of decay and closely monitor them for any abnormalities. The isolated plants must be treated and recovered in a separate space where the rot cannot spread by any means.
When you remove an infected plant from its bed, you also need to get rid of the soil it was growing in. If replacing the substrate is difficult, or if the affected area is large, solarize it or use an appropriate fungicide to kill off any remaining fungal spores. Make sure you match the fungicide with the type of fungus you’re trying to kill.
After working on disease-ridden plants, make sure to sterilize and clean your utensils before using them again. Fungal spores from sick plants can easily transfer via dirty tools to healthy plants and begin their cycle anew. Use an alcohol solution to clean your plants and gloves after working on infected plants or soil.
It’s a good practice to keep different types of plants separated from each other. This will ensure plants with different nutritional and hydration needs don’t mix. This will also make it easier for you to pick the right type of soil.
Some plants are more susceptible to diseases like root rot. Growing other sensitive plants near them will give root rot fungi a large area to prosper with many easy targets. Keeping sensitive plants away from other sensitive plants will minimize the chances of rot to develop and control the spread.
If you haven’t been overwatering your plants, perhaps you were overfeeding them. Some amateur gardeners may be tempted to use excessive fertilizers, thinking it to be some magical growth potion. Fertilizers are not magic, and you can very easily have your plants overdose on them.
Excessive use of fertilizers can lead to conditions similar to root rot. And the treatment for over-fertilization is the same as the treatment for root rot: remove the plant, wash its roots, and plant it in fresh soil.
Does root rot spread?
Root rot is contagious. The fungal spores responsible for rot can spread through gardening tools, bugs, water runoff, even via air. Plants closest to those diseased ones are particularly susceptible. The risk gets somewhat reduced if you’re growing your plants in individual pots.
Does root rot contaminate soil (Should you throw out the soil?)
Yes. Not only does root rot affect the plant, but it also leaves the soil unfit for use. If one of your plants’ contract root rot in a patch of soil, sowing another plant in the same soil will likely lead to the same result. The affected plant’s soil is contaminated and must be discarded.
Can plants recover on their own from root rot?
Once a plant has contracted root rot, it needs to be treated with the methods mentioned above before you can hope to revive it. Without treating rot, hoping a few waterless days will fix things, is dooming your plant. However, depending on the rot’s intensity, plants can recover on their own IF they have been treated.
Photo in Thumbnail by Fk