How To Treat Root Rot and Maintain A Healthy Root System

Last Updated on November 26, 2021 by Grow with Bovees

Ever wonder what may cause your plant leaves to yellow or even worse, what may hinder it to grow into a healthy mature plant?

It’s frustrating, right?

Let me start by telling you what you probably already know.

Most plants are susceptible to a fair number of plant diseases caused by pests, bacterial infections and fungal spores if not given the correct growing conditions.

These issues are not limited to garden root rot issues and are quite common in indoor-grown container plants but can also occur in garden plants.

Most pests are fairly easy to spot, as they often sit around the leaves and stem above the plants’ soil, and you may see some mold on the pot which might require further investigation.

But what about organisms affecting your shrub from below the soil?

Fungal infections that may cause rotting roots, for example.

When a fungus inhabits potting soil, it slowly starts damaging the roots and plant roots start to develop a condition known as root rot.

Even experienced gardeners often only become aware of a root rot problem once it is advanced and the top half of the shrub starts showing symptoms such as leaf discoloration and stunted growth.

There are a few environmental factors that may cause root rot.

This, in turn, means that it can be prevented — which is great news.

It is of great importance to act immediately when your plant starts showing symptoms of root rot.

Wait too long, and your precious baby may come to a point of no return.

What Is Root Rot?

Root rot is a fast-spreading disease that causes the decay of the root system of plants due to fungal infection.

It makes plant roots go black and mushy, thus inhibiting the transport of vital nutrients to the rest of the plant. If left alone, it later causes mushy stems or even puffy stems and will eventually kill your shrub.

Fungi, viruses, oomycetes — more commonly known as water mold — and bacteria may cause this disease in roots.

To be more specific, some of the more common disease-spreading organisms are Pythium, Fusarium, Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia.

These shall not be discussed individually, as treatment stays the same for all of them.

What Causes Root Rot?

There are a few environmental stress factors and improper conditions that contribute to this issue.

A good fact to remember is that root-rotting pathogens survive and multiply best in soggy conditions. So you can imagine, that potting soil which is too moist, makes for great breeding grounds for fungal spores.

A stressful environment and inadequate conditions are the main reason why any plant catches unwanted pathogens and diseases. These stress factors include wrong light conditions, humidity inaccuracies and improper climate, just to name a few.

Let me continue by discussing a few individual disease-inducing factors.

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Soggy soil is the number one reason that makes root rot occur. Too much water is not greatly handled by greens and makes for the best rotting grounds causing fungal infections.

Overwatering also decreases oxygen levels in the soil and the plant’s roots eventually suffocate due to drowning and lack of oxygen.

Poor Drainage

Dense and heavy soil tends to hold onto the water given to it eventually causing the soil to become waterlogged, drying out and becoming hard. This is why well-draining fresh soil is advised for most plants.

Indoor plant pots should be bought with sufficient drainage holes in order for excess water to run out, it goes without saying that the drainage hole must not be allowed to become blocked.

Avoid placing a layer of rocks at the bottom of your soil. This only creates a pool of stagnant water, leaving your plants roots to sit in the water over longer periods of time — the perfect ground for fungal growth.

Oversized Pots

You might mean well when buying a bigger pot and thinking of providing your plant with enough growing room. This may also save you the effort of repotting your plant in the future.

But more space means more soil which again means bigger grounds for breeding problems.

Also, empty sections of the soil may become waterlogged. These spaces are referred to as dead zones. The proper container size for your particular plant size is therefore vital.

The Wrong Container

Many houseplant containers made of clay may be heavy and appear bulky, but they come with a great advantage.

They are porous. This means that water can actually seep through its walls and evaporate providing the soil with room to breathe, making clay pots the better option.

Non-permeable containers such as plastic grower pots or metal containers are not a good choice. A plastic grower pot or glazed containers trap moisture thus enhancing wet conditions

Identification and Symptoms of Root Rot

Root rot is easily identified by the changing of the appearance of the roots. But if caught timely, with an only mild infection, severe root rot may be prevented.

A healthy plant should have white and firm roots. They are then considered as healthy roots, whereas infected roots will display a brown color and will start to feel soft and mushy.

Mushy roots and brown roots are two of the early symptoms of garden root rot issues.

The fungus usually develops in the outer parts of the root system first.

It is able to multiply and spread throughout the plant quickly, causing the roots to die piece by piece until it eventually affects the entire root ball.

The plant with its mushy roots is now unable to absorb nutrients as it did before, which in turn causes deficiencies. A lack of nutrients is then later revealed in the condition of plant foliage.

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The leaves will start to adapt a yellowish color and eventually wither and fall off. Your plants’ growth may be stunted and blooming would slow down, which are more advanced symptoms of root rot of late stage infection.

In severe root rot conditions where a fast-spreading fungus is present, the plant may reach the end of life within 10 days.

Soft Root Rot

There is a different kind of root rot that is usually present in succulents and baby plants. It is known as soft rot. This kind of rot is commonly seen in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes.

Soft rot is a bacterial infection also known as Erwinia soft rot. Smaller, immature plants are most susceptible to this kind of disease.

The Erwinia bacteria slowly feeds on the inside plant tissue after dissolving the plant material making it almost liquid.

This kind of bacteria usually enters the plant through a wounded area caused by stress on the plant. This also includes the use of dirty gardening tools such as shears or scissors. It is therefore important to sterilize tools before pruning your shrub.

Soft rot is quite easily spotted. At first, it will resemble a scab followed by dark brown or black discoloration surrounding the wound. The diseased part will start to feel soggy and it may even secrete liquid.

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do when your greens have been infected by the Erwinia bacteria.

It is, however, preventable.

Treat any wounds or cuts by immediately applying a natural fungicide solution. Commercial fungicides will also do the trick, but make sure to use a mild fungicide, succulents are quite sensitive. You can also make use of hydrogen peroxide on your plants.

Be sure not to overwater your succulents, make sure the soil is dry between waterings. Avoid areas of high humidity levels.

How To Prevent Root Rot

It is always better and easier to prevent an infection rather than having to cure it.

Treatment is sometimes more difficult and saving the entire plant may be impossible if treated too late.

Start by adopting a proper water routine for each individual shrub. This is of high importance. Plants do not live well in wet soil.

Provide your plant with fresh, well-draining soil and make sure the pot you use has adequate drainage holes. This will aid to adequately drain excess water and prevent water accumulation in the bottom of your pot.

The last thing you want is for your shrub’s roots to sit in water over a longer period of time.

Remember that your roots are in need of sufficient air circulation to survive.

Dense waterlogged soil causes a lack of oxygen concentrations. Allowing the top inches of the soil to dry before watering will aid in oxygen level absorption and will even make for extra oxygen in the soil.

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An easy way to check the soil for excess moisture is to stick your finger into the soil surface and wiggle it around in small circles. Delay watering if moisture is felt on the soil surface.

The frequency of watering depends on the season and surrounding temperatures. Summer seasons and warmer months, call for an increase in watering, whereas drier and colder months are times of less frequent watering.

Lastly, it is important to be present and observe your plant regularly. This way you’ll be able to catch symptoms early on and act quickly to treat them before your plant becomes severely ill and perishes. Early detection of root rot is key.

Treating Root Rot

With the above information, you should now be able to identify if and when your greens get infected with root rot. If you suspect root rot disease, you need to decide whether your plant can be saved.

Your plant is beyond saving if the entire root system has turned mushy. If you however notice any parts that are still white and firm, you might just be able to treat and cure your plant.

If healthy roots are present, replanting them into fresh sterile soil is where you should start. Clean the roots of moist, clumpy infected soil softly using running water, followed by removing all the brown, mushy affected roots by pruning them at the healthy part just above the damaged part using a clean scissor.

In order to stop the spread of fungal spores, sterilize the tool you use for pruning with a bleach and water mixture.

Remove any discolored leaves that look like they are fading or dying. And make sure the leaf cuttings are discarded properly to avoid the spread of disease.

Conclusion Of How To Maintain Healthy Roots

As mentioned above, root rot is a common issue for gardeners. But preventing root rot, and if not, treating it correctly and as soon as possible, will avoid root rot or even prevent root rot and will save your plant.

Proper tender, love and care are all you need to do to keep your plant healthy. And it will eventually grow into a great and mature piece of greenery.

Remember, too much water causes fungus and is one of the main causes of unhappy plants causing browning leaves and leaf mold due to root rot.

Don’t be too eager to water your container plants, feel your soil, keep an eye on the appearance of your plant and don’t be afraid to repot the shrub into fresh soil if necessary. Because let’s face it, nobody wants a dead plant on their hands.