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Root Rot: How to Identify and Treat

Root rot is a dreadful realization that comes often too late. Root rot is often seen in plants when leaves start to yellow or wilt, and the plant starts to show signs of distress. Root rot is difficult to diagnose early on because the symptoms start manifesting in the roots, hence the name. I’m sure many of us are not checking our plants’ roots every day, leading to a late diagnosis of the problem in the roots. The most common causes of root rot are overwatering and poor drainage which create an opportunistic environment for fungi to overtake your plant. 

Overwatering seems like an easy situation to fix, just water your plants less. But really to fix the issue of overwatering we need to look at what other factors might be influencing your plant to become overwatered. 

Some factors that can decrease your chances of overwatering your plant include:

  • Raised plant beds 
  • Sandy type soil 
  • Bottom watering house plants 
  • Adding compost to the soil 

All of these examples allow your plants to get rid of unneeded water. Specifically, sandy-type soil allows for better drainage since it holds on to water less, allowing it to flow through. Rather than clay-like soils which hold onto water for long periods. Bottom watering plants is a technique where your plant is placed in a bowl or container filled with water so that the dry bottom of the plant takes up water to the rest of the plant, and the plant stops absorbing water when it is wet. This decreases the chance of overwatering your plant since it only takes up as much water as it needs. 

If these preventative measures do not end up working, and your plant still ends up with root rot, there are still measures to be taken to help it survive. If you begin to notice your plant is wilting, growing smaller leaves, or the leaves are yellowing despite your normal treatment routine, it might be time to start considering root rot. To determine if your house plant has root rot remove the plant from its pot or container and remove all soil from the roots. Observe if any of the roots are darker in color and if the plant has an odor. If the soil was very damp these are all signs of root rot. If you are observing a plant in the ground or a planter, dig a small hole in the soil close to the plant, but not too close so you don’t cut any roots. If the soil in the hole is watery this might indicate that your plant is being overwatered. If the soil is dry this might indicate that you are underwatering your plant. 

To treat the plant, you can: 

  • Dig up the plant or remove it from its container and remove all soil to observe the roots 
  • Observe the color of the roots and if they have an odor
  • Wash off the roots to see if any other outliers could indicate there are changes happening in the roots. 
  • Remove the diseased roots from the plant by cutting them with a clean tool 
  • Improve the soil in the ground or container with a dryer type soil or add compost 
  • Return the plant and avoid overwatering by watering your plants on a routine 

If root rot is a consistent issue with your plants or garden, consider choosing plants that thrive in a damper environment. Some of these species include ponds plants like lilies and irises or marsh marigolds. 

Best of luck in planting, 

Jenna Johnston