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What Does Root Rot Look Like? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

So, what does root rot look like?

A plant with rotten roots looks as if it never had a chance to adore the felicity of life. There is no disparity between a plant with root rot and a body without a soul.

And it all happens because of our subtle mistakes and our slight neglect.

Today, we are going to talk all about root rot. In this article, you will find the reasons behind this affliction, its symptoms, and how can we treat our gorgeous green buddies from it?

Further, we will also discuss how to prevent root rot from happening in the future.

So, without further ado, let’s get straight into our topic.

What Does Root Rot Look Like? – A Complete and Ultimate Root Rot Guide

Let’s start our talk with the actual rot. What is root rot?

Root Rot

  • Root Rot is a process in which the roots deprived of oxygen and nutrients die.
  • They often turn black and mushy and break off with even a slight touch, leaving behind a thin thread-like structure that’s remaining of the healthy rootlets.
Identifying and treating root rot in Hoyas. - what does root rot look like
“Identifying and treating root rot in Hoyas” Image via Imgur.

Rotting is a decomposition process in which the dead organic substances are broken down into simple materials like CO2 and water.

There are actually two kinds of decomposition. One is aerobic, and the other one is anaerobic.

Aerobic decomposition is a decaying process that occurs in the presence of oxygen.

Anaerobic decomposition is also a decaying process but in the absence of oxygen.

Root rot is a process of anaerobic decomposition.

The major driving forces behind the rotting process are the decomposers such as fungi and bacteria. That’s why roots sitting in a pool of water are more susceptible to rot; I’ll elaborate on this further in the article.

Rotten roots are unable to absorb water, oxygen, and nutrients. And as a result, the plant suffers from fanatic stress.

Now that you know about the term… let’s head towards the symptoms associated with root rot.

What are the Symptoms of Root Rot?

The characteristic visual symptoms and signs of root rot in plants include:

  • Wilting and yellowing of leaves (chlorosis).
  • Drooping of leaves.
  • Leaves margins turn brown in some plants.
  • Sudden decline in growth or slow growth as compared to a healthy plant.
  • Branches and leaves die off from the plant.

As you can see above, most symptoms and signs of root rot are similar to pest infestations or some viral infections in the plants. Therefore, you should take immediate action if you see any of the above symptoms in your houseplant.

Also, some plants become dormant during winter seasons and show shunted growth. Therefore, to be sure of the root rot, you have to take your plant out of the pot.

How to Take Your Plant Out of the Pot?

You should do this carefully. Don’t just grab and pull the plant out from the pot; you can damage the foliage.

To do it:

  • First, check if the plant is loosely or tightly bound to the pot.
  • If it seems a little loose, just turn the pot upside down — grabbing the pot with one arm — and let the gravity do the job.
  • If it is tightly bound, shake and pound the pot lightly with the table or ground.
  • Then carefully take your plant out.
  • If you feel it difficult, your plant might be bone dry. You can water your plant thoroughly to make it come out swiftly.

Note: If your plant is rooted directly into the ground, you can use any type of conventional gardening tool to dig your plant out. But you still have to be very careful that you don’t damage any healthy roots.

What Does Root Rot Look Like?

So, what does root rot look like. Now that you have your plant — and roots — in front of you. Look if they are black and are soft to touch. Most of the rotten roots break off with a slight touch.

These spoiled roots leave behind only a thin thread-like structure. That is what’s left behind of the healthy rootlets.

If you see something parallel to this,

Black and mushy root rot. - what does root rot look like
“What does root rot look like?” Image via Reddit.

It’s the root rot.

However, the root ball in the above picture looks a bit dry, while the actual rot will be wet and gooey.

Now that you know what does root rot look like. Let’s see the probable causes of root rot.

What Causes Root Rot?

Overwatering

The leading cause of root rot is overwatering. You might think that overwatering means watering your plant with a large amount of water. But it is not always true.

In fact, overwatering is a situation in which water stays in the pot for an extended period of time.

Waterlogging happens if the soil mix you are using is not well-draining or the pot does not have a good number of drainage holes for the water to seep out. And the plant stays too wet for too long.

How Overwatering Causes Root Rot?
  • If the roots of your plants are constantly sitting in a pool of water, they will not find any oxygen to respire.

The roots need oxygen to grow and maintain the diffusion of water and nutrients for the plant.

  • The roots deprived of oxygen break down. The outer layer of the rootlets, also known as the epidermis, dies off, exposing the inner tissue.
  • This decaying process is then paced by the fungal infection.

Underwatering

After all that I said earlier, you would be surprised to know that underwatering can also cause root rot. But there is a different logic behind this.

Let’s see,

How Underwatering Causes Root Rot?
  • When you keep your plant dried out for too long, its root system dehydrates and shrinks down.
  • If the root system is left to waste away due to our neglect, the roots will die in the same way as in overwatering.
  • But now, if you water your plant again, the roots will not be able to absorb it.
  • This leads to a very mushy and gooey environment for the roots to rot.

Roots Rot Due to Fungal Infection

Due to a damp and squelchy environment, the roots get prone to fungal infection.

  • Fungus is predominantly present in the soil in a dormant form.
  • If the medium around the roots continuously stays damp and soggy, it makes a suitable environment for the fungus to grow.
  • This fungus attacks the weak parts of the roots (the rootlets deprived of water) and causes them to rot.
  • The rot can also spread to the healthy rootlets. This can occur via airborne spores or insects like fungus gnats.
  • Therefore, you must appropriately sanitize the roots and your tools before re-potting the plant in a new and fresh potting mix.

Armillaria mellea, Clitocybe tabescens, Fusarium avenaceum, Pythium irregulare, Rhizoctonia solani, Fusarium oxysporum, and Phoma medicaginis are the most common pathogenic soil fungi (decomposers) that have their atomic hands behind root rot.

Unhealthy Potting Mix

A cruel potting mix is another grave cause of root rot.

Features of a Potting Mix That Causes Root Rot
  • A mixture having poor drainage can cause root rot.
  • Compact soil is also a sign of unhealthy potting mix.
  • Putting rocks and gravel at the bottom of the pot causes drainage problems.
  • Naturally, garden soil contains root rot fungi.

Note: Never reuse a potting mix from your plants. Reusing a potting mix, even from healthy houseplants, can increase the chances of root rot.

How to Treat Root Rot?

You already know what does root rot look like. Now, you must be thinking of “how to treat root rot?”

Treating root rot will work best if you identify it in a flinch. But if you find out your plant has root rot when it’s at the peak, and most of the rootlets are spoiled, it would be very tough for the plant to survive.

The best thing to do in that case is plant propagation.

Note: You can propagate the healthy stems and leaves of a plant having severe root rot that can’t be treated.

There are different methods to propagate your plants. The best one is propagating through stem cuttings. You can either wait for the roots to sprout out, as happens in water propagation. Or, you can directly root the cuttings in a new and healthy potting mix.

However, if you find out that the rot has not drastically spread and some of the roots are still healthy (light-colored and rigid), you must start the treatment as soon as possible.

Steps for Treating Root Rot

You can follow the following steps to treat root rot in most houseplants. Make sure to use safety gloves during the whole process.

  • After diagnosing the root rot, start the treatment by removing all the contaminated soil media from the roots. It would be easy if you grow your plants in Lecca or perlite.
  • Nevertheless, quickly remove the entire infected substrate from the root system. Please be sure to totally remove the soil as even a microscopic amount of infected soil can spread the rot again after re-potting.
  • It is always best to discard the infected media. You can also sterilize it if you have the means to do so.
  • Now that you have removed the soil part — wash the roots thoroughly under running water.
  • After that, start removing all the damaged or spoiled rootlets. You can either do this with your hands, as the severely rotten roots will come off with a slight jerk.
  • Or, you can use sterilized scissors to cut off the damaged parts.
  • While cutting the rotten roots, make sure you only cut the spoiled parts. If a rootlet is damaged half the way, you should only cut the half that’s damaged. However, you can prune a few inches above the rotten part to be on the safe side.
  • Don’t panic. You may need to remove as much as half of the whole root system. Therefore, I would recommend you remove some of the healthy leaves too.
  • You are already removing all the damaged and dead leaves, but removing some of the healthy foliage will prevent the plant from going into stress. If you are not brave enough, there is another way. You can take out healthy stem cutting from your plant to propagate them into new plants. In this way, you’ll have a backup if the mother plant is unfortunately unable to make it.
  • After cleaning and removing all the rot, dip the roots in a mixture of half water and half 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. Don’t soak them for a long time. A brief bath will do the job.
  • 3% hydrogen peroxide solution mixed with an equal amount of water will kill all the pathogenic bacteria or fungi that can cause root rot.
  • After that, pot your plant in a new and fresh potting mix. Use a suitable-sized pot that’s according to the root mass. It should also have a good number of drainage holes at the bottom.
  • Now, you just need to wait for the plant to show results.

Note: After re-potting, make sure you do not overwater your plant. Do not fertilize your plant for a couple of months. This will help the plant to grow more roots.

On that note, now you know all about root rot and how to treat it. Let’s see how we can prevent this nasty disease from happening in the future.

How to Prevent Root Rot?

The first and the most essential thing to prevent root rot is to make a perfect watering schedule.

How to Make a Perfect Watering Schedule

To make a perfect watering schedule, the first thing you will need to do is monitor your plant. You have to look for the signs of over and underwatering in your plant.

Some plants show their need for water by curling their leaves. While some plants wilt and the leaf margins become dry due to underwatering. On the other hand, overwatering will cause the leaf tips to turn brown. The whole foliage feels soft to touch and gives a droopy look.

But you must not over or underwater your plant to observe these changes. There are a couple of methods to be safe with overwatering.

The rule of thumb for most indoor houseplants is that you should not water them until the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil gets entirely dry.

You can feel the moisture by sticking your index finger in the potting mix that you are using. If it feels bone dry up to 3 inches, it is the best time to give your plant another shot of hydration.

Water your plant thoroughly until you see the water coming out of the drainage holes. Place your plant in a place where it can get adequate light according to its needs.

Note: But there is one critical thing to note down. All of this will only work if you are using a well-draining and perfect potting mix according to your plant’s nature.

How to Prevent Fungal Infection?

As I mentioned earlier, the main driving force behind this nasty root rot is the decomposers. They include a variety of viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

These pathogens are predominantly and already found in all the plants. Even in the healthy ones!

But they cannot cause root rot until they are provided with a suitable moist condition. Therefore, to prevent these infections, you have to avoid the favorable conditions for these pathogens to thrive in the soil.

You can also check out this outstanding 101 guide for root rot.


Final Remarks

With all that said, now you have your brain filled with all the brilliant knowledge about root rot. You know what does root rot look like and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

You can now share this unique info with your friends and family to help them save their beautiful houseplants from this deadly disease.

Through decades, root rot has caused the death of many plants and crops. Flooding has been one of the leading causes of the loss of many crops. Therefore, if we give such parallel conditions to our own houseplants, they are also susceptible to root rot.

But after reading this article, you are able not only to treat but also to prevent root rot from happening in the future.

Regards, Mahad H.