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Black and mushy roots are a common sign

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants with Useful Tips and Quick Fixes

Like microbial diseases and pest infestation problems, indoor plants succumb to root rot due to improper growing conditions. It includes light stress (too little or much light), water stress (overwatering or underwatering), and inactive climate (poor aeration and warmer temperatures). This results in problems too difficult to recover your plants from—root rot. Continue reading to learn about treating root rot on indoor plants naturally.

What is Root Rot?

It is a disease that chiefly harms the plant’s root system and can affect woody trees and herbaceous perennials. It is caused by overly wet soil conditions (because of overwatering) that hinder the oxygen supply and favor the growth of soil-borne pathogens (fungi and bacteria).

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants
Root rot of potted plumeria plants. It damages the plant’s water and nutrient absorption ability while turning the leaves yellow.

First, overwatering your houseplants starves the roots from oxygen and nutrient absorption, resulting in rotting and wilting. This form of root rot can not be adequately eliminated because it will appear in damp conditions even if the soil has been amended.
Another contributing factor to root rot is soil fungal pathogens that thrive in wet conditions. These are Fusarium spp. and Pythium spp., which infect the weaker root tissues and new growths.

Fusarium Root Rot

Fusarium species is a soil-borne fungal pathogen that thrives on dead and decaying soil matter. Once this pathogen comes in contact with weaker plant roots in overly saturated soil, it infects and feeds on roots. As a result, it turns the foliage yellow and wilted.

Pythium Root Rot

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants
Pythium root rot leads to a mature plant wilting

Like Fusarium spp., these oomycetes also benefit from overwatering and feed on the plant root system, dead and decaying organic matter. Fungus gnats transmit these agents to the potting soil mix and worsen the plant’s health. 
Fiddle leaf fig and other ficus trees are prone to root rot caused by Pythium species. The leading cause of this root rot is the inactive climate (too little air movement).

Signs and Symptoms of Root Rot in Houseplants

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants
Black and mushy roots are a common sign of rotting in plants that changes the aboveground foliage to yellow and brown.

At the initial stages, root rot in potted plants is hard to diagnose because damage symptoms appear similar to insect pest feeding injury and fungal diseases. So the one common sign of root rot in houseplants is the settling of fungus gnats around your plants. These pesky bugs prefer moist soils to live in and breed while transmitting the Phytium spp. to the root system. Another common sign is the mushy smell or rotten eggy odor from the plant base because of necrotic roots.
Given below are the symptoms for quick diagnosis of root rot in houseplants :

  1. Stunted or no growth at all in plants
  2. Quick collapsing of the stem with no apparent signs and symptoms of damage
  3. Yellowing of lower and older leaves and the downward curling of top leaves.
  4. Branch dieback in woody shrubs and trees, leading to thinning of the canopy

Causes of Root Rot in Houseplants

There are multiple causes of root rot in houseplants with the same treatment regardless of the source. One of the primary causes of root rot in plants is overwatering or exposure to overwatered conditions for a longer time. 
This results from improper drainage holes in your planter and potting soil rich in compost. Or sometimes, beginners water their plants way more than they need.
Potted houseplants are more susceptible to overwatering compared to ground plants. Standing water conditions are more common in potted plants because of the lack of drainage holes.
Succulents and cacti are more prone to root rot due to overwatering than moisture-loving plants because they prefer potting soil on drier sides.

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants with Repotting

Once root rot has been established, it is difficult to treat or fix. The only solution to severely damaged plants is throwing them away. However, if you are fortunate enough to identify root rot through signs and symptoms. 
Then the best way to treat your plant is by repotting it into a new home or container (only if it has few healthy roots).

Remove the Plant from Planter and Examine its Roots

Unpot the plant from its current container gently without harming the foliage and branches. Now wash off the roots under tap water to inspect their roots. White and firm roots are healthy, while black and brown roots are rotten.

Cut off the Rotten Roots and Damaged Foliage

Prune off the brown and mushy roots with sterilized and sharp scissors and discard the removed parts properly. Be sure not to remove the healthy root tissues.

Transplant the Plant into a New Container

After removing all the damaged plant parts (roots and foliage), repot the plant into a new container. Ensure the planter has drainage holes and is clean. Also, the new container should be slightly wider to provide enough room for roots for growth and development.

Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants: Prevention

One of the best alternatives of the root rot treatment is prevention. By following these preventive measures, plant owners can easily avoid root rot. These are :

  1. Buy potted plants from a reputable nursery and ensure your new plant is free from root rot and decay.
  2. Repot your newly purchased plant immediately into a new planter with drainage holes. Do not put any gravel or rocks at the bottom of the container; otherwise, the presence of these rocks stops the water drainage.
  3. Sterilize the potting mix before using it because garden soil contains root rot fungi.
  4. Add organic matter (peat moss or compost) to heavy potting soil mixes (clayey soil) to improve drainage and aeration.
  5. Do not plant succulents and cacti in a plastic container; grow moisture-loving plants in terra cotta pots.
  6. Before adding a new plant to your houseplant collection, understand that thorough watering and lighting must prevent root rot. For example, some plants need more water (hostas), and watering them will be overwatering for tropicals.

FAQs on Treating Root Rot on Indoor Plants

Can a houseplant recover from Root Rot?

It depends upon the severity of root rot or decay. For example, if the entire root system of a plant has become brown and mushy, it is too late to recover it from root rot. However, if the plant has some firm and white roots, the chances of the houseplant’s recovery are medium. You can prune off the damaged roots and repot your plant in a new planter filled with fresh soil. This way, you can reverse the root rotting of your potted plants into good health by repotting.

What is a homemade fungicide for Root Rot?

There are many natural fungicides to treat root rot in houseplants, but hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and cinnamon plus vinegar are best. Mix one teaspoon per two parts of water to use hydrogen peroxide against root rot fungal pathogens. 

Mix this solution with potting soil at the time of planting. Or spread over the ground cinnamon on the top layer of potting soil to inhibit fungus growth and prevent root decay.

How do you fix Root Rot without repotting?

The only and best way to treat root rot without repotting is by cutting back the leaves and stems to the ground level. Wah the planter with bleaching solution to kill any fungus and bacteria. Be sure not to overwater the soil to prevent dampness and soggy soil conditions.

Can I put cinnamon directly on Plant Roots?

Yes, applying cinnamon directly to your plant root system is healthier. When repotting your houseplant, apply a thin layer of non-flavored cinnamon onto healthy root tissues (after removing the dead roots) to prevent root rot and promote healthy growth.

These cinnamon applications benefit all plants, including tropical and flowering annuals and perennials.

How long does it take a plant to recover from Root Rot?

The overly wet soils due to overwatering are the primary cause of root rot in your houseplants. Once you notice root rot symptoms because of overwatering, quickly stop watering and maintain good aeration. This way, your plant will take 1-2 weeks to recover from root rot.

In the case of severe damage, there is no way to mitigate the damage and prevent the plant from wilting.

Do you water a plant after repotting for Root Rot?

After repotting, plants need thorough watering to settle the soil around the root system. This will hydrate the roots and help the plant recover from the repotting shock. Be sure the excess water has drained from the pot, and empty the saucer to avoid waterlogged conditions.

How do you dry an Overwatered Plant?

To dry an overwatered plant, situate the planter in areas where environmental conditions are suitable for water evaporation. For example, the locations of your garden when temperatures are warm, there is low humidity and high wind. These conditions will evaporate the excess water.

So, follow these tips to dry an overwatered plant;

  1. Allowing the soil to dry between watering is an effective way to prevent overwatered soil and plants. The water you plant only when the topsoil is dry.
  2. Position the plant in a windy area to accelerate the rate of water evaporation.
  3. Always use a planter with drainage holes to drain the excess water.
  4. Do not mulch the houseplants that like to grow in moderately dry soils because moisture retention due to mulching will suffocate their roots.
  5. Place plants in low-humidity areas.
  6. Create holes at the sides of the container for better drainage and aeration.