How to Identify, Fight and Prevent Root Rot

How to Identify, Fight and Prevent Root Rot

Recovering from Root Rot

Root rot is a condition that, if left untreated, will kill plants. Because the first symptoms of root rot occur beneath the soil, gardeners are often not aware of the problem until it is advanced. When plants start showing symptoms of root rot, such as yellow leaves or stunted growth1, take action immediately to resolve the problem.

Plants in soils too dense for water to drain out efficiently, or in containers that lack sufficient drainage holes, are most susceptible to root rot. While container plants are most at risk, garden plants are not immune to root rot. Most garden root rot issues can be prevented by taking steps to improve soil drainage before planting.2 While it may seem like excessive water is the cause of root rot, the problem starts because too much water provides the perfect environment for the real cause: fungus.

Identifying Root Rot

Root rot can be identified by the presence of soft, brown roots.2 The root system of a healthy plant should be firm and white. But when soil is soggy, fungal spores multiply and the fungus starts to spread3, developing in the extremities of the roots first. As the fungus advances, healthy portions of root turn brown and mushy as the roots die. The plant is then unable to absorb the nutrients it needs, and that deficiency becomes apparent in the condition of plant foliage. Leaves begin to wilt and turn yellow or fall off, growth slows, and blooming may be delayed.1 In the most extreme cases, when conditions are ideal for the fungus to spread quickly, plants can die within 10 days.3 If these symptoms occur in a plant, loosen the soil around the base of the plant with a hand trowel or shovel and remove the plant from the soil. Gently shake the soil from the roots and inspect them for rot.

Dealing with Root Rot

Once root rot is identified, you must determine if the plant can be saved. If the entire root system has already become mushy, it is too late to save the plant. However, if some healthy, white, firm roots exist, try to bring the plant back to good health by replanting in fresh soil with good drainage.

Prepare plants for replanting by cleaning the roots gently under running water and removing all brown, mushy roots with a sharp pair of scissors. Cut the healthy root just above the damaged area. Work quickly to replant within a few hours. After all roots are pruned, sterilize the scissors with a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water4 to avoid spreading fungal spores to other plants or soil.

Bucket Plant

Root rot is a condition that, if left untreated, will kill plants. Because the first symptoms of root rot occur beneath the soil, gardeners are often not aware of the problem until it is advanced. When plants start showing symptoms of root rot, such as yellow leaves or stunted growth1, take action immediately to resolve the problem.

Plants in soils too dense for water to drain out efficiently, or in containers that lack sufficient drainage holes, are most susceptible to root rot. While container plants are most at risk, garden plants are not immune to root rot. Most garden root rot issues can be prevented by taking steps to improve soil drainage before planting.2 While it may seem like excessive water is the cause of root rot, the problem starts because too much water provides the perfect environment for the real cause: fungus.

Identifying Root Rot

Root rot can be identified by the presence of soft, brown roots.2 The root system of a healthy plant should be firm and white. But when soil is soggy, fungal spores multiply and the fungus starts to spread3, developing in the extremities of the roots first. As the fungus advances, healthy portions of root turn brown and mushy as the roots die. The plant is then unable to absorb the nutrients it needs, and that deficiency becomes apparent in the condition of plant foliage. Leaves begin to wilt and turn yellow or fall off, growth slows, and blooming may be delayed.1 In the most extreme cases, when conditions are ideal for the fungus to spread quickly, plants can die within 10 days.3 If these symptoms occur in a plant, loosen the soil around the base of the plant with a hand trowel or shovel and remove the plant from the soil. Gently shake the soil from the roots and inspect them for rot.

Dealing with Root Rot

Once root rot is identified, you must determine if the plant can be saved. If the entire root system has already become mushy, it is too late to save the plant. However, if some healthy, white, firm roots exist, try to bring the plant back to good health by replanting in fresh soil with good drainage.

Prepare plants for replanting by cleaning the roots gently under running water and removing all brown, mushy roots with a sharp pair of scissors. Cut the healthy root just above the damaged area. Work quickly to replant within a few hours. After all roots are pruned, sterilize the scissors with a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water4 to avoid spreading fungal spores to other plants or soil.

Potted Plant

While root rot is a serious issue for gardeners, treating the problem as soon as symptoms occur greatly increases the chances of saving affected plants. Don't let fungus thrive in soggy soil; instead, provide good drainage and a healthy soil environment in which your plants can thrive.

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Resources:

  1. "Fungal Root Rots and Chemical Fungicide Use," Penn State Extension
  2. Stephen Nameth, Jim Chatfield, "Root Problems in Plants in the Garden and Landscape," Ohio State University Extension Service
  3. Jill Pokorny, "Root Rot of Houseplants," University of Minnesota Extension, February 2000
  4. Alicia R. Lamborn, "Disinfecting Pruning Tools," University of Florida Extension
  5. Bodie Pennisi, "Gardening in Containers," University of Georgia Extension, February 2015
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