Root rot is a problem faced by any plant parent. After a lot of trial and error, I have learned the various secrets. This is how I treat root rot.
When we talk about the basic requirements of plant growth, water is always on the list. We all know plants need water to stay hydrated and healthy. Therefore, many times, we often go a little extra with watering our plants because we think it won’t really make a difference to the plant – in fact, we probably think “the more, the merrier.” The reality, however, is a lot different. Too much water can literally kill plants!
If the growing medium has too much water, it creates adverse growing conditions that can lead to a fatal condition in plants – root rot.
Root rot spreads rapidly, resulting not only in the death of the affected plants, but it also puts other plants around it at risk of developing the same condition. The treatment of root rot is incredibly challenging, especially when it takes hold of your plants. To be able to treat your plants, you need to have a thorough understanding of the condition so that you know when exactly you need to get to work and what practices you need to follow.
What Is Root Rot?
Root rot is a silent killer for plants. As you can tell by the name, it is a condition in which the roots of a plant decay and rot as a result of a lack of oxygen. The roots that are submerged in water receive less oxygen, which causes them to suffocate and eventually drown and die.
When the level of oxygen in the water in which the roots of a plant are submerged is low, the multiplication and overgrowth of naturally-occurring soil fungi is triggered. As these fungi grow into large colonies, they make their way to the weakened roots, infect them, and cause them to decay and rot. Once the weakened roots get infected by the fungi, the roots fail to take up any more nutrients, oxygen, and water, which eventually results in the death of the plant.
Identifying Root Rot
The key to controlling root rot and saving the plants is taking timely measures, which is only possible when you’re able to identify the condition on time. A healthy plant has a firm and white-colored root system. Root rot is characterized by soft, brown-colored roots. When the soil contains too much water, enough to make it soggy, the fungi in the soil begin to multiply and spread rapidly to the extremities of the roots. As the development of the fungus advances, it spreads to healthy portions of the root system, resulting in them turning mushy and brown.
At this point, the roots lose their functionality and fail to take up any nutrients, oxygen, and water that a plant needs to grow. The deficiency of nutrients and oxygen is reflected in the appearance of the plant’s foliage. The leaves of the plants either fall off or turn yellow, the growth of the plant slows down, and the blooming of the flowers may get delayed. If the fungus isn’t treated timely, the plant can die within 10 days.
Causes of Root Rot
Root rot isn’t caused by a single factor alone. Instead, numerous interconnected factors come together to bring about this deadly plant condition.
The primary cause of root rot, which you might already know by now, is overwatering. Overwatering keeps the roots of a plant in a waterlogged state, which accounts for numerous plant conditions, including root rot.
2. Poor Drainage
You might have come across the term ‘well-drained soil’ in numerous plant-related guides. Well-drained soil is effectively soil that doesn’t allow excess water to accumulate. A growing medium with poor drainage doesn’t drain well, as a result of which, all the porous space within the growing media gets occupied by water. This condition is specifically more common in plant containers that lack adequate drainage holes.
3. Lack of Oxygen
As mentioned above, overwatering leads to water occupying all the porous spaces within the growing substrate. In doing so, water pushes out the oxygen. The reduced concentration of oxygen in the substrate affects all the growth processes, including plant respiration and nutrient uptake. This is extremely detrimental to the plant.
4. Excessive Fungal Growth
When there is excess water and a reduced concentration of oxygen in the growing media, it creates an excellent environment for the fungi that are naturally present in the soil. When the balance between water and oxygen in the root zone is affected, these opportunistic fungi reproduce rapidly, especially when the weather is cooler. This ends up wreaking havoc on plants.
Treatment of Root Rot
The key to providing your plants with the best chance of survival is treating root rot as soon as possible. When you first suspect that the root fungus has flared, you should immediately remove the plant from the soil and inspect it closely to see if there are any healthy, white roots present. If not, there isn’t much that can be done. However, if you’re fortunate enough to spot the development of the condition on time, your plants still have a chance at life.
- The most effective way to treat root rot is by replanting the plant in a fresh pot or soil. After you remove the affected plant, shake it gently to get rid of as much old soil and rotten roots as possible. You can even wash it under a stream of clean water. Always make sure that you’ve gotten rid of the rotten roots before replanting in fresh soil because, sadly, root rot is contagious, and it can affect the root systems of healthy plants. Use scissors to trim away the affected roots if need be.
- You can use a fungicidal solution or beneficial mycorrhizal species to treat root rot. Either dip healthy roots in a fungicidal solution to ensure no fungi or its spores remain before repotting, or simply dust cinnamon or sulfur powder (a natural fungicide) on healthy roots to prevent the infection from reoccurring. Beneficial mycorrhizae create an unfavorable condition for bacteria and fungi, thereby inhibiting their growth and preventing the root rot from exacerbating any further.
- If the root rot is too widespread to be treated, you should get rid of the entire plant. However, if you think part of the plant is still healthy, you can use cutting tools to separate them from the affected plant and replant it in fresh soil. Healthy leaf or stem cuttings of the affected plant can also be used to propagate an all-new plant.
Prevention of Root Rot
The most effective way to protect your plants is by taking adequate preventive measures. Instead of waiting for the symptoms of root rot to become visible and then rushing into treating the condition, the best measure is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Some useful preventive measures that you should take to keep root rot at bay are listed below:
- Ensure that the pot you’re using has adequate drainage holes
- Use a growing medium that promotes the healthy growth of the plants and allows adequate drainage. Consider using greater amounts of perlite, vermiculite, or coconut coir in your growth media as it promotes efficient drainage
- Empty the catch basin placed under your pot for collection of excess water regularly
- Do not overwater your plants
Root rot is a contagious disease. Once a portion of the root system gets affected, it spreads to the rest of the roots like fire, which makes the treatment of root rot quite challenging. The treatment of root rot is only possible if the condition is identified on time before the entire root system gets rotten. The best way to protect your plants from this deadly condition is to take adequate preventive measures so that the risk of root rot can be reduced. Keep your eyes open and your guard high and look for any symptoms of root rot that may arise so that you can combat it before it becomes widespread. This guide on how I treat root rot will equip you with everything you need to know about combating this disease.