What is Root Rot And How Does It Happen?

You’ve worked day and night to make sure your plant gets the best sunlight, shade, soil, and living conditions, but that’s not always enough when you’re dealing with your garden.

Lots of hidden nasties lurk waiting to attack plants, and for a succulent lover, root rot has to be the most bothersome.

Root rot can strike at any time, and even with the best of intentions and making sure the soil is being adequately drained, it can show up when you least expect it. Some plants are more susceptible than others, including houseplants and succulents, so knowing what to look for is crucial to their care.

What is root rot and how do you treat it?

Root rot is a type of fungus that attacks mainly indoor plants, but it can affect outdoor plants and trees as well. This disease attacks the roots of plants and sometimes their leaves, and it can lead to a sick plant and in some cases complete death.

Due to the fact that this condition starts at the roots, it’s not always so easy to see straight away. With our help and this guide, you’ll be able to learn the warning signs of root rot and some ways to ensure your succulent has the best chance of avoiding it and living a long and healthy life.

What Is Root Rot?

fungus on root

Root rot is a disease that affects both indoor and outdoor plants, and it is especially predominant in succulents and other houseplants.

The disease is considered a fungus and its common name is phytophthora root rot, and although it sounds like it spread through a plant, it actually grows through the soil.

The most common cause of root rot is soil that’s too moist, and because house plants and succulents are kept inside where there’s less sun, they’re more susceptible. Once root rot has infected the soil of a plant it can spread quickly, and this occurs whether you have an indoor or outdoor garden.

When left untreated, root rot has the potential to kill a plant, and this can happen as quickly as 10 days from when it was infected.

Generally, though, it will take longer to kill a plant, and usually, you’ll notice the signs that it has the fungus long before this.

However, once it’s gone past a critical point of infection, the plant will no longer be salvable, but it may be propagated to start fresh somewhere else.

The Plants Most Affected By The Fungus

phytophthora infected root

Some plants react better to moist soil than others and these are the ones that generally stay clear of getting root rot.

Because this fungus grows in wet conditions, any plant that doesn’t have adequately draining soil or collects a lot of water is more likely to develop it.

Generally speaking, it’s indoor plants that will develop the condition because it’s harder for the soil to dry out or drain correctly in these types of conditions without sunlight.

However, it can affect several plant species, and even those that grow outside:

  • Strawberries
  • Boronias
  • Macadamia
  • Waratahs
  • Proteas
  • Succulents

How to Tell If Your Plants Have Root Rot

brown parts on leaves

One of the biggest issues with root rot is that because it affects this area underneath the soil, you can’t always tell straight away that it has it.

This means, by the time you can see signs of the fungus growing on the leaves and other parts of the plant, it’s already progressed quite far.

The roots of a plant with this condition will usually turn from firm to soft and their color will change to dark brown or black. They’ll be so weak that they can fall off from touch alone, but this can be hard to spot while they’re in the soil. You might notice lesions near the stem of the leaves or closer down towards the soil.

The easiest way to tell if your plant is suffering is to keep an eye on changes with the leaves. When a plant has been infected, you’ll be able to spot the leaves first as they shrink, change color, and wilt or fall off. You might notice the plant growth has slowed down or been stunted, and it can even ooze sap or develop spots on it.

At the terminal stages of root rot, a plant will die completely, and there’ll be no way to bring it back. Before it reaches this level though, you should be able to notice a number of signs that can indicate care needs to be taken, as well as a few preventative measures that can stop it from getting to this stage.

Preventing Root Rot

Like most things in life, the best treatment for root rot is prevention and good care.

No matter the types of plants you have or how plentiful your garden is, you can make some quick changes that will prevent the fungus from growing.

The most powerful deterrent against root rot is a soil that has adequate drainage, so focus first on ensuring this.

Mix your soil with a combination of pebbles, rocks, and matter like granite and sand that allows it to aerate and not become too moist. Use pots that have drainage holes in them and raise garden beds so they drain more efficiently.

How we water our gardens can also impact their moisture levels, and it’s essential not to overwater them. All plants require different things for their frequency of watering, but if you’re dealing with succulents especially, this is usually no more than once a week in warm conditions to prevent root rot.

Tips for Treating Root Rot

rotten succulents

Although a common issue that gardeners face, nobody likes dealing with a case of root rot.

As succulents can be susceptible to this fungus more than other plants, you’ll want to act quickly when you suspect a case, so check out these tips for what you can do.

  • Never attempt to use a fungicide or pesticide that claims to be able to treat root rot until you are sure that’s what it is. You can contact a local agricultural agent to identify the issues of your garden, otherwise treating something that’s not root rot with a fungicide will do serious harm to your plants.
  • Even with the best of care, root rot does still occur in some cases, especially when dealing with succulents. The best thing to do is be aware of the warning signs so you can get on top of the problem and save your plants before it gets worse.
  • Choose a soil and pot that correlates with the specific plant species you own. For example, a healthy succulent needs more than just soil to grow and requires ingredients like peat moss, bark, sand, and granite to give it adequate drainage.
  • Make a point of checking all of your indoor plants once a month to look for signs of root rot. If needed, you can dig a little into the soil to inspect the roots or repot them if you suspect the soil isn’t healthy enough.

Related Questions

Root rot is just one of the many annoying problems that face the average gardener, and whether you have one succulent or 50, you’ll probably encounter it at some point.

We’ve answered some FAQs about caring for these plants that can give you a push in the right direction and make it easier to care for your favorite greenery.

Why Is My Succulent Stem Rotting?

When your succulent’s stem appears to be rotting, it’s likely due to excess moisture being stored here.

You may have to slow down on the watering schedule you have in place and make sure they’re getting enough sunlight. If the stem has blackened, cut it off to below this point, so that it doesn’t infect the rest of the plant.

How To Tell If My Succulent Is Overwatered?

dying succulent due to overwatering

If you suspect you’ve been watering your succulent too much, you can confirm this with a few signs your plant is giving you.

First, you’ll see the leaves look rubbery instead of firm, and they may bend easily. Secondly, the leaves might look shriveled and dry, even though they’ve been getting an excessive amount of water.

When Should Succulents Be Repotted?

Depending on the type of succulent you have and whether it’s dormant in the summer or winter, you’ll have a different schedule for repotting.

Most succulents should be repotted once every two years to keep them healthy and give them enough space to grow, as long as you choose the right season to do it.

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