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Root Rot Quick Fix: How to Save Your Indoor Plants

trio of healthy succulents

Your plant doesn’t inevitably have to die from rotting roots. It’s true, it’s possible to revive that houseplant! But acting quickly at the first signs of distress is imperative. So, want to know what to do if you suspect root rot? As always, we want to understand the issue before we treat it. First, we’ll identify the problem, then treat the issue, and learn about prevention. 

What is root rot and what causes it?

Root rot is a disease in which wet conditions in the plant’s soil present the opportunity for harmful fungi to thrive. Roots need air to function efficiently— so the roots rot because they’ve been deprived of oxygen from extended submersion in water. Potted houseplants are more prone to root rot than their planted counterparts since it’s harder to control moisture and water can become contained. While root rot can also be caused by other factors, the majority of root rot complications stem from overwatering. So, we’ll target exactly how to treat root rot caused by too much moisture. 

root rot in houseplant

Root Rot Diagnosis:

Initially, you’ll want to ensure that your plant’s roots are actually rotting. Eliminating any other possible issues right off the bat will help in navigating the right treatment for your plant. To figure out if your problem is actually indoor plant root rot, you may first notice outward signs like:

  • Leaf change

Keep in mind that it’s natural for older leaves to experience color change and drop, so look closer at those newer leaves. If you notice browning, yellowing, dying leaves it may be an effect of dying roots. A key indicator of root rot is wilting leaves accompanied by wet soil. 

  • Standing water

Take notice of the pot’s saucer, if there’s water left in the bottom then too much was applied at some point and your plant’s soil and roots have been drenching. There should never be standing water because soil and roots that are soaking for an extended time will get waterlogged. 

  • Root system issues

Next, slide the plant out of the pot and assess the bottom portion of the roots as they will have had the most exposure to water. So checking the roots, lookout for warning signs of rot like dark brown root color, soft texture or spongy roots, or even fuzzy moldy material coating the roots. These are all signs of damaged roots. 

Root Rot Rx:

Normal healthy plants without rot should have firm roots with light coloring (usually either beige, green, or tan). The leaves should be in good condition and the soil should be properly hydrated. Once you’ve identified that the issue is in fact root rot, it’s time to formulate a treatment plan for your houseplant. First things first:

1. Allow soil to dry out.

If you just noticed that there’s some standing water or leaf change and you aren’t sure if it’s quite yet root rot, allow the soil to air out. Over the course of 3-5 days, allow the plant’s soil to dry. Sometimes this method will work for plants that aren’t experiencing damage yet. Allowing the soil to dry is helpful because plant roots need some air to function efficiently. However, if your plant’s roots are heavily decaying, move onto the steps below immediately as it’s likely too late for drying out the soil.

2. Remove all browning leaves. 

The first step here is to try to remove any dying leaves. Make sure to separate them from the plant as close to the base as possible.

3. Remove old soil.

Next, you’re going to need to repot. To do so, you’ll first remove the plant from the current soil. Taking the plant out of the pot, delicately remove as much of the soil as possible. Try to not disturb the root system too much while brushing off moistened or clumpy soil. 

4. Cut off dead and decaying roots.

While you have the plant out of the pot, you’ll proceed by carefully trimming off rotting roots. Try to keep as much as intact as possible by getting rid of dead roots and saving healthy ones. 

5. Repot with new soil.

Next, using sterile potting soil (one that is compatible with your particular plant), repot your plant. Fresh soil will help guarantee that any bacteria or fungus that might have formed will be mostly removed. It’ll also supply nutrients that may have been depleted in the old soil and help the plant recover. 

Keep in mind that the plant is likely already stressed and vulnerable due to root rot. And depending on the level of severity, repotting may cause further stress to your plant, possibly even resulting in death. But since the plant is already in a state of decline, it’s certainly worth the shot. Further, it’s really your only shotroot rot cannot be reversed and can spread quickly, so letting it remain in its current state of decomposition will eventually kill the entire plant. 

healthy plant root system

Preventative Measures:

The best treatment is always prevention. So work on establishing a watering routine that works with your specific indoor plant. Some helpful tips to avoid root rot in the future include these simple steps:

  • Make sure to use pots with a drainage hole.
  • Use proper soil and check in occasionally to make sure that it is properly draining water. 
  • As stated previously, the plant roots need to have access to some air in order to survive. Allowing the soil to slightly dry out (just the top layer) will help the plant take in oxygen and prevent potential root rot. For many tropical houseplants, the finger test works well for gauging when to water— that’s when you wiggle your finger a couple of inches deep into the soil to assess the moisture level. If it’s moist, this means that the bottom of the soil is markedly wet. So you'll wait until the top layer is mostly dry before watering again. 
  • And again, don’t let excess water accumulate and sit in the pot’s bottom dish. 
  • You’ll also need to switch up the amount of water your plant gets depending on the seasons. Generally, plants require less during colder drier months.
  • Pay attention to your plant. Staying present will help you figure out when the plant needs less or more. 

Oftentimes, since root rot affects the unseen portion of the plant, rotting is detected only once a significant amount of damage has been done. Following the survival steps quickly can help save your houseplant. But as an absolute last resortif your plant is just not going to make itwe suggest taking some cuttings to propagate it. That way a piece of the plant lives on and all is not lost! 

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  • I have a aloe plant and I need to change the soil in. does anyone have a way to remove all the dirt carefully and what I should replace it to

  • Hi!
    I have a few questions:
    1- I have a money tree that has a squishy trunk. After doing some research, I can guess this is from root rot. How do I save this and prevent this in the future? This is an important plant to me and I need to do everything I can to keep it alive.
    2- I have a mini monster, and it suddenly started getting yellow leaves and now only has a few left. I have definitely not been overwatering it but I do not think I have been underwatering it. I live in a VERY dry, arid place and assumed this was a lack of humidity. I put a bag over it to trap humidity and am misting it regularly. It is not getting worse but also not getting better. What should I do?
    3- I have this large, healthy, golden pothos that does awesome when I am not watering it, but as soon as I water it gets a few yellow leaves and drains brown/yellow water. Other than that, it looks and feels healthy- any ideas on what caused this?
    4- I have been looking for an app where you can take a picture of a sick plant and it will help tell you what is wrong. Any recommendations for one of those that is free?
    Thank you!

  • Hello. I have a Clivia that suffered from root rot. So all the roots fell of of it when I was going to repot it for indoor use. I’m not sure it was truly root rot but I had it sitting outside for a few weeks before I was going to repot it, it did get over watered and it was very humid. Anyway, I have managed to get it to regrow new roots(yay!). I have it in water now for about a month. The roots are almost 2 inches long now. When should I repot it? How long should the roots be? Should I add anything to the water to sustain it if I have to wait to repot it?
    Thank you, Linda

    Linda Berry
  • I decided to leave my garden area alone to let the soil rest. I put my tomatoes in 40 pound containers. I put 4 holes in the containers and gravel in the bottom. We have a very hot growing season, and I cut back my watering routine. The tomatoes did well at first but the leaves are dieing. The containers most likely are not draining well. I removed the lower dead leaves and have moved the tomatoes out of the sun. I am not sure if I can get the soil to dry because of the thunderstorms. I know it is root rot which has stunted my tomatoes. I will look at following your steps to remove the root rot.

    Joseph Gregory
  • Hi there! I have a parlor palm that’s barely scratching by-two new growths (one that went a little yellow at the top) and two big leaves with yellow dry ends. Should have been treated and repotted a while ago but it’s been under the care of a friend! Should I cut of the big leaves completely, or just the yellowing parts to allow the leaves to produce some energy for the new growth? Also, should I water right after repotting? Thank you thank you!


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