Root Rot

By Olivia Hamlin

A common issue with houseplants, one that many plant-lovers have to deal with at some point or another, is the dreaded ROOT ROT. If you’re struggling with root rot, never fear! We’re here to help you and your plant through this scary situation.

What is root rot?

Basically what it sounds like. Root rot happens when a plant is overwatered -- and it can happen after even just one instance of overwatering. This can mean either 1) watering so often that the soil doesn’t have time to dry out at all or 2) not providing your plant with enough drainage. Excess water in a plant’s soil allows fungus and bacteria to grow and cuts off the roots’ supply of fresh air. Even if just one part of a plant’s root system is affected, the condition can spread throughout the system and eventually cause total collapse. As a plant owner, it’s important that you know the signs of root rot so you can catch it before it wreaks havoc.

What are the signs of root rot?

If your plant looks sad and stunted but you can’t figure out why, it’s a very good idea to gently wiggle it out of its pot and take a look at the roots. Check out the color and texture. Are they white and firm, or soft and brown or even black? Dark, mushy roots are a sure sign of root rot. If the soil smells bad (like a swamp) or slightly sulphurous, that’s another good indication that you may have some rot to deal with. This smell is a result of the bacteria that grow in anaerobic conditions, like the bottom of a pot with wet soil and nowhere for the water to go.

How to treat root rot

Shake off as much soil from the plant’s roots as you can, then rinse them under running water. Gently massage the roots to loosen up any dead sections. Once rinsed, clip back any roots that look brown or feel soft so that only healthy ones are left. If you had excessively saturated soil, you may want to leave the plant out with the root ball uncovered to let it try out a bit. If you want to use the same pot, clean and sanitize it thoroughly, then repot your plant in fresh soil.

Prevention is key!

Sadly, plants often don’t survive bouts with root rot, and this is why it’s so important to prevent it in the first place. Make sure you’re watering your plant with the correct amount of water, and at the right frequency. Even the thirstiest plants need at least the top layer of soil to dry between waterings, so if yours are in pots of the correct size, you definitely shouldn’t be watering your plants every day. Just as important is proper drainage. If you’re not confident in your watering abilities quite yet, it may be wise to stick to pots with adequate drainage holes. And even if you are confident, it’s still a good idea to at least use drainage rocks and charcoal at the bottom of a pot with no holes.

We hope this has been helpful! When faced with any plant problem, just know that most plant owners have dealt with the same issue. There’s a lot of great advice out there and you can always contact us at the shops with questions, or email