Root rot is like a nightmare for gardeners. It is something if left untreated will slowly go onto killing the plant. However, it is something that is not easily detectable in the early stages. Hence you should always keep a sharp eye on your succulents and be really wary of your watering practices. Root rot when detected early can be treated if you take prompt action.
How do you know if a succulent has root rot? The growth of the succulent will be stunted, the leaves will start to turn yellowish or brownish and the plant will give off a wet, mushy look. The soil can give rise to a foul smell and the succulent roots will be soft and black in place of being firm & white if it has started to rot.
What does Succulent Root Rot look like?
6 Signs of Root Rot:
- The bottom leaves will be the first to get affected and can seem mushy
- Leaves may start to change their color into yellow or brown and have wilting foliage
- In the worst-case scenario, there may be black patches on the stem and the leaves
- The roots and stem will be mushy instead of being firm
- Root color will be black or brown
- Sometimes a foul smell can occur from the soil
Let’s take a deeper look into each of these symptoms…
The Bottom Leaves will be the first to get Affected and can seem Mushy
Succulents by default can save water magnificently. They are plants of drought-prone areas where it rarely rains. So they had to come up with ways to store every last drop of water available to them.
Hence they can put up with underwatering but not with overwatering as they are not habituated with that. So they will end up absorbing more water than they need and can store.
- As a consequence, the leaves will feel mushy, soft, and wet as the leaves are nearing their limit of storing capacity. Bottom leaves will be the first to get affected as they are closer to the roots.
- Keeping the overwatering practice up will slowly end up spreading the root rot to all parts of the plant. The leaves will then become translucent and then at the end-stage can fall off looking rotten.
Leaves May Start to Change their Color into Yellow or Brown and have Wilting Foliage
Leaves can change color due to a variety of reasons. Nutritional deficiency, Season change, and overwatering are the most common reasons. If it was only nutritional deficiencies then other symptoms of root rot wont be prevalent. The stem and leaves won’t have felt mushy and had black spots. It’s a sign that you should stop watering right now for quite some time.
Also, the leaves can fall off quite easily. As the root is damaged the plant is not able to absorb nutrition properly from the soil and it is getting reflected through the leaves. As a result, the growth of the plant stunts, the leaves may turn yellowish, or brownish, they can start to wilt and fall off. Sometimes the color change only occurs along the edges.
Also Read: What to do with Fallen Succulent Leaves?
Black Patches on the Stem and the Leaves
Blackening of the leaves and stems is a clear cut signal that your succulent roots are no longer healthy. Black patches commonly develop when the succulent roots sit in waterlogged conditions regularly.
The Roots and Stem will be Mushy instead of being Firm
Firm roots and stems signify that they are not yet infected by fungus and are functioning well. Whereas mushy stem and roots mean that the root has started to spread to the rest of the plant and this is not good news.
- This is a major symptom of root rot which is in the advanced stage. Roots can sometimes change color from white to brown without root rot however they will never turn mushy under normal circumstances. Some roots can be so mushy and wretched that they will fall off just to simple touch.
Root color will be Black or Brown
You will find roots that are not firm anymore, discolored, commonly have transformed into black or brown color instead of being pale white or tannish white.
- The darkening of the root skin signifies serious root rot.
Make sure you properly remove the excess damp soil from the roots for examining the root color. This discoloration can happen not only to the lower and the spread-out roots but also to the crown of the plant, which can also be brownish or blackish.
Sometimes a Foul Smell can occur from the Soil
In case you doubt that your succulent has got root rot, you should try smelling the potting soil. If it’s smelling bad, you need to act fast.
Even if it’s not smelling it will be a good idea to unplug the plant carefully and try checking for signs of foul smell from the roots before even removing the excess soil.
You can then examine the extent of the root rot by removing the damp soil and touching the roots to check their color and firmness. The smell happens because of microbial growth in the roots in damp, waterlogged conditions.
Can you smell Root Rot?
Well in some cases it does smell, particularly if the rot has started to spread. Root rot is commonly caused by the lack of:
- Aeration in the soil
- Inadequate drainage
So these are the ideal conditions for the development of fungal or anaerobic bacterial infection.
Also, the soil can smell sulfurous (extreme rotten eggs like) in cases when the rot is extreme.
Why does Root Rot happen?
Root rot is caused by a fungal infection which occurs primarily due to the following conditions
- Due to poor drainage of the soil: This is the most comment reason for root rot. Succulents generally grow in drought-prone areas where water is scarce so over the years they have adapted themselves to those conditions. Hence when kept in waterlogged conditions for too long the roots catch root rot. The inorganic presence of the soil needs to be higher than the organic content for proper drainage. Otherwise, it will retain water for days.
- Insufficient exposure to the Sun: Sunlight plays an important role in not only the photosynthetic process of the plants but also making their soils dry up faster. This is particularly important for indoor succulents which receives lesser exposure to the sun than the outdoor growing ones. So make sure to grow your succulents in the balcony or in rooms that get sufficient bright light.
- Overwatering the plant: Succulents are plants that are adapted to the desert environment where water is scarce. So they have fleshy leaves and stems. They can store every last drop of water available to them in their plant parts. As a result, they can put up with underwatering to some extent. However, they are not habituated with overwatering and the availability of excess water leads to waterlogged soil which further encourages the growth of fungus and bacteria. in turn, this directly causes root rot.
Overcrowding of succulents in one small pot is also prone to spread root rot quickly from one plant to another.
Can a Succulent Survive Root Rot?
A succulent can surely survive root rot providing the rot is in basic or in moderate stage. If the rot has already gone into the advanced phase and has spread to all plant parts, it is really hard to save the plant.
However, if you detect it early, you can try to save the succulent with some basic actionable steps and then hope for the best. Whether the succulent will survive or not depends entirely upon how early you detect the root rot.
How fast does Root Rot happen?
Root rot once begins can go on killing the plant completely within 7 to 14 days.
- The roots slowly become mushy and brown instead of being firm. They change their color to brown and become wretched. Slowly a bad odor starts to develop in the soil.
- The fungal infection then slowly starts spreading to the stem base. The bottom leaves will be effected firstly.
- There will be black patches developing on the plant parts. Discoloration of the leaves will start to occur within days and they will start falling off.
- The succulent will have a mushy and wet appearance. The firmness of the stem will also start to decrease eventually.
What do I do if my Succulent has Root Rot?
The first thing you should do after detecting root rot is to remove the healthy-looking leaves from the plant and using them for propagation. This will ensure even if things go wrong you have some backup ready.
- Make sure the base remains intact otherwise it won’t be able to produce newer roots. You can also use stem cuttings but only choose the portions of the stem that are not affected yet.
Let the plant cuttings callus over for a week and then plant them in a drainage friendly soil mix. Mist them from time to time until roots start to develop. You can then water them normally.
Next, you need to take some basic steps to fix the root rot and to ensure that the rot does not spread to other parts. This will help in giving the succulent a fighting chance.
How Do You Fix Root Rot in Succulents?
Firstly don’t panic. Keep a cool head and go through the damage that has been inflicted. If the entire root system seems to be hit by the rot then it will be really hard to keep it alive. However, if the rot has not yet spread to the entire root system and still there are firmer and white roots left then there is quite a chance that the succulent can recover.
- Get rid of all the excess damp soil on the roots. Hold it under running water. Ideally, you should use rainwater or filtered water but in this case, you can go with tap water if there is no other option.
- Now take a sterile scissor and cut off all the brownish or black portions of the roots that feel mushy. Completely cut them off and make sure only the healthy portion of the roots are left. Use the scissor to cut off the roots from few inches above the damaged areas.
- Get rid of all the affected portions from the upper part of the succulent as well. Remove the black patched areas, unhealthy looking leaves, and branches.
- Leave the succulent out under shade from where it can get indirect light for a few hours.
- Now repot the succulent in a fresh drainage friendly cactus mix soil in a completely new pot with drainage holes. Put it someplace where it will get 3 to 4 hours of indirect sunlight. Do not water it for about 6 to 10 days and observe the plant thoroughly. You have given your best now you can only wait and watch.
- You can water the succulent with hydrogen peroxide as that will enhance their recovery chances. Hydrogen peroxide acts as an oxygen supplement for the plant roots. You can see how your succulent is reacting to this and keep on doing this until you feel your succulent is looking healthier than before. However hereon only water your succulents when the soil is properly dry.
Does Hydrogen Peroxide prevent Root Rot?
Hydrogen peroxide works miraculously to fight against the fungus causing root rot. If you only water succulents when the potting soil is dry and have them placed in a position where they get sufficient sunlight even then if you want to further protect your plant from rotting then you can surely use hydrogen peroxide.
They help in better plant development as they are rich in oxygen molecules. This extra dose of oxygen helps the roots to recover faster from damage, limits the growth of harmful microbes in the soil, and also promotes better root development and growth.
It is something that is naturally present in rainwater. Hence it is always advised to use rainwater for watering the plants instead of tap water as tap water contains a variety of other elements not essential to the plant and with time they will build up in the soil and harm the growth of the plant.
- Mix 1 small cup of hydrogen peroxide with 30 to 35 cups of water with a spoon and carefully pour it on the soil area of the plant targeting the roots and avoid putting this on the upper plant body as it has no purpose there.
- Hydrogen peroxide helps in better plant growth, keeps insects away, promote seed germination, improves aeration, removes harmful nonessential elements (Like chlorine) from the soil, and prevent fungal or bacterial growth.
However, you should only use a sufficiently diluted form of hydrogen peroxide. The use of its concentrated form will do more harm than any good. Always dilute one part of hydrogen peroxide with 10 to 15 folds of water. You can even buy the readily available hydrogen peroxide from the stores with a 3% solution.
How do you Prevent Root Rot in Potted Succulent plants?
- Choose the right containers Succulents to do best in containers with a drainage hole at the bottom. If you wanna grow them in pots then try going for terra cotta pots as they are porous they help in aeration and absorb water quickly from the soil. In case you are considering growing succulents in decorative pots or glass containers without drainage holes you need to be cautious regarding the drainage and need to take some extra precautionary steps.
- Have superbly drainage friendly soil mix in place: Succulents need a soil mixture that does not retain water for long as damp conditions can lead to root rot. However, it needs to retain water long enough for the roots to absorb. So ideally you should aim to mix 25% organic matter with 75% inorganic matters. You can also use a cactus mix or bonsai soil mix for growing succulents that will work just fine. you can also mix inorganic components like coarse sand, pumice, gravels, pebbles, etc with them to further enhance their drainage, though it is not necessary. In case you wanna make your own potting mix at home refer to this guide.
- Provide suitable sunlight exposure. Place the succulents under some kind of shade if growing outdoors in such a way that they get indirect sun exposure all day. While growing indoors aim to plant the succulents near the south or east-facing balconies or windows so that they can get the maximum sun. In case you wanna grow them in low light conditions try opting for low light friendly succulents. Proper light exposure will help in proper growth and in drying the soil out quicker.
- Be very wary with your watering: Only water succulents when the potting soil is dry. Stick to this rule to minimize the chances of having a succulent die from overwatering again. Succulents are plants from dry arid areas. So they can easily put up with underwatering but not with overwatering. So when in doubt always wait out for a few more days. You can use a moisture meter to smoothen this process. You can check the soil moisture from time to time and only water the succulent when the soil is dry. The soil will become drier faster depending on the sunlight it receives, soil components, and the weather.
- When watering just drench the soil without holding back. Avoid misting the topsoil and just go on watering the succulent until water starts oozing out of the drainage holes. Misting or watering light discourages better root development and is bad for the overall plant health. Also, avoid watering the leaves and branches as water absorption happens through roots mainly (source).
- Choose the right time of the day for watering: There has been a lot of debate regarding the ideal time for watering succulents. However, avoid watering succulents at night or after evening especially if you live in colder climates. The succulent will sit on wet damp soil for at least 12 hours before it receives any kind of sunlight. whereas if you water them in the morning they will get an adequate amount of sun all day and dry up faster.
- Repot the succulent once every two years. This is no hard and fast rule but doing this will ensure that the succulent will not face any soil-related fertility or nutritional issues and will remain healthy and strong in the coming days.
What do dead plant roots look like?
Dead plants roots look
- Blackish or brownish
If the plant looks barren and has lost all its leaves or has brownish leaves it has still the chance of recovering if the stem and roots are infirm conditions. However, if the roots look mushy and blackish along with the stem, it’s likely that the plant is dead.
Root rot is one of the worst things that can ever happen to your succulents. Succulents can adapt to many adverse conditions but they can never put up with dampness in the soil. Their roots are heavily sensitive to fungal infection. Wet soil is the ideal lurking field for various microbes and hence you need to be really wary about your soil drainage ability and your watering practice.
Make sure the soil is rich in inorganic components like coarse sand, pumice, pebbles, and gravels. This will help in faster drainage and better air circulation.
Also if possible use pots with drainage holes. To prevent overwatering, only stick to the practice of water succulents when the potting soil is dry and you will be good to go.