Keep Your Houseplants Healthy: How to Prevent Root Rot in Potted Plants

How to Prevent Root Rot in Potted Plants

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Do you have a potted plant in your home but feel like something isn't quite right? Have you noticed unusual yellowing of leaves, wilting and drooping of plants, or foul smells from the soil?

If so, your beloved houseplant might be suffering from root rot. Don't panic! Root rot is easily preventable if caught early enough, and it is vital to understand what causes this issue.

In this blog post, we will break down what root rot is, how to identify it, and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Understanding these key concepts can help keep your plants healthy and thriving for years!

What is Root Rot?

Root Rot is a devastating yet preventable plant disease caused by various pathogens, including fungi, fungus-like organisms, and bacteria.

The pathogens responsible for root rot include Pythium spp., Phytophthora spp., Rhizoctonia solani, and Fusarium spp. Root rot causes necrosis (death) of the root's outer layer (Epidermis), leaving it unprotected and vulnerable to further damage.

If not treated quickly, Root Rot will spread throughout the entire root system and into the plant, leading to death or severely stunted growth in affected plants.

Generally, root rot occurs from overwatering plants and can lead to damaged roots and destruction.

However, starving a plant of water for an extended period can also cause its roots to deteriorate before rehydrating with more water – ultimately leading to root rot.

Also, Fungus Gnats are a vector (transmitters) of pathogens, so they can quickly spread diseases from one plant to another via their feet. I have written a blog post on how to get rid of Fungus Gnats that you will find helpful.

Fortunately, no matter how severe your case of root rot may be, there is still hope for anyone trying to salvage their precious plants!

Identifying Root Rot

Identifying root rot can be tricky, but this is important because if left untreated, root rot can quickly spread throughout the entire plant and cause severe damage or even death.

Root rot typically begins in the tips of the roots, turning them off colour (not the usual colour for roots, i.e. white/beige) and mushy. If left untreated, root rot can choke off a plant's nutrient supply, killing it.

cross-section of a plant root
Image by brgfx on Freepik – Diagram showing cross-section of a root illustration

In addition, when plants are imported from remote places like Indonesia and Thailand, they may either be damaged by dehydration during their shipping journey or have been exposed to toxic chemicals and pesticides.

Symptoms of Root Rot

To check for root rot, you may need to pull some plants from their containers and examine the roots visually.

Healthy plants have robust and vibrant-looking roots, typically light tan or white. If you take a closer look at the roots, they should be undamaged and even with no significant cracks or rotting sections present.

A healthy root system will give off an earthy aroma, and root rot will smell swampy or sulphurous – like rotten eggs.

It's also important to take note of any discolouration in leaves or stems that could indicate that the roots have been infected.

Symptoms of root rot:

  • yellowing leaves
  • wilting
  • slow growth
  • a foul musty odour from the soil
  • Mushy stems
  • Mushy roots that fall apart easily
  • Black spots on leaves

If you notice any of these signs, you must act quickly before the problem worsens and kills your plant.

How to Treat Your Plant When it Has Root Rot?

Treating a plant with root rot can be intimidating, but don't worry!

Taking immediate action and following the proper steps helps keep your little green friend happy and healthy.

The first thing to do is assess the damage:

  1. Remove the plant from the pot and gently remove as much soil from the roots as possible.
  2. Sterilise your shears or scissors and remove any affected roots by cutting away carefully with shears or scissors.
  3. Make sure to create a sterile environment, so the fungus doesn't spread further, such as setting aside a clean knife or scissors just for your plants.
  4. Once all the rotten roots have been removed, give the roots a quick dip in a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide 3% 1:1 ratio, so 1 cup of Hydrogen Peroxide to 1 cup of water. I get my Hydrogen Peroxide from Amazon.
  5. If you are using the same pot as before, clean and sterilise before replacing the plant, to ensure that all the bacteria, fungi and any contaminated soil are removed.
  6. Replant your plant in new potting soil.
  7. Water lightly and give the soil plenty of air circulation.
  8. Don't fertilise the plant for about eight weeks to allow the plant's roots to grow to source any missing nutrients it needs.

Tip: if there is a significant loss of roots, consider removing some foilage and downsizing the pot to lessen the stress on the plant.

How to Prevent Root Rot in Potted Plants

Here are a few ways to prevent root rot in potted plants, and whichever method you choose, ensure you follow the instructions carefully. 

Choosing the Right Potting Mix

One of the essential steps in preventing root rot is choosing the right potting mix for your plants.

The potting mix should be light and airy so that there's plenty of oxygen available for the roots to breathe. It should also be well-draining so that excess water can easily escape.

Avoid using soils that are too heavy or contain too much clay, as this will restrict drainage and promote root rot.

It's also a good idea to always use new soil when repotting—old soil may contain fungal spores that will cause problems in your new plant if not removed beforehand.

The chart Soil Ninja provides an excellent tool in helping you decide the best growing medium for your plants, soil or leca. I'm grateful to them for offering this!

Choosing the Right Pot

Choosing the right pot for your plants can be a difficult decision. Too much space is not ideal as it can lead to root rot, but too little space won't allow your plant's proper growth and development.

When selecting the correct pot for a specific plant, it's essential to consider factors such as the plant variety, size, and requirements for soil drainage and humidity levels.

You should select a pot slightly larger than the plant's root ball, so it has enough room to grow.

Also, the type of pot you choose can make a huge difference, if you have plants that like to stay a bit moist, then a plastic nursery pot is ideal, but if you are someone that tends to overwater, then terracotta pots will be your friend as they help wick away the moisture from the plant.

Related post:

Pots With Drainage Holes

Choosing suitable pots can make a big difference in potting plants. Pots come in all shapes, sizes and materials, each providing different benefits.

However, there is one feature that is essential for all types of pots: drainage holes.

Having these small holes at the bottom of the pot is vital because they allow excess water to escape.

The draining holes will prevent the roots of your plants from getting overly saturated with water, which could lead to root rot or other diseases.

If a pot doesn't have these drainage holes, you can make your own with a knife or pair of scissors. Just be careful not to cut through any side of the pot, as it may cause it to crack or break open.

Another way to deal with excess water is by using an absorbent material such as pebbles or grit at the bottom of the pot.

Although this might not be ideal, it can still help manage and prevent waterlogging if you need access to drainage holes for your pots.

Water Carefully

Another critical factor in preventing root rot is proper watering techniques.

As we discussed earlier, too much water can be one of the most common reasons for root rot since wet soil blocks oxygen from reaching the roots. This then leads to potential fungal growth and diseases detrimental to your plants.

To ensure your plants have the right amount of water but not too much that they become oversaturated, use a moisture meter or go old-school with your finger to check the top inch of soil.

When you detect that the soil feels dry or reads as such on a moisture meter, it's time for watering. In my experience, relying on a moisture meter is much more dependable than using your finger – I've killed many plants from overwatering!

Once you've watered your plants, make sure to empty any excess water from trays or saucers underneath them so that standing water isn't allowed to accumulate and cause problems with fungal growth over time.

How to Prevent Root Rot in Potted Plants

Provide Enough Sunlight

Many indoor houseplants are susceptible to root rot, which can cause other plant problems.

A great way to prevent this is by ensuring your potted houseplants get enough sunlight. If you don't have any direct sunlight in your home, you can purchase artificial sunlight for a fraction of the cost!

By providing adequate sunlight for your potted houseplants with either natural or artificial means, you'll be able to reduce the number of instances of root rot significantly.

Provide Adequate Air Circulation

When it comes to keeping your houseplants happy and healthy, one crucial factor is adequate air circulation.

Allowing your plants to breathe well can help prevent root rot from occurring. Try to place your houseplants in well-ventilated areas near a fan or a window with steady airflow.

Root rot is a common issue for many gardeners, so providing more air circulation can make all the difference in helping keep your plants cheerful and thriving!

Remember: Giving plants clean air and proper drainage is key to keeping them healthy, which means plenty of fresh air combined with regular watering habits. With just a few simple steps, you can ensure your beloved greens stay happy and green for years to come! Good luck!

Avoid Using Too Much Mulch in Your Houseplants

Whether you have a small windowsill garden or an extensive collection of houseplants, proper care requires more than just watering your plants every week.

One thing to watch out for is over-mulching, which can cause more harm than good.

Although layered mulch helps insulate the soil and provides additional nutrients to your plants, too much applied in one area can trap excess moisture and create conditions liable to encourage root rot and other diseases.

As a guideline, two inches of mulch is more than sufficient – in some cases (such as with succulents), no additional mulch is required.

Additionally, avoid placing big chunks of wood chips around the base of the plant; smaller pieces of wood or coarse sand blend better into the soil.

Allowing drainage from your pots by situating them in elevated dishes works well too.


Can root rot be stopped?

Root rot is a common problem that can occur in any garden and can be a significant headache.

Root rot is caused by several factors, including overwatering, too much moisture, and lack of sunlight. If left unchecked, root rot can quickly destroy your plants and landscaping.
Luckily, you can do a few things to prevent and fight root rot.

First, make sure your plants are receiving the correct amount of water. Overwatering can cause conditions that promote root rot, so water your plants gradually and check the soil weekly to ensure it's not getting too wet.

Also, ensure your garden receives enough sunlight – light stimulates the growth of healthy roots, and plants that receive enough sunlight will better resist root rot.

If you experience root rot, don't despair – several things are available to help get your garden back on track.

Does cinnamon stop root rot?

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) has long been praised for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties, making it a natural remedy for multiple ailments.

Recently, Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as True Cinnamon, has been suggested as a treatment for diseased or rotting plant roots.

While Cinnamon can help combat root rot in plants, opinions are divided regarding how effective the spice truly is.

Some studies show that Cinnamon powder prevents fungus overgrowth in the soil and increases water retention around roots. 

‘ Wilson et al.indicated that, out of 49 essential oils tested, cinnamon leaf C. zeylanicum showed the strongest antifungal activity against Botrytis cinerea.'

Others have reported that Cinnamon has little to no effect on root rot and can dry out your soil further.

To get the best of both worlds, give Cinnamon a trial run as a preventive measure – sprinkle the cinnamon powder around your seedlings before planting them! 

Who knows? It may be just what your plants need to stay healthy and happy!

Does bottom watering prevent root rot?

Bottom watering is a popular method of watering plants, allowing the bottom portion of the soil to be moistened instead of the entire root system being wet.

Bottom watering can help certain plants retain more moisture, leading to better growth. It's something gardeners often experiment with to get bigger and healthier plants.

But what about bottom watering and root rot?

Well, bottom watering itself does not prevent root rot from occurring – though it can help prevent other issues related to overwatering, such as mould or disease.

The key is experimenting to find out how much bottom watering your plants need to thrive without becoming victims of root rot.

More Houseplant Plant Care:


By following these tips for preventing root rot in potted plants, your houseplants will be able to thrive instead of struggling against disease caused by fungus buildup in their soil.

From choosing the right potting mix and learning proper watering techniques, keeping your houseplants healthy doesn't have to be complicated!

With just a few simple steps, you'll be on your way towards having lush foliage all year round!

Have you had problems with houseplants suffering from root rot? Let me know in the comments below.

Please see all the houseplant supplies I love and use.

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