African Violet Root Rot

African Violet Root Rot

African violets get root root when their roots are sitting in constantly waterlogged soil. The roots will suffocate and die in this anaerobic environment, and they will then begin to rot. The rot may be exacerbated by opportunistic pathogens that attack the weak and damaged roots and cause the rot to spread faster into the rest of the plant.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of root rot in African violet plants and how to manage them.

What is root rot?

Root rot happens when the fine hair rootlets at the ends of the roots become so overwhelmed with the amount of water in the soil that they get clogged and eventually die. Because these fine hair rootlets are dead, they will start to rot.

The rot from the rootlets will spread to the upper root hairs and continue until it reaches the crown of the root.

Infected roots will look brown or black, and will feel soft and mushy to the touch.

What are the causes of African Violet root rot?

The most probable reason your African violet has root rot is that you are overwatering it.

It could also be that the soil you are using is too heavy and compact, in which case it can become too dense and will retain water too well. This will lead to the roots clogging up and the excess water not draining out easily. These plants like their soil to be airy and porous.

Believe it or not, heat can also lead to root rot in plants. If the plant is placed in an area where the soil gets very hot during the day and then very cold during the night, this extreme shift in temperature can affect the roots of the plant.

If you have the habit of watering the plants at night, this can also lead to root rot, because the soil will not dry as quickly without sunlight.

The plant can also become stressed if the conditions of the soil keep changing, like when you are inconsistent with your watering habits. You may neglect the plant for weeks and it dries out, and then overcompensate and give it more water than it needs without allowing it to dry out between waterings. This cycle can lead to root rot because the roots will become weak from the stress.

If the pot you are using for the plant does not have drainage holes so that excess water can escape, this also leads to root rot.

How can you tell if your African Violet has root rot?

Externally, the plant’s leaves will start to discolor and become yellow or brown. The leaves will start to droop and lose their firmness, and the stems will feel soft and mushy. 

Internally, or beneath the soil, the soil will be quite soggy. Remove some of the soil at the base of the plant and you will see that the roots look brown or black and feel mushy. That means that the rot has reached the primary root system.

When a root section is rotten, can it be saved?

No, rotten roots that are brown or black and already feel soft are dead and decaying.

If you are able to catch the rot in its early stages and only the fine hair rootlets have rotted, you may still be able to save the major roots.

You can check the root by cutting off a portion to expose a stub. If the inside of the stub is still green, it is still alive and can be saved.

Cut off any dead portions of the roots with a clean pair of scissors so that they do not spread the infection. 

How do I save a dying African Violet from root rot?

The chances of a full recovery from root rot will depend on the extent of the infection.

To ascertain the severity of the rot, you may have to uproot the plant to inspect the roots more closely.

Remove the plant from the soil gently, because the roots are probably weak and damaged and will break easily.

Shake and wash off as much soil as you can and look for roots that have turned brown or black.

As mentioned above, if only the fine hair rootlets have rotted, you can simply remove them with a clean pair of scissors. If there are larger portions of roots that are rotten, cut those off as well.

Make sure you remove every single rotten root, because even one small portion of an infected root can restart an infection.

Spray the remaining roots with fungicide so that they are protected from infection. Let the plant air-dry overnight on a tray lined with a paper towel.

If you want to reuse the old pot, you can, but make sure you wash it with a water and bleach solution so that any fungi and bacteria are killed. If there are no holes at the bottom of the pot, drill some and  make sure they are large enough to let the excess water flow through easily. 

When the plant’s roots have dried, you can replant it in fresh soil.

Do not water the plant immediately, because the roots will need at least a week to recover from the trauma of being replanted.

Conclusion

African violets get root rot when their roots stand constantly in waterlogged soil. This may come about because you are overwatering the plant, being inconsistent with your watering technique, watering the plant at night, using a pot without drainage holes, or using soil that is poorly-draining.

The telltale signs of an African violet with root rot are yellowing or browning leaves, drooping and wilting foliage, a distinct rotten smell emanating from the roots, and brown or black mushy roots.

You can save your plant by removing it from the pot and inspecting the roots to see the extent of the infection. Remove the rotten roots and spray the remaining roots with fungicide. Let the plant air-dry and then replant it in a pot with sufficient drainage holes, using fresh, well-draining soil.

Image: istockphoto.com / Inna Mykhalchuk