Dracaena Root Rot

Dracaena Root Rot

Dracaena is a succulent shrub, of which there are roughly 120 species. These plants are native to Africa, Southern Asia, Northern Australia and Central America. They are low maintenance and are popular for their attractive foliage. These plants can also purify the air, removing benzene, carbon dioxide and formaldehyde. However, like most plants, they are also prone to diseases such as root rot. 

What are the causes of dracaena root rot?

Dracaena root rot is caused by constantly wet soil and exacerbated by fungi that lie dormant in the soil and enter the plant through its roots, slowing and stunting its growth. This is unlikely to happen when the roots are healthy, but damaged roots become compromised and vulnerable to these pathogens. 

Constantly wet conditions prevent oxygen uptake by the roots, causing them to drown. They will start rotting, and the rot can then be exacerbated by fungal infection. The waterlogged soil can be due to overwatering, badly-draining or compact soil, or a lack of drainage holes in the plant’s container. All these factors contribute to the damp, oxygen-deprived conditions that are ideal for fungi to multiply and attack the weakened roots. 

Over-fertilizing could also be a cause, as it impacts soil quality.  Overfertilized plants take up more nitrogen than they need, disrupting the balance of nutrients in the plant tissue. Excess salts from fertilizers could also diminish the plants’ ability to take up water. 

If you are guilty of overwatering your plant, you will need to transfer it to a new pot with fresh soil. Adjust your watering schedule to avoid overwatering again; a good rule is to wait until the top layer of soil is dry before watering. 

Use rainwater to water these plants, because they are sensitive to the fluorides found in tap water. Opt for clay pots with drainage holes so the soil does not stay waterlogged, and add some pebbles at the bottom to improve the drainage. Plants in gardens can be placed in raised beds for improved drainage. 

How to treat Dracaena root rot

Remove the affected plant from the soil. 

If you suspect that your plant has root rot, remove it gently from the soil with all of its roots, and rinse the roots in room-temperature water. Rotten roots look black, mushy and weak, and some may even fall off. Healthy roots are firm and white. 

Use sterile shears to cut off the rotten roots. 

Remove the rotten roots with sterile shears or scissors to prevent the spread of the root rot. Clean your gardening tools well and sterilize them with a bleach solution. Make sure you prune off all the damaged and rotten roots, being careful to save the healthy ones. 

You may also need to cut back some of the leaves if the infection is severe. This gives the plants a better chance of survival, since the roots have fewer leaves to care for. Cut off at least one-third to one-half of the leaves, depending on how many roots were cut off. 

Empty and clean the pot.

The pot must be emptied and all the soil discarded once affected with root rot. If the plants are in a garden, remove all the surrounding soil. You should also check the roots of surrounding plants, as the infection could have spread to nearby plants. 

Use a fungicide solution. 

Fungicides are effective treatments for fungal diseases. Simply dip the healthy roots into the solution to protect them from the fungus. Since these solutions are toxic chemicals, they should be kept in closed containers and gloves should be worn when handling them.

Replant the plants in fresh soil. 

Once you are done with the previous steps, you can repot the plants using fresh, clean soil. Opt for tall planters that are self-watering or have overflow protection. If you are using the same pot, sterilize it first. Clay pots and clay pebbles are also good options to manage the drainage. 

Do not use fertilizers right away, to give the roots time to adjust. Consider doing a soil test to ascertain what nutrients are lacking before using fertilizers. Improper fertilizing could stress the plants, stunt their growth and make them more sensitive to diseases. 


Dracaena plants are succulents native to Africa, Southern Asia, Northern Australia and Central America. They are easy to care for, thrive in warm temperatures, and have attractive foliage that can purify the air of toxins, including formaldehyde. 

However, like most plants, they are susceptible to root rot caused by overwatering, poor drainage and over-fertilizing. To treat root rot, trim off the affected roots, treat the healthy roots with fungicide, and replant the plants in a new pot with fresh potting mix.

Image: istockphoto.com / Yuliya Giss