The money tree is a low-maintenance indoor houseplant that is popular among novice plant owners.
One of the most common mistakes people make when growing money trees is overwatering them. Overwatering the plant makes it vulnerable to pathogens that can cause root rot and possibly kill the plant.
In this article, we will discuss what exactly causes root rot in money trees, and how to treat and avoid it.
How do I know if my money tree has root rot?
The leaves are discolored
One of the reasons homeowners love money trees is because of the beautiful dark green color of their leaves. So, if you notice that the leaves on your plant have started to look pale, yellow or brown, the plant is probably overwatered. Of course, this sign is not unique to overwatered plants, but it is indicative of a problem that needs addressing nevertheless.
The leaves are wilting
When a plant’s roots are damaged and compromised, they are no longer able to properly absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and this affects the plant’s overall health. The plant may start to lose its vigor and look undernourished, including the wilting of its leaves.
The growth is stunted or slow
Because the roots are damaged, the plant’s nutrient stores will become depleted and it will no longer be able to grow properly. If you notice that your money tree has not grown in the past couple of weeks or months, it may be because of root rot and you may need to look at its roots to confirm the diagnosis.
Remember that slowed growth in the winter does not always mean root rot, because the plants’ growth phase is during the spring and summer. Slowed growth in winter is completely normal and should be no cause for concern.
There is a foul odor
Because the roots of the plant are literally decaying and rotting, the infected plant will exude the distinct smell of rotten vegetation.
Every once in a while, smell the area around the base of the plant and note any smells akin to rotten compost.
This is one of the earliest signs of root rot, so an acute sense of smell may just mean the difference between catching the disease in its early stages and not being able to salvage your tree money tree.
Brown or black, mushy roots
The only way to be sure that your money plant has root rot is by inspecting its roots. Take the plant out of the soil and shake or wash off as much soil as you can from the roots. Examine all of the roots closely, looking out for roots that are either brown or black in color and soft and mushy to the touch.
If there are rotten roots, that means the money tree has root rot. If there are still portions of the roots that are white and healthy, the plant can possibly still be salvaged.
What are the causes of root rot?
The most probable cause of root rot is overwatering. This is because when water in the soil pools around the roots of the plant, they suffocate. The compromised roots become easy targets for the pathogens that cause root rot.
Money trees are not heavy drinkers, so they do not need to be watered frequently. At most, water the plant once a week, but there is no set time for when you should water it. The most important thing to note is whether the soil in the pot is dry to the touch.
Touch the top two inches of soil. If they are dry, water the plant; if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days and check it again. This is a better indication of when to water your plant, because the frequency is subject to change depending on the climate, weather, season and the plant’s overall living conditions.
2. The pot has no drainage holes
Another cause of root rot is poor drainage around your plant’s roots. This is affected by factors such as the amount of water you give the plant and the pot you are using.
If the pot you are using does not have drainage holes, or if it does but you neglect to empty the water tray under the pot, the excess water will pool at the bottom of the pot and result in the same damage dealt by overwatering.
To remedy this, make sure your pot has drainage holes at the bottom, and if you have a water tray to catch dripping water, empty the tray daily. You can also try adding activated charcoal to the bottom of the pot to help absorb any excess moisture.
3. Poorly-draining soil
If the soil in your plant’s pot is compact, like clay, it will retain moisture too well and will not dry out fast enough. Compact soil also affects the flow of nutrients and water from the soil to the roots of the plant.
If the soil you are using drains poorly, you may need to change it. Choose a potting mix that includes coarse sand or perlite, because those components will make the soil more porous and aerated.
There are several species of fungi and bacteria that can attack your plant’s weakened roots and cause root rot. They may have been dormant in the soil waiting for a chance to strike, or they may have been introduced to the plant through contaminated gardening tools or soil.
Make sure all of your pots, soil and gardening tools are clean and free of pathogens that might cause root rot before using them on your plants. If you have just bought a new plant, make sure it does not have root rot before using your own tools on it, or you may risk infecting all of your healthy plants.
5. Cold temperatures
When the weather is cold, the soil will take longer to dry out between waterings. Thus, you might unknowingly be overwatering your plant in the winter. There is also significantly less sunlight in the winter, further lengthening the time it takes for the soil to dry out.
Make sure to adjust your watering schedule during the winter because your plant will not need as much water as it does in the summer.
Can I save my money tree if it has root rot?
Yes, it is possible to save a money tree with root rot. Take the plant out of the soil and wash off any old soil. Using a sterile pair of scissors, cut off any roots that are brown or black and leave the white roots, because those are still healthy.
Spray the healthy roots with a fungicide and let the plant air-dry for a day. When the roots are completely dry, replant the money tree in a pot with drainage holes, making sure you use fresh soil. Do not water the plant after replanting, to give the roots time to recover and reestablish.
Money trees can get root rot when overwatered, when planted in a pot with no drainage holes, when planted in poorly-draining soil, if exposed to contaminated tools or soil, or if kept in colder-than-ideal temperatures.
To save your plant from root rot, stop watering it immediately, cut off the infected roots, spray the healthy roots with fungicide, let the plant air-dry, and replant it in a pot with drainage holes, using fresh soil.
Image: istockphoto.com / Kevin Snijders