Like most houseplants, the peace lily is susceptible to root rot if its roots have been damaged and left vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens. The root damage can be due to any circumstance that causes the plant’s roots to be soaked in waterlogged soil for extended periods of time.
It is possible to salvage your peace lily if it has root rot, but only if there are some healthy roots still remaining.
In this article, we will discuss the symptoms and causes of root rot in peace lilies, and how to manage a peace lily with root rot.
What are the signs and symptoms of a peace lily with root rot?
Yellow, wilted, drooping leaves
If the root rot infection in your peace lily has been going on for long enough that it is affecting other parts of the plant, the leaves will start to turn yellow and the entire plant will look wilted and droopy.
Peace lilies need their roots to function properly for the plant to get water and nutrients from the soil. Because the flow of these essential requirements is disrupted, the whole plant will start to die slowly, which is why the foliage is discolored and wilting.
When the growth of your peace lily seems stunted, it may be because most of the plant’s roots are damaged and only a small percent remain functional. No new leaves or foliage will appear on your plant, and this should be a cause for concern.
A peace lily with root rot will emanate a particular, foul smell akin to rotten vegetation. Sniff the soil at the base of the plant and if you detect this rotten odor, then root rot is very likely. Because the roots are actively decaying due to overwatering or fungal infection, the base of the plant will start to smell.
If you notice the smell before the plant has displayed any other symptoms of root rot, it means the infection is in its early stages and you just might be able to save the plant and have a higher chance of it recovering fully.
What are the causes of root rot in peace lilies?
The main cause of root rot in peace lilies is overwatering. When the plant’s roots are consistently standing in waterlogged soil, the roots cannot absorb oxygen because of the anaerobic environment, and this results in the roots rotting and dying.
You can avoid overwatering your peace lily by knowing how to water it properly. Following a set watering schedule may seem like the easy thing to do, but the schedule should be subject to change according to the weather and the climate. During the summer, you may need to water the plant more frequently because the soil dries up faster, while you should probably reduce the frequency in the winter when the soil takes longer to dry out.
The best way to know whether to water the plant is by touching the top two inches of the soil to see if they are dry. If the soil is dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days and check it again.
Your choice of pot can also be the reason your peace lily has root rot. If the pot does not have drainage holes at the bottom, or if the holes are too small or have become clogged, the excess water will not be able to escape and will remain in the soil and suffocate the plant’s roots.
You can remedy this easily by making sure the pot has drainage holes and that those holes are large enough and are not clogged up with pebbles or soil.
Choose a clay or terracotta pot and avoid plastic or steel pots. Clay and terracotta are more breathable and allow water to seep through, while steel and plastic are not porous at all.
If the soil you are using in your pot does not drain well, the water will not drain as quickly as the plant would like, and this can also cause the roots to suffocate as air will have a hard time reaching the roots.
Heavy and compact soil, like clay, holds onto water and moisture a little too well, doing more harm than good to your plant.
Remedy this by changing the soil. You can make your own potting mix by adding perlite or sand to the potting soil to make it more porous and airy.
As mentioned above, root rot can come about because of overwatering, but the presence of opportunistic pathogens can hasten the spread of the rot to the rest of the plant.
The most common species of fungi that cause root rot in peace lilies are Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia.
These fungi are probably already present in the soil around your peace lily, but are dormant and waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. When they sense that the roots of your plant are vulnerable and damaged, they will infect it and cause the rot to spread even faster.
These fungi can also come from contaminated gardening tools such as shears and spades, so make sure you always sterilize the tools you use on any of your plants.
You can prevent fungal infections by avoiding overwatering the plant. Fungi love moist environments and allowing the soil to dry out between waterings will help keep them at bay.
Try not to reuse any soil, in case it is contaminated with fungi. You are better off discarding any old soil and just using fresh soil, even when repotting.
How can I save my peace lily that is suffering from root rot?
Before anything, you need to stop watering the plant immediately.
Remove the plant from the pot carefully, because the roots are weak and will break easily.
Shake and wash off as much of the soil as you can from the roots, so you can inspect them properly. If there are any brown or black parts of the roots, those are rotten and will need to be removed. Use a sterile pair of scissors to cut off the infected roots while leaving the white, healthy roots alone. You need to remove all the rotten roots, because if even the smallest infected root is left behind, it can start a reinfection.
If you end up cutting off a large portion of the roots, you might need to remove some leaves as well, because the remaining roots might not be able to sustain the whole plant. Removing some of the leaves will alleviate some stress as the plant recovers.
Spray the remaining roots with an antifungal solution to protect them, and let the plant air-dry on a paper towel.
You can reuse the old pot, but you need to wash and disinfect it with a bleach and water solution. This is important, so that there are no fungi left in the pot to contaminate the fresh soil. Make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom.
Once the plant has dried out, fill the pot with well-draining soil and place the root ball in the soil.
Tap the soil around the base of the plant to help settle the soil.
Do not water the plant immediately; wait at least one week so that the roots can recover from the trauma of being repotted.
Peace lilies can get root rot, just like most houseplants. This is caused by overwatering, poor drainage, poorly-draining soil or fungal pathogens. Basically, all the factors that lead to root rot stem from the peace lily’s roots sitting in soil that is waterlogged and boggy.
Save your peace lily with root rot by inspecting the roots and removing any rotten parts, while leaving the healthy ones intact. Spray the healthy roots with fungicide and let the plant air-dry. Replant the peace lily in a pot with drainage holes and make sure you use soil that drains well.
Image: istockphoto.com / Tatiana Gorbunova