Succulent root rot is a general term for a variety of diseases that affect the plant’s roots. The most common cause of succulent root rot is overwatering. When the plant’s pot is always soaked in water and there are no drainage holes, the roots will “drown,” killing the root one segment at a time. The rot can spread to the rest of the plant if not caught soon enough.
You can save your succulents from root rot through sulfur, beheading, trimming, or drying.
What is root rot?
Root rot is a condition in plants that can be caused by diseases, but is more commonly due to overwatering. A plant’s roots rot and die, causing the rest of the plant to die if it is not treated as soon as possible.
Overwatering your succulent causes root rot, especially if the plant’s pot does not have any drainage holes in the bottom. The excess water that the plant does not absorb simply stays in the soil around the plant’s roots. Succulent roots need air to survive, which is why they need airy soil. If their pot is soaked in water all the time, the roots will basically “drown” and die.
It is quite challenging to catch root rot in its early stages. People usually notice differences in their plants because of changes in the stems or leaves, but these symptoms mean that the root rot has become quite serious and may be hard to treat.
How can you tell if your succulent is overwatered?
One way to rule out certain plants in your garden from root rot is by checking to see if they have been overwatered or not. An overwatered succulent’s leaves will have a lighter color than normal, or may even be translucent.
The leaves will feel squishy, mushy, and soft to the touch. The leaves may also start falling off of the stem because of the added weight of the excess water the plant has been absorbing.
How can you tell if your succulent has root rot?
Being able to tell if your succulent has root rot requires inspecting the root, stems, and leaves.
Checking the roots
When you are in the process of repotting your plant, or if you simply suspect root rot, unpot your plant and remove as much dirt as you can so you can take a good look at the roots.
If the plant’s roots are yellow or white, they are healthy. Healthy roots also have root hair, which is a natural root structure that is used to drink water from the soil. The fuzz on the root can also be a symbiotic fungus that helps in absorbing nutrients from the soil, called mycorrhizal fungus.
If you do not see fuzz, that is okay- uprooting the plant is necessary, but can destroy the fuzz. It will not hurt the plant, but try not to unpot the plant too often.
If the plant’s roots appear brown, do not worry: they are likely just dried out or underwatered. This can be remedied by a more frequent watering schedule.
Plant roots that have root rot will be dark brown or even black. They will feel slimy and wet to the touch. The roots of a plant with root rot will most likely disintegrate as you pull them out of the ground.
A rotten smell can also be a sign of possible root rot. The rotten smell can range from mild to very foul, depending on the severity of the rot. The smell is similar to rotten vegetables.
Unfortunately, people usually only catch root rot in its early stages when they happen to be repotting their plants.
Check the stems and leaves
When you find signs of root rot on the plant’s stems and leaves, this means that the damage is severe and that the root rot has been going on for quite some time.
If root rot is present, the leaves of the succulent will start to turn yellow and become paler. In the most severe cases, the leaves have already become mushy and are falling off from the stem. There is nothing that can be done at this point since the body can no longer support itself.
It is still possible to reverse the effects of root rot when the plant’s leaves are pale and yellow, but it can be difficult. It is especially hard to catch, especially when the plant’s leaves cover the base of the stem, making catching the root rot early almost impossible.
Another tip is to see if only the lower leaves are turning yellow. This is a sign that it is being overwatered.
How can you treat root rot?
The best method to choose when trying to treat root rot will depend on the severity of the damage. Here are several suggestions:
Dry out the roots.
The simplest way to treat root rot is to simply let the roots dry. This technique is only going to work if the rot has not yet spread to the stem and leaves. If the leaves on the plant have already started turning yellow, drying out will no longer work. Leave the plant to dry out for several days before repotting it.
Trim the roots.
If you are fortunate enough to have caught the rot in its early stages, you can treat it by trimming off the affected roots. The key is to cut off the root a few inches above the affected part. This is because even if a segment of the root looks healthy, the insides may already be rotting. Just to be safe, cut off more than what seems necessary.
After trimming, do not replant immediately. Instead, let the cuttings callus for a few days to increase the chances of recovery.
Powdered sulfur can help prevent root rot, especially ones caused by fungi and bacteria. The sulfur acidifies the soil when it is sprinkled on the roots before the plant is repotted. Just be careful when using sulfur to prevent root rot because it can also kill beneficial microbes. Keep in mind that sulfur will not treat root rot caused by overwatering.
Succulent root rot happens when the roots of a plant are damaged or even die due to bacteria or fungi. It is more commonly due to overwatering.
You will know a plant has root rot if the leaves are pale or yellow and mushy when touched. The roots will be a dark brown or black color with the foul smell of rotten vegetation.
Treat root rot through drying out the roots and trimming off the affected roots. Prevent it from happening by sprinkling sulfur powder on the roots before repotting.
Image: istockphoto.com / Boyloso