Root Rot: Identification, Fight, and Prevention

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root rot

Do you know that your plants can have a condition Root Rot?

Root rot is a condition that attacks the roots of trees or plants that grow in wet or damp soil.

Moreover, this decaying disease can cut life short of just about any type of tree or plant and has symptoms just like other diseases and poor growth problems.

These include poor growth, wilted leaves, early leaf drop, branch dieback, and eventually leading to the death of the plant.

Furthermore, it can also cause your plants or trees to have dull leaves which turn yellow and the whole plant seems to be on a verge of death.

You can take certain steps to avoid this condition.

Keep on reading to learn more about it in detail.

Understanding Root Rot

Basically, root rot is a plant disease, however, the key to understanding is learning about what factors can cause this disease.

The disease can occur due to waterlogging soil or various kinds of fungi.

Moreover, the soil can become waterlogged for a number of reasons. These include poor drainage, continuous heavy rainfall, and overwatering.

Overwatering might be one of the most disconcerting of all the causes.

As you know that our plants need water, and you feel that you need to supply them with water. However, this is a case of “too much of a good thing”.


Even overwatering or an unusual rain period is often not enough, in itself, to cause the soil to become waterlogged.

The great cause of it is poor drainage.

Water runs through a sandy type of soil like a sieve, it is rare for such soil to become waterlogged.

However, in the case of clay soil, it holds water for a long time.

So it is usually a combination of poor drainage and excessive moisture that makes the ground waterlogged.

More about Root Rot

You may think of plant roots as needed to breathe, however, roots do not need oxygen. This is why waterlogged soil is a problem for them.

They tend to drown in it, rot, diet, and become useless to the vegetation they support, thus, resulting in the death of the plant if you fail to solve the problem.

Moreover, root rotting from sitting in too much water which is unable to absorb water and transport it to the rest of the plant, which will wilt.

In some cases, the cause of root rot is not as simple as waterlogging soil.

The direct cause may be fungus, like Phytophthora.

However, kist as poor drainage enables excessive water to become a problem, waterlogging soil is an enabler for Phytophthora.

Fungi often thrive under wet conditions, Phytophthora rarely becomes an issue in that soil that drains well.

Identifying Root Rot

The main reason why root rot is hard to detect in a timely manner is that it is developing underground. and is out of sight.

Despite the name, gardeners often spot the signs of disease in the leaves of your plant, not its root.

By then, however, the damage is already too extensive.

Moreover, yellowing leaves can be a sign of root rot and the leaves may drop off.

The leaves may also become distorted, smaller than usual, or twisted.

Once you do inspect the roots, you may find that they are different in color than normal, often darker, reddish-brown, and stink with rot.

Yet, another sign of root rot is, no matter how much you water your plant, it will always look wilted.

Symptoms and Diagnosing Root Rot

Many signs and symptoms of root rot mirror signs of pest infestation, which often makes diagnosis more difficult.

The symptoms of root rot are obviously easier to spot above the ground. These are:

  • stunted growth or poor growth
  • small, pale leaves
  • branch dieback

wilting leaves

  • thining of the canopy
  • wilted, yellowed, or browned leaves
  • gradual or quick decline without any obvious reason
  • in some species, the fungus grows up from the root in the inner bark, causes cankers, or sunken dead areas.

One of the most accurate ways to diagnose root rot is to dig below the ground to see if decaying is taking place.

A good tool for this is a Pulaski as it is two-sided, one side for chopping, while the other one for digging or scraping.

However, make sure to take of your plant when digging so that you cause no further harm to the tree or plant.

Preventing or Treating Root Rot

Preventing root rot in the first place is a lot easier than dealing with it after your plant gets it.

Providing your yard with good drainage and avoiding overwatering are the two best options to prevent it.

You might find it difficult to know how much water is too much, in terms of an actual measurement.


The best way to find if you are watering your plant properly is to dig down into the soil, just outside its root zone, ie. close enough to see what is going on, however, not to close that you damage the roots.

In most cases, plants prefer to have evenly moist soil throughout their root zones.

Therefore, if you find your soil drying out, then you are not watering your plants enough.

However, if you find it soggy, then you are overwatering your plants.

Improving Yard Drainage

You can improve the yard drainage in a number of ways. Some of these are;

  • mixing amendments into the soil, like compost
  • installing French drains
  • growing your plants in raised beds

In case you fail to prevent and end up with root rot, you will lose the plant in question, for instance, a perennial rather than a big tree shrubs, or if you catch the problem in time.

potting containers

Houseplants that are often notorious for root rot, you can save them as they are growing in containers, giving you easy access to their roots.

You can also treat minor cases of root rot first by digging up the plant, washing the roots, and removing the diseased parts with a sterilized cutting tool.

While replanting them laster, you can either return your plants to the same spot after improving the ground with compost or transplant it to a better spot.

Either way, giving your plants friable soil to grow in can help to avoid the problem of root rot in the future.

Smart Plant Selection

One of the important things to note is that you should never overlook the importance of smart plant selection.

If you know you have soil that often stays wet then is ideal for most plants, grow them in or around water and/or plants that can tolerate poor drainage.

Examples are:

  • Northern blue flag or Iris Versicolor
  • Willows like pussy willow or Salix Discolor

Moreover, avoid growing plants that are often susceptible to root rot. These are:

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Rhododendron spp., Andromeda (Pieris japonica), Yews (Taxus spp.), Heather (Calluna), Mediterranean plants such as English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia.

Avoiding Problems with Root Rot

In order to to avoid root rot, follow the steps below:

First, buy plants from a reputable source and make sure they are root rot-free prior to purchasing them.

Second, replant your houseplant properly.

Make sure to use a pot with drainage holes, however, do not put rots or gravel at the bottom of the pot.

The presence of rocks or gravel can inhibit the drainage of the pot, therefore, use a pasteurized commercial potting mix.

However, do not use soil from your garden.

root rot 1

Third, minimize the potential combination of your plant with root rot fungi.

Avoid resuing potting mix from your houseplants, or water when your plant needs it. as other potentially can contain root rot fungi.

After working with your plants with root rot issues, disinfect the tools, working space, and clay pots with a 10% bleach or detergent solution, or you can use alcohol.

Finally, and most importantly, moderate plant moisture. Provide your plants with enough water to fulfill their needs for growth and prevent drought stress.

Make sure, however, to not overwater your plants.

In particular, do not allow your plant to sit in drainage water.

Final Thoughts

Some of the gardening issues are easy to identify and often become apparent quickly. When you visit your garden in the morning and find that big bites have been taken out of your tomatoes, then surly a groundhog had dropped by for a snack during the night.

However, root rot is an issue that sneaks up on you, and even after the signs of this issue are apparent, you will really have to know what to look for in order to identify it. With the help of prevention tips, you can make sure to prevent root rot in your trees and plants.

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