As a new gardener, there's a lot you can only learn about through trial and error or through experience. One of those things is root rot, which occurs when the roots of your plants begin to rot, turn plant leaves yellow, cause them to wilt or create brown spots, which quickly can lead to plant death. With careful analysis and prompt action, you can save your plant from an early death.
Root Rot Causes
Root rot is often caused by overwatering, which leads to root damage because there isn't enough oxygen to feed the roots, or planting in soil that retains too much water and doesn't drain properly. It can also occur as a result of a fungus that grows due to overwatering, infects the roots and spreads into the leaves of a plant.
The roots of a healthy plant are typically a white or light color and indicate proper vascularity, meaning that the correct amount of water and nutrients are passing from the roots upward into the plants. Some root rot is triggered by too much fertilizer and exposure of roots to frigid temperatures.
Major of root rot are brown or black roots that feel spongy when you touch them. Root rot turns leaves yellow and often causes them to wilt or droop. You may also smell a strong odor of decomposition due to the dying roots, which are infected with bacteria. In some cases, plant leaves may not turn yellow, but they will stop growing, which will be noticeable when you compare their growth to the normal growth of healthy plants. Other symptoms include roots that are limp or whose outer layers tear off when you pull on them, leaving only the underlayer.
How to Treat Root Rot
If you catch root rot at an early stage, you may still be able to salvage your plants.
Uproot the affected plant from the soil, and clean the roots with water. Gently brush off the soil and pull or trim off all damaged roots without touching the roots that still look healthy. Be sure to use sanitized pruning tools so you do not transfer the disease to healthy portions of the plant.
Trim the edges of the roots with garden shears to ensure that you cut away all remaining root rot. Don't be alarmed if you trim a great deal of the roots, because any rotted roots that aren't cut off will continue to damage your plants.
Cut off all affected leaves from your plant using the shears, and then trim the plant down to half its original size. This reduces the number of leaves that the new developing roots will have to support so the plant puts its energy into growing a new root system.
Sanitize the pot of any container-grown plant by dipping it in bleach and water to ensure that you kill any lingering fungus or bacteria. A ratio of one part bleach to 10 parts water should be used when sanitizing containers.
Place the cleaned plant in a new pot that has proper drainage filled with fresh soil that drains well. If your plant was in the ground, then you might want to consider moving it to a pot to recover. If that's not an option, replant it in a section of the garden that has proper drainage. Only water the plant when the top layer of soil is dry, and make sure the pot has adequate drainage to prevent overwatering.
Because root rot can be caused by fungus, people often reach for a fungicide to treat the problem. However, it's best to avoid using any fungicides until you take your damaged plant to a nursery for fungus testing. This will determine which fungicide is most effective for your type of plant.
Fungicides can be expensive, and you must use them with caution. If too much fungicide is used, then your soil will be contaminated and the plants will become more susceptible to root rot. Follow the package directions when applying fungicide after discovering a plant has root rot.