Decoding the Sign of Root Rot in Succulents: A Detailed Exploration

The causes of root rot are pathogens, but also maintenance errors. With these tips, you can identify root rot and effectively prevent it.

how do i know if my succulent has root rot

What is Root Rot?

Root rot can be described very quickly – the roots rot and become mushy, the plants wither in whole or in part and die – but the cause of root rot is far more complicated and diverse. And there are generally different causes.

How do I Know if My Succulent Has Root Rot?

If a succulent is healthy, you do not pay attention to the roots. But even if root rot spreads invisibly in the roots or inside the plants, the plants usually draw attention to an infection beforehand, so that the root rot can usually be easily recognized. Typical symptoms are:

  • Individual shoots wilt within a short time. What is usually accepted as a lack of water can indicate root rot. If you continue watering, the fungi will spread, or the plant will drown, and the roots will rot because of the lack of oxygen.
  • Leaf discoloration (chlorosis): blocked roots and blocked conduits are of course also noticeable above ground – too few nutrients are transported. As soon as the leaf coloration of a plant on individual shoots, or the entire plant changes, the leaves turn light green or yellow, which is an alarming sign. The discoloration is, of course, identical to that of nutrient deficiency, but often only occurs on individual plants.
why are my succulent leaves rotting
The symptoms of chlorosis can already be recognized on this succulent
  • Shaky plants: If plants are shaky in the pot or the soil, the roots are most likely damaged – the plants stand in the soil like a building with crumbling foundations. In the case of root neck rot, it is not uncommon for the root neck to constrict and turn brown, which in the end can also lead to shaky plants. If the roots are completely rotten, you can easily pull the whole plant out of the soil.
  • Brown roots in potted plants: Suspected cases can easily be checked for potted plants – simply pull the plants out of the pot and check. If water is in the planter, it will be the cause of mushy, rotting roots. Keep the plant dry and wrap the ball of the soil repeatedly in kitchen towels. These pull the water out of the soil, and the plant can recover.
  • If roots are suspected, expose them: Healthy roots are whitish, light beige or light brown and firm. Dark brown, soft, or even mushy roots are a sign of root rot.

Read also:
Succulent Leaves Splitting: Why it Happens and How to Prevent It
7 Reasons for Leaves Falling Off Succulents – And How to Avoid Them
How Often Should You Fertilize Succulents? – Myth Debunked

What Causes Root Rot in Plants?

Both fungi and bacteria can cause root rot. Damaged roots quickly weaken the plant to such an extent that other pathogens or pests can easily attack it.

Scientifically, the harmful fungi are called Fusarium, Pythium, Phytophthora, Aphanomyces, Rhizoctonia or Theileriosis, with Pythium and Phytophthora occurring most frequently. The diseases caused by harmful fungi are called Aphanomyces rot, hard rot, black rot, diarrhea, or root killer. Each of them is annoying for the gardener. Because the pathogens infest the roots directly from the soil, the fungi can cause damage even after years. The path to the plant’s pathways is not far from infested roots, and the shoots begin to wither quickly.

what causes root rot in plants
Root rot in Echeveria Black Prince

As soon as bacteria such as Erwinia, Pseudomonas, Rhizomonas, or Xanthomonas are involved, the damaged areas become moist, mushy, and somehow “gross”. No wonder, since the bacteria dissolve the cell walls, which often produces a foul smell. Bacteria like to attack plants when they are already weakened by a fungal attack. In many cases, what exactly is responsible for root rot can therefore only be determined in the laboratory. However, nothing helps against bacteria – so remove infected plants immediately.

When roots rot, it does not necessarily have to be fungi or bacteria. Even a too wet location leads to a lack of oxygen, and the roots become mushy and rotten. In combination with compacted soil, waterlogging is one of the most common causes of mushy roots. Potted and container plants that you like to water too much are particularly at risk.

Why Are My Succulent Leaves Rotting?

Plump, juicy green leaves are the most beautiful ornament on money trees, jade shrubs, and other succulents. If succulent leaves become soft, it is not only the striking appearance of the exotic houseplants that are impaired. The damage pattern indicates a life-threatening deficit in care. You can find out what it is here.

how to fix succulent root rot
If there is a lack of water, the leaves of the succulent will become soft

Soft Leaves on Succulents Indicate a Lack of Water

Especially in summer, succulents suffer from soft leaves because their water reserves there are running out. How to solve the problem:

  • First, check whether the soil has dried out
  • Place succulents in water until no more air bubbles rise
  • Alternatively, repot into fresh soil and water it properly

From April to September, succulents need to be watered regularly. The water supply is reduced to a minimum only during the winter growth period.

Which Plants are Particularly Affected?

how to save a rotting succulent
Seedlings must be kept permanently moist, but a substrate that is too wet quickly leads to root rot

Some plants are more susceptible to be targeted by harmful fungi. This includes:

  • Seedlings are primarily affected by the disease of dying out or root fire caused by fungi of the genus Pythium. As the name suggests, they simply fall over in their seed bowl or bed after emergence and die. The seedlings affected by the root fire have brown roots and typical constrictions on their stems. Do not keep the earth too wet.
  • The root rot of thuja, azalea or heather in the garden is caused by the fungus Phytophthora Cinnamomi, which destroys the bark of the roots up to the root neck. The shoots turn pale yellow, later brown throughout, and the plants often die within one season. Act quickly, initially only single plants are attacked in a hedge, but the pathogen does not stop until it has infected everything. Pull out infested plants along with some soil. Other Phytophthora species target strawberries, potatoes, and tomatoes – the Phytophthora infesters described above prefer alder, oak, and many other ornamental and vegetable plants.
  • The root tan caused by the Thielaviopsis fungus causes the root to become brown and dry, but the tip of the root remains light. The disease mainly affects plants with soft shoots such as cyclamen (Cyclamen) or geranium (Pelargonium) in the pot, but also lettuce (Lactuca), Tomatoes (Solanum), onions (Allium) and woody plants such as elderberry (Sambucus). In the case of carrots, the fungi in the camp leads to black carrot rot.
  • The hard rot on the potato is caused by Alternaria, whose mycelia lead to sunken, dark spots on the tubers. The bulbous tissue beneath it hardens and dies; the potato is usually inedible. The leaves get dark brown, almost black spots.
  • The black rot caused by the fungus Rhizoctonia Solani, in turn, threatens potatoes but also salads that start to rot from the bottom of their leaves. This form of root rot gives the potato plants a light grey coating in addition to dark spots on the shoots and their stem bases. Therefore, the disease is called whiteness.
  • The Verticillium wilt is a dreaded disease on many ornamental and useful plants. The fungus attacks the roots and quickly penetrates the conduits from there – yellow leaves, leaf fall and wilt within days are the result. Remove affected plants and dispose of them in household waste.
how to save an aloe plant with root rot
The discolored brown traces of the Verticillium pathogen can be seen in the trunk of this trumpet tree

How Can You Fight Root Rot?

Systemic fungicides – which can also fight fungi inside the plant – are either not approved against root rot or only help in the case of the initial infestation. Once the fungi have spread, it gets harder to treat, because they are utterly ineffective against fungi in the soil. Since there is often no treatment option, infected plants should be removed quickly so that the neighboring plants are not infected. Pay attention to the first visible signs of root rot infection and react quickly.

Prevent Root Rot Effectively

Because of the difficult direct control, it is best if the plants do not get sick at all. You can do this as follows:

Optimal Location

The soil must not be wet with water or compacted; this promotes root rot. Loosen the soil regularly and improve heavy soils with sand and compost if necessary.

increase drainage of soil
Sand increases the drainage in the soil so that water can drain off better and the roots are not permanently wet

Check Planters

Water in planters is the main reason for root rot in houseplants and container plants. If excess irrigation water remains unnoticed in the pot, it quickly affects the plant. Check the planters regularly and empty them if necessary.

Cultivation Breaks

In the vegetable patch, many pathogens can be tricked by regular crop rotation since many of them only target certain plants. If you take them out of the bed through conscious crop rotations, the root rot goes away empty-handed. It is particularly important not to place endangered plants or members of an endangered plant family one after the other in the same bed or even in the neighboring bed.

How to Fix Succulent Root Rot?

Root rot hides from our eyes and remains undetected for so long. When the first visible signs appear on the plant, its health is almost ruined. Now is the time to act quickly. But how?

healing root rot
Root rot is often recognized too late

Detect root rot safely

Recognizing rotten roots is not easy, because they are not visible to us. But at some point, this disease cannot be overlooked. The typical picture above shows a withering plant.

Root rot should always be considered whenever there is withering of the plant or changes to the leaves:

  • Dig out roots and inspect them
  • look for a grey, brown or black discoloration
  • rotting roots are often mushy
  • they spread a foul smell

How to Save a Rotting Succulent

Root rot often means the end of the plant, but sometimes the rescue can succeed. The perfect preparation is not available in the market, especially since a wide variety of pathogens are at work at the same time. The key lies in the wetness of the soil, which makes a decisive contribution to the onset and progression of the disease.

  • Cut off rotten roots completely
  • Rinse the root ball under running water
  • Plant the plant in fresh soil
  • Use a new pot