Root Rot Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis

Last Updated on April 30, 2021 by cmoarz

Root rot is a very dangerous and difficult to diagnose disease. It can be caused by many different factors, which makes it hard for the plant owner to find out what kind of root rot they have. However, there are some symptoms that will help you figure out whether your plants are suffering from root rot or not.

root rot symptoms

What is root rot?

Root rot is a disease that causes root damage in plants. When the roots of your plant are damaged, water and nutrients cannot reach them properly. This causes the plant to be unable to make food and grow.

Without treatment, Root rot can kill plants within days if it’s bad enough.

Root rot can also lead to the death of an entire garden or crop, which is why it’s important that you catch this disease as soon as possible.

Root Rot Symptoms

If you see sudden wilting, browning of the foliage in any leaf area, yellow leaves, and roots that are slimy or soft to touch; these may be root rot symptoms. If there is a noticeable change in coloration on the stem near the soil line, this could also be an indicator for root rot. Sometimes it can even just show up one day without warning. The best way to diagnose root rot is doing a visual inspection by digging down around the base of your plant so you can take off some of its surrounding dirt and look at what has been going on inside of it before deciding if it needs more specialized testing like sending out samples for lab work.

Obviously, most home growers aren’t going to go as far as sending out samples for lab work, but you can at least get a good idea of what kind it is by looking for the root rot symptoms and then doing some online research to see if those are specific enough. Here are some more common root rot symptoms:

  • Roots “skin” seems to just peel right off when you pull it out of the surrounding soil.
  • Roots are slimy and brownish.
  • The root rot smell is strong, like a rotten egg or swamp gas.
  • The roots feel soft as opposed to rigid when they’ve pulled away from the soil. You can bend them without snapping them (varies by plant species)

Once you know what to look for, it also helps to know why root rot happens. It can happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Soil isn’t draining well enough.

To keep up with the amount of water it’s being given. This causes there to be too much moisture in the soil near the surface where all your roots are – perfect conditions for root rot!

  • The root zone pH has been disturbed.

By adding things like organic matter or acidic fertilizers that lower its alkalinity; this makes it inhospitable to many types of bacteria (which break down rotting material) as well as some fungi species (like Aspergillus niger, which will cause black mold).

  • Watering the plant too much

Watering your plant too much, Or just having really bad drainage. And just the opposite:

  • Too little water

Too little water can also spur on root rot for various reasons.

If your roots were ever exposed during a frost or freeze event, they may be damaged. This can also quickly cause root rot.

Another common issue is the pot in which the plant is In is simply too small. Pot-bound plants are often plagued by this issue. It’s easy to prevent by upgrading pots on a schedule.

The symptoms of root rot are often the same regardless of what type it is, though. However, there may be some differences in how fast they start happening and whether or not you’ll see mushrooms growing up out of the soil. This can help you diagnose as well – for example, black mold doesn’t necessarily form with white fungus root rot because that’s a different genus (the one causing your problem).

At the end of the day, 9 times out of 10 your root rot is being caused by some sort of fungi. You should most likely go in with that assumption while trying to diagnose the issue.

You have a few options to deal with it, You can use chemicals and various types of fungicides, Or you can use more natural methods to try and curb the issue.


Fungicides are a common solution people use to solve root rot. There are many types of fungicides out there, and each one targets a different type or genus of fungi (there can be some overlap).

If you think Fungicides are your best option, you should hire a professional. These agents are trained in the usage of these chemicals and have access to products that you may not be able to find at your local hardware store or garden center.

They will also know exactly what you need to do to solve the root rot issue.

Additionally, they may be able to give you some advice on how best to avoid root rot in future years.

Be sure that if you use fungicides, your plants are not under underwater restrictions or drought conditions because these two things can increase the toxicity of many chemicals used for plant protection (that includes fungicides).

Unfortunately, Professional contractors tend to be more expensive than DIY root rot treatments and more natural methods. You may be under fungicide restrictions or you just don’t like the idea of using chemicals. So there are a few natural options you can turn to.

How to treat root rot naturally.


Prevention is always the best strategy in the war against root rot because preventing it is a heck of a lot easier than fixing it.

Here are a few things you can do to help prevent root rot:

  • Rotate your crops every year so the soil is not being planted in continuously for an extended period of time (this gives weeds and pests less opportunity to take over). (Re-fertilize and rejuvenize container plant soil before reusing)
  • Avoid using heavy mulches, or use them sparingly as they can restrict air flow and lead to root rot.
  • Cover the soil with a layer of light organic mulch that is at least six inches deep (this will discourage weeds, conserve moisture in your garden, prevents erosion).

If these strategies are not enough:

  • Apply compost every year or as needed which provides nutrients and helps retain water.
  • Water deeply yet less frequently so roots have plenty of time to absorb the water before it evaporates again.

Sometimes it’s too late for prevention, and a time for action has come.


This is going to depend on whether you’ve got an entire tree your dealing with, or a simple house plant.

Indoor house plants:

Here are things you can do (Note: You do not need to do everything, these aren’t instructions replanting is always the easiest method though).

  • Prune the affected area
  • If you’re dealing with a container, remove the root-infected plant and disinfect the pot. Prepare new soil and wash the old soil off the roots.
  • Remove all dead or dying roots as well as any that have turned black in coloration.
  • Stop watering completely and just let the soil dry out. This can do 2 things, Reverse the situation by causing the fungi to go into an inactive state, Or it may even die off completely.
  • Reduce overwatering of the newly planted plant.

Outdoor trees:

These can be much more tricky than simple light houseplants. But most of the steps are the same. The only large difference is you will need to treat the surrounding soil in your garden if you intend to replant your tree in the same spot. (It’s advisable to deal with the issue at hand regardless).

You might not have much of a choice but to go for chemical-based solutions at this point. Once again, call a professional for an assessment on what kind of treatment you need.

As a last attempt at a quick cheap save, You can cover the tree’s base soil with a tarp to try and let it dry out a bit. (Keep it propped up so you don’t cause more issues).

Sometimes root rot is so severe theirs just not going to be a realistic way to save the plant. Know when you call it and know when to go all in!

In conclusion, root rot can be combated by a variety of methods. The best solution for you will depend on the severity and type of root rot your plant is suffering from.

If all else fails, it’s time to call in an expert!

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