All About Root Rot

Root rot is a nightmare to all those who own plants. This is because it is difficult to detect this problem in the first place. Since the problem occurs beneath the soil most of us do not identify the problem until the plant shows some kind of distress.

Root rot is a condition in plants where the root rots and starts to decay. This can be due to several reasons, mainly due to the excess moisture in the soil.

Even though root rot is found all around us in nature, plants in pots and containers, especially when they are indoors, are more susceptible to it as it retains more moisture.

Before we dive into the details of root rot, it is important to be able to identify a healthy root and a rotted root.

Healthy roots are usually white or cream in color. It will be firm and will have some spring effect on it.

Roots are black, soft and mushy. The outer layer get dislodged easily. And finally they turn into lifeless hairy structure like this.


If a plant is affected by root rot, its roots cannot absorb any water or nutrients to the leaves, there be causing the leaves to show certain symptoms.

The leaves turn yellow and loose their shine and texture. The leaves also shrivel and finally turn brown as the roots are not able to transport the water to the leaves. The plant also has a stunted growth, which means no new growth.

uThe soil of such plants actually never dries and might occasionally have white moulds developing on the surface. But this doesn’t happen every time. The soil might also smell bad.

And finally you reach a stage where you have done everything but the plant is not responding positively. That is when we check the roots of the plant.


The root cause is the lack of air or oxygen in the soil which encourages the growth of fungus and anaerobic bacteria in the soil.

Lack of well draining soil

We have often heard that the main cause of root rot is overwatering. But if you ask me, I would say the main cause of root rot lies in the soil itself. Most of our indoor plants don’t like to sit in a wet medium.

If the soil substrate is not well draining, it will hold water more than the plant needs.

If the soil is well draining, then the roots can tolerate a little bit of over watering.

Over watering

If the plant is not in a well draining soil and we don’t let the soil dry between waterings, this can also lead to rotting of the roots. This can mean you water your plants little by little frequently not allowing it to dry between waterings or you water a plant with a gallon of water after a long spell of under watering. Both this can lead to root rot.

As a rule of thumb, water when the top 2 inches of soil dries. This works for most of the plants.

Wrong pot size

The third reason why root rot occurs might be the wrong size of the pots in which the plant is sitting. We often tend to decide the size of the plant pot depending on how big the foliage is, right? But this is not true. What you should be looking for is the size of the roots.

If the plants are potted in large container, larger than it actually requires, the plant tend to get overwhelmed by the amount of water and nutrients available in the soil. And we tend to go wrong on the watering front as the larger pots can retain more moisture.

Generally plants tend to do well when potted in smaller containers.

Lack of sunlight and air flow

Some plants grow well in low light conditions. But what we need to understand is in low light conditions the rate of evaporation is much lower. That means we should not water such plants frequently.

What happened to my philodendron?

My philodendron was doing excellent in summer 2020. But when the fall set in, the plant was located in a low light spot with less air flow. Also the plant is still potted in its nursery pot where the soil substrate is not well draining enough.

All this contributed to the root rot of this poor plant.


Unlike my philodendron, if the plant is not severely affected by root rot and still has some healthy roots on it, then we could do some measures to prevent the problem from aggravating.

  • At first remove the soil from the roots. Make sure to remove all the soil.
  • Wash the roots in water thoroughly. Now we will be able to differentiate a rotted root from a healthy root.
  • Cut off all the affected roots. I make sure not leave any root with signs of rotting, even thought the rotting is not severe.
  • Once the roots are dried, pot it again in a well draining soil mixture.
  • While preparing the soil, sprinkle some organic cinnamon powder. Cinnamon has both anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. This will prevent root rot from happening again.

Since this method will not work for my philodendron, I will take cuttings of the healthy leaves left on this plant. This is also a method to save the plant.


These are a few things I keep in mind to prevent root rot,

  • Using a well draining soil mixture.
  • sprinkling some organic cinnamon powder to the soil substrate.
  • adapt your watering schedule depending on the location of the plant and weather outside.
  • using the right size of the pots, not too big.
  • try to use terracota pots as it maintains the right amount of moisture in the pot. Terracotta is porous which allows the excess moisture to evaporate.

Keep a close watch on your plants to detect such condition in the early stage. Happy gardening! 🙂