What Is Succulent Root Rot – How To Prevent And Treat It

What is Succulent root rot? How do you prevent it, and if it does occur, how do you fix it? In this guide, we will explain what succulent root rot is and what you can do to prevent root rot in your succulents. We’ll show you what succulent root rot looks like and give tips for treating and fixing it.

Succulent root rot is one of the main causes of death in succulent plants.

Sansevieria Snake Plants with root rot
Snake Plant with Root Rot

All succulents, including some of the most common such as Snake Plants, Jade Plants, aloes, haworthia and echeveria are all susceptible to root rot. Pictured above are snake plants with root rot in an advanced stage.

What Is Root Rot In Succulents?

Root rot in succulents is where the succulent’s roots become diseased, decayed, and rot away. Most succulents have evolved to survive in dry, arid soils, and succulents are particularly susceptible to root rot when subjected to damp soil and damp conditions for prolonged periods.

Root rot in succulents is a serious condition that can lead to the decline and death of affected plants if not treated promptly. As the roots rot, the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients is impaired. Over time, the rot can spread, impacting the overall health of the plant and causing wilting, leaf discoloration, and stunted growth.

What Causes Root Rot In Succulents?

Root rot typically occurs when the soil remains too damp for prolonged periods causing roots to rot due to:

  • lack of oxygen
  • fungal or bacterial infection

Lack Of Oxygen

Succulents thrive in well-aerated soil – soil with air pockets that allow air to circulate around the roots of the plant. If soil is too tightly packed, is too dense or is waterlogged, the airflow around the roots is reduced and the plant is starved of the oxygen it needs. In the case of waterlogged soil caused by overwatering, the roots are literally drowning. Deprived of oxygen, they start to decay and rot.

Fungal Or Bacterial Infection

Fungi and bacteria thrive in moist conditions. These bacteria and fungi can be present in the soil already, or can be introduced through contaminated pots, tools, or infected plants. Once the bacteria and fungi are present, overwatering and poor drainage create favorable conditions for their growth. They attack the succulent’s roots, leading to root rot.

In both cases, the main culprit is too much moisture in the soil, caused by overwatering and poor soil drainage.

Here are some factors that contribute to root rot in succulents:

  • Overwatering: Succulents have low water requirements and prefer infrequent watering. Watering too frequently or providing excessive amounts of water can saturate the soil and prevent proper air circulation around the roots and leads to oxygen deprivation. The moist soil also creates a favorable environment for fungus and bacteria that cause root rot to multiply.
  • Poor drainage: Succulents need well-draining soil to prevent water from pooling around the roots. If the soil is compacted, retains water for too long, or lacks adequate drainage holes, it can lead to waterlogged conditions and root rot. It’s essential to use a well-draining soil mix specifically designed for succulents or cacti.
  • Wrong container choice: Using pots or containers without drainage holes can trap excess water, increasing the risk of root rot. It’s crucial to select containers that allow water to freely flow out, preventing water from stagnating in the soil.
  • Cool and damp environments: Succulents thrive in warm and dry conditions. Keeping them in cool, humid, or poorly ventilated areas can contribute to excess moisture around the roots, making them more susceptible to rot.

What Does Succulent Root Rot Look Like? Succulent Root Rot Signs and Symptoms

How do I  know if my succulent has root rot? What does succulent root rot look like? The signs and symptoms of root rot in succulents vary depending on the severity of the condition. Unfortunately, the first signs of root rot are usually only visible on the roots themselves. And you are not likely to look at the roots unless you are repotting your plant or taking it out of its pot (or the ground) specifically to look at the roots.

As root rot progresses, symptoms begin to show on the visible upper part of the plant. This is when it is most likely to come to your attention, and you might start to suspect that your plant has root rot.

Here are common signs and symptoms of succulent root rot:

  • Loose Plant: As the roots weaken, they provide less stabilization for your succulent, and it may feel loose in the soil and move if you shake the pot gently.
  • Wilting and Leaf Discoloration: Root rot interferes with the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients, leading to wilting and drooping of the leaves. The leaves may become yellow or brown and may eventually fall off.
  • Softening or Collapsing of the Stem: As root rot worsens, it may travel up the roots to the stem. The lower portion of the stem may become soft or mushy. The stem may lose its firmness, appear wrinkled, or even collapse.
  • Stunted Growth or Lack of New Growth: Root rot inhibits the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients, affecting overall growth. Succulents experiencing root rot may exhibit stunted growth or fail to produce new leaves or offsets.
  • Foul Odor: In advanced cases of root rot, a foul or unpleasant odor may be present, indicating decay and bacterial or fungal activity.
  • Discolored, Mushy Roots: If you suspect your plant has root rot, or you are repotting your plant and you look at the roots, you may see discolored, mushy roots. When succulents suffer root rot, the roots may appear dark brown or black. The affected roots may feel mushy or slimy to the touch. Healthy roots are usually pale in color with fine offshoots and new root growth.

Can You Save A Succulent With Root Rot?

You can save a succulent with root rot, provided you act early enough. Unfortunately, many of the signs and symptoms of root rot mentioned above are only visible in the part of the succulent above the soil, and these changes don’t occur until a later stage when root rot is more advanced.

If you suspect your plant is suffering from root rot, remove the plant from its pot so you can inspect the roots. And, if you spot signs of root rot, take steps to fix the rot immediately (more on that below).

If the root rot is too advanced to save the mother plant, there may still be some hope. If the upper parts of the plant are still healthy, take a cutting from a healthy part with sharp, sterile scissors. Allow the cut end to dry and callous over for a couple of days, then pot in a well-draining succulent-specific soil.

Will Root Rot Go Away On Its Own?

Unfortunately, root rot does not typically go away on its own. Once fungal or bacterial growth has taken hold, it is unlikely to stop on its own. You will need to take active steps to help your plant recover.

How Do You Get Rid of Root Rot On Succulents? How To Fix Succulent Rot Rot

If your plant is suffering from root rot, you need to take immediate steps to save your succulent.

Firstly, take the plant out of its pot (or ground) and carefully remove excess soil so you can properly inspect the roots.

If the roots are a healthy pale color and firm to the touch, root rot has not set in, and your plant should be fine. However, if you think the soil feels too wet or damp and you know you’ve overwatered your succulent, shake the soil off and spread the soil on a flat tray to dry out. Leave your plant to the side, out of the soil and direct sun, and allow the roots to dry in the air. After a couple of days, replant your succulent back in the soil and make sure you reduce the frequency of watering. If you think the soil is not draining well enough, either replace the soil with a succulent-specific potting mix or add some coarse sand or perlite to your soil before repotting.

If the roots are mushy, discolored, or have a foul odor, your succulent is suffering from root rot.

To Fix Succulent Root Rot

Run the root ball under clean, running water to remove all soil. The soil may contain fungal spores, and you don’t want any to remain to reinfect your plant.

Trim away any mushy, blackened, or rotting roots using clean, sterilized scissors. Cut away all signs of damage so there is only healthy tissue left. You might need to be quite brutal here. You don’t want any diseased roots to remain, as this will only cause reinfection. Resterilize your cutting tool after use so you don’t infect another plant the next time your use them.

Remove any damaged or diseased leaves or stems also. Make sure you cut above any signs of rot so only healthy tissue remains. You don’t want the rot to remain and spread.

Let the roots dry. After trimming, allow the plant to dry on a flat surface with the roots out of soil for a few days in a warm, well-ventilated area (but not in direct sunlight). This allows the cut root ends to callous over and is essential in the recovery phase of the roots.

Repot your succulent in a fresh, well-draining soil mix specifically formulated for succulents or cacti. Use a new, clean pot with drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. If you wish to reuse the same pot, clean it thoroughly with antibacterial soap to ensure no fungus spores remain.

Leave the plant in its new soil for a couple of days before watering lightly and adjust your watering frequency. Overwatering is the main cause of root rot. Water your plants only when the soil is completely dry.

How To Prevent Succulent Root Rot

Ideally, root rot would never happen in the first place. So what steps do you need to take to prevent root rot in your succulents?

Water sparingly: Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Stick your finger into the soil to check if it’s dry an inch or so below the surface before watering again. And if you water your plants from above, avoid getting water on the leaves and stem. For more information, read our guide to watering indoor succulents

Use well-draining soil: Opt for a well-draining soil mix formulated for succulents or cacti. These mixes usually contain a combination of coarse sand, perlite, or pumice to ensure adequate drainage and aeration.

Ensure proper drainage: Plant your succulent in a pot with drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. If using decorative containers without drainage holes, consider double-potting by using a pot with drainage holes inside the decorative pot.

Place your pot on a tray: A tray placed beneath the pot’s drainage holes can be easily emptied of any excess water which has drained from the soil. Do not allow the bottom of the pot to sit in water, as this will result in the water being reabsorbed by the soil.

Provide adequate airflow: Succulents benefit from good air circulation, which helps dry out the soil and prevents excessive moisture around the roots. Place your succulent in an area with proper ventilation and avoid overcrowding them.

Use a pot of a suitable size: A pot that is too large can mean too much soil. The soil takes longer to dry out which can lead to root rot.

Use a porous pot: Porous materials such as terracotta or an unglazed ceramic pot allow moisture to evaporate through the pot walls, which helps keep the soil dry.

Don’t over-fertilize your plant: Most succulents have evolved to survive in nutrient-poor soils. Levels of nutrients, such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus that are too high can cause chemical burns to the roots of your plants. This can weaken the roots, making them more susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections and subsequent root rot.

Practice good plant hygiene: Always use sterilized tools to avoid cross-contaminated of soil or plants and prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial infections.

Adequate light: Make sure your succulent is receiving enough bright light. Succulents thrive in bright light conditions and grow strong, healthy root systems.

Provide proper ventilation: Most succulents prefer a well-ventilated area to prevent excess moisture buildup on the leaves and around the stems and base. This is particularly important if you live in a humid climate and are growing a succulent that does not like humid conditions.

Following the steps above can go a long way to reducing the chances of root rot in your succulents.

Wrapping Up

Root rot is typically the result of overwatering and poor soil drainage. Maintaining a healthy root system is crucial for the overall health and longevity of succulent plants.

Root rot is a very serious disease for succulents. Early detection and preventive measures, such as suitable containers with drainage holes, using well-draining soil, and adjusting watering frequency, can help minimize the risk of root rot and promote the health of your succulent plants.


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