Root Appeal

Identifying Healthy Roots

It is important to identify healthy roots, so we need to do an analytical observation, i.e. look at them. (Wink)

Strong, healthy roots should be white or tan, succulent, (having fleshy and juicy tissues that store a lot of water) and be numerous and long enough to hold the soil in the shape of the container. Any visible root tips should be white. When plants have healthy roots, it is growing and happy!

Baby Roots

If the roots are small and do not hold the shape of the soil, they are probably immature – the plant is still healthy, but not ready to be transplanted.

Root Bound

If the roots are stuck in the shape of the container, wrapped around in circles not leaving much room for soil, the plant is root bound. It is time to transplant it.  It will take some time to adjust and begin growing well.  

How to Identify Root Rot

Typical signs of Root Rot are that the plant is wilting slowly, and some of the leaves are turning yellow; and no amount of common sense & TLC seems to help. It’s time to check for Root Rot. Gently, remove the plant from the substrate, (soil) and check out the roots. Look at them and feel them. The affected roots will either be brown and crumbly or look black and will feel mushy. Brown, dry and crumbly is the signature sign of Dry Root Rot, while Black and mushy are tale-tell signs of Soft Root Rot.

Rotted roots may just fall off the plant when you touch them. Healthy roots may be black or pale but feel firm and pliable. There are two types of Root Rot: Dry Root Rot & Soft Root Rot.

Dry Root Rot

When roots are brown and crumbly, it’s Dry Root Rot/Brown Rot. This comes from the dry rot fungus, Serpula lacrymans. This species of fungi digests parts of the plant, mostly the cellulose in roots, which cause the root to lose strength and rigidity.

 As the cellulose is destroyed, the roots shrink, turns deep brown in color, and breaks into small cube-shaped bits. This process is called Cubical Fracture. Brown Rot thrives at temperatures between 65 ˚ and 90 ˚ Fahrenheit, and once it starts spreading, it grows rapidly.

How to Treat Dry Root Rot

Roots damaged by dry rot are not salvageable and should be removed from the plant as soon as they are noticed, to prevent the rot from spreading. During the decomposition process, roots start to decay and crumble away. The rot then spreads to healthier roots and kills them as well, even if the soil conditions are right.

First, gently remove the plant from the soil and wash the roots under pleasantly warm running water. Wash away as much soil and rotten roots as possible. 

Then, with a sharp clean pair of shears or scissors, trim away all the remaining roots with any signs of rot on them.  This may mean removing a significant amount of the root system, but a small number of healthy roots will bring healthier and increased growth in the long run than saving any rotten roots.

Be sure to clean the shears or scissors with rubbing alcohol. Prune back 1/3 to 1/2 of the leaves on the plant. This enhances the plants ability to regrow the roots, because it will not need to use its energy and nutrients to support as many leaves. Throw out the substrate, (soil) from the pot that the plant was in and clean it thoroughly with a bleach & water mix. If possible, dip the remaining healthy roots in a liquid fungicide solution to eliminate any residual root rot fungus. After treating root rot in the plant and cleaning the pot, repot the plant in clean fresh substrate.

 

Make sure the container has good drainage and only water the plant when the top of the soil is dry. Do not leave standing water in the plant’s saucer. During the root regrowth period, do not fertilize the plant, because it has all it can do to regrow the roots. The purpose of fertilizer is to boost foliage production. In a perfect world, the plant will recover, and you will get your beautiful plant back. Monitor the plant because it’s still at risk of future rot.

Soft Root Rot

Soft Root Rot is just decay brought on by the combination of moisture &/or fungi (microscopic organisms). There are 2 sources that cause Soft Root Rot.

The first one is a persistent exposure to over-watering that can cause some of the roots to decompose and eventually die due to a lack of oxygen. During the decomposition process, roots start to decay and rot away. The rot then spreads to healthier roots and kills them as well, even if the soil conditions are appropriate.

The second source is from a fungus in the soil. Fungi does not grow on dry material. There are as many as 5 million types of fungi in the air and soil around us, they are everywhere. Some are helpful, like yeast and mushrooms, while others are destructive. The number one type that tends to cause root rot is the water mold genus Phytophthora. This manifests as Soft Rot.

Soft-rot fungi decomposes plants slowly, but once it starts, it thrives in normal room temperatures, between 0˚- and 110 ˚ -Fahrenheit. It is hard to stop because it tends to be dormant in regular conditions and immediately flourish again when the plant is over-watered just once or twice; or when a change in humidity occurs. Soft-rot fungi break down cellulose, the building blocks of plant strength and health, leaving the plant roots, stalk and stems soggy with a mushy appearance. This fungus attacks the roots first. This demolishes the ability of the plant’s roots and stems to function.  If left untreated, will make the entire plant rotten.

How to Treat Soft Root Rot

First, gently remove the plant from the soil and wash the roots under pleasantly warm running water. Wash away as much soil and rotten roots as possible.  

Then, with a sharp clean pair of shears or scissors, trim away all the remaining roots with any signs of rot on them.  This may mean removing a significant amount of the root system, but a small number of healthy roots will bring healthier and increased growth in the long run than saving any rotten roots.

Be sure to clean the shears or scissors with rubbing alcohol. Prune back 1/3 to 1/2 of the leaves on the plant. This enhances the plants ability to regrow the roots, because it will not need to use its energy and nutrients to support as many leaves. Throw out the substrate, (soil) from the pot that the plant was in and clean it thoroughly with a bleach & water mix. If possible, dip the remaining healthy roots in a liquid fungicide solution to eliminate any residual root rot fungus. After treating root rot in the plant and cleaning the pot, re-pot the plant in clean fresh substrate. Make sure the container has good drainage and only water the plant when the top of the soil is dry. Do not leave standing water in the plant’s saucer. During the root regrowth period, do not fertilize the plant, because it has all it can do to regrow the roots. The purpose of fertilizer is to boost foliage.

Thielaviopsis (Black Root Root)

Black Root Rot is caused by plants that live in damp soil that is consistently between 55° – 65° F. This is identified by when the plant has no new growth for an extended period of time, and with this stunted growth, blackened, non-working roots. The treatment for this is unfortunately, to remove the infected root, stems and leaves, clean the remained of the plant and replant it in fresh soil, moving the plant to a warmer location and allowing the soil to dry out more between waterings. Using a fungicide will help prevent the reoccurring or spreading of Black Root Rot.

 

In a perfect world, the plant will recover, and you will get your beautiful plant back.