Areca Palm Root Rot (Signs, Causes and Treatment)

Last Updated on June 10, 2022 by Admin

Areca palm root rot can destroy an otherwise healthy and beautiful houseplant. This is why it is always very important to be wary of excess moisture.

Overwatering is the most common cause of root rot.

And once it starts, it will keep spreading until you address the issue.

As such, early detection is very important. And it can mean the difference between saving your lovely areca palm or ending up in a situation where it is beyond saving.

Areca palm root rot happens when the plant is overwatered. This suffocates the roots or causes fungal disease to develop and attack the roots.

In doing so, roots turn from a healthy white color to brown, mushy and rotten.

To save your areca palm with root rot you’ll need to prune all the rotten roots and disinfect the healthy roots using fungicide. Then repot it in freshy, dry potting mix.

Signs of Areca Palm Root Rot

Brown Leaves

Brown leaves are something you’ll see with areca palm root rot. The browning usually starts in the tips and edges of leaves.

But they will spread throughout the rest of the leaves as the damage to the roots increases.

Over time, you’ll see more and more leaves turn brown as well if the problem is not addressed.


Yellow Leaves

Yellow leaves in combination with brown leaves is usually something you see in plants with root rot. This includes the areca palm.

Yellow leaves as commonly associated with overwatering.

As such, this is one of the earlier symptoms of root rot given that almost all root rot is caused by excess moisture and waterlogging.


Wilting and Drooping

In addition to leaf discoloration, an areca palm with root rot will also wilt and droop.

For the most part, this is caused by the lack of water.

Like other plants, areca palms consist of about 90% water. As such, when roots rot, there are fewer healthy roots to absorb moisture from the soil.

This means that plant won’t get as much water like it is used to.

As a result, it will droop and wilt.


Stunted Growth

Stunted growth is inevitable as the roots get damaged.

That’s because plants rely on water and nutrients to grow. And it is the roots that absorb moisture and nutrient that are distributed to different parts of the plant.

So, when roots get damaged, die or rot, the plant suffers are there are fewer healthy roots that function properly.

This results it slower overall growth that ends up with no growth when too many roots are damaged or have rotted.


Smelly Roots, Foul Smelling Soil

Once sign of areca palm root rot you’ll likely detect even before you get to the roots is their foul smell.

Like all rotten things, rotten roots produce a stench to them.

And the more roots that have rotten, the stronger the smell.

In most cases, you’ll be able to smell this stink just by taking a whiff of the soil.

The smell will emanate through the surface of the soil. So, instead of an earthy soil smell, you’ll experience a rotten foul odor coming from the roots.


Roots are Brown in Color, Soft and Mushy

The main way to confirm areca palm root rot is by checking the roots.

This lets you definitively say whether or not there is root rot.

If the roots are all white and firm looking while still flexible, then there is no root rot present. But if you see any dark, brown or black roots then root rot is present.

Rotten roots not only have a darker color, they’re smelly, soft and mushy. These also easily break off although don’t worry if they do because these roots don’t function anymore. Nor will they recover.

However, you do not want to break or damage any of the healthy roots.

Once you see any sign of rotten roots, it confirms that there is root rot. Therefore, immediate action to treat and save your areca palm is needed.


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How to Treat Areca Palm Root Rot? (Save / Revive the Plant)

Areca palm root rot needs to be treated as soon as you detect the problem. With root rot, time is of the essence for two reasons.

  1. Root rot spreads quickly.
  2. If it gets to the point where too many roots have rotted, your areca palm is beyond saving.

So, never just leave things as they are.

Once you suspect the possibility of root rot, immediately try to confirm it then treat it.

Below, I’ll take you through the steps on how to save and revive an areca palm with root rot.


Unpot the Plant

The first steps to trying to save an areca palm with root rot is to stop watering then unpot the plant.

At this point, the plant is already overwatered.

So, adding more water will worsen the situation.

While water stoppage will not save the plant, it will help prevent any acceleration in the damage.

It is also important to take the plant out of its pot so you can see all the roots.


Remove All the Soil from the Root System

In most cases, unpotting the plant will only let you see most f the root system. There will still be some soil stuck to the roots.

So, you want to remove all the soil.

There are two reasons for this.

  1. It lets you clearly see all the roots.
  2. The soil may harbor fungal pathogens.

Thus, in addition to removing the soil, you want to carefully discard them as well. Don’t reuse the soil for any other plant. And don’t let it come into contact with your other houseplants.

Once you see all the roots, you’ll usually notice a combination.

Rotten roots are brown or black and feel mushy or soft to the touch. They also have a foul smell to them because they’re dead roots that have rotten.

On the other hand, healthy roots are colored white. They are firm to the touch but are very pliable.

Ideally, you’ll see more healthy roots than rotten roots.

And the best case situation if there is root rot is there are only very few rotten roots.

In contrast, the worst case scenario is when almost all the roots or the entire root system has rotted. Sadly, in this case, there’s no saving the mother plant.


Prune the Rotten Roots

Since rotten roots will keep spreading and they won’t ever recover or heal, it is best to prune them all off.

You’ll need to sterilize a pair or scissors or pruning shears then cut all off the dark, mushy roots.

Try to preserve all the healthy, white roots as these are still working perfectly fine. And your areca palm’s ability to recover will depend on them.

After cutting off all the rotten roots, you’ll also want to carefully discard them into the trash can.


Treat the Roots / Disinfect the Root System

In addition to removing all the rotten roots, it is also very important to treat the remaining healthy roots with fungicide solution or hydrogen peroxide solution.


Root rot is almost always caused by overwatering.

When a plant is overwatered, the roots end up submerged in lots of excess moisture. All this water will also push out all the oxygen from the air pockets between the soil particles.

As a result, the roots end up suffocating.

If the overwatered condition persists, the roots eventually die of suffocation. Later on, they dead roots will rot.

In some cases, the roots don’t suffocate to death.

But the excess liquid makes the environment damp and wet which allows it to be conducive to microorganism growth.

This is when fungi develop.

And some of these fungi like to eat through your plant’s roots.

After a while, the roots die and rot.

If the latter is the ultimate cause of the root rot, then it is very important to disinfect the root system from any possible traces of these fungi.

Otherwise, fungal root rot will resurface some time in the future after you’ve repotted and saved your areca palm.

To treat the root system, you want to cover every nook and cranny.

Applying fungicide solution or hydrogen peroxide solution the simplest ways. Although, there are other methods as well.

I prefer to just soak the entire root system in a sink, basin, bathtub or large container with the solution to be thorough. Although, which receptacle you use will depend on how big your areca palm is.

After soaking the root system, leave the plant on several newspapers to speed up the drying process.


Disinfect the Pot and Discard the Old Soil Properly

In addition to sanitizing the root system, you’ll also need to sterilize the pot the plant was in.

Again, that’s because the pot can still harbor some of the pathogens.

Therefore, you do not want to reuse the pot for other plants or your areca palm without sterilizing it first.

You can use the same hydrogen peroxide solution or a light bleach solution to do this.

Some gardeners will scrub the pot with soap and water first then apply the solution. I prefer to just dunk the pot into the solution and leave it there for 5-10 minutes to soak.

After that, you can leave the pot outside under the sun to dry.

You can also sterilize the soil if you wish. But it is a more tedious process. And honestly, it is not worth the time and effort in most cases.

So, it is usually better to just carefully throw away the used potting mix.

Again, don’t plant anything using this soil as it can result if the resurfacing of the fungal root rot.


Prune the Damages Leaves

The final preliminary step is to prune the damaged leaves and other affected parts.

Yellow, brown or any other kinds of damages won’t heal or recover. In short, they won’t turn green again.

So, it is best to prune them off.

Doing so prevents the faster spread of the problem. And it allows the plant to focus all its energy on recovery and the healthy leaves.

Don’t forget to sterilize your scissors and pruning shears before cutting the leaves.

Since you last used them for the rotten roots, you do not want to spread any pathogens to the top part of the plant accidentally.

The final thing to keep in mind is that if you pruned more than one third of the root system earlier, you’ll also want to prune the same amount of leaves as well.

For example, if you cut off half of the root system, it is a good idea to prune half of the leaves as well.

Doing this will reduce the size of the plant.

Thus, it gives the roots a better chance of saving the plant and not get overwhelmed by the extra workload of having to support a plant that’s double the size of the root system.


Repot the Plant

The final part of saving your areca palm with root rot is repotting it.

Before you do, it is important to select an appropriate container.

Ideally choose a right sized pot. To do so, pick one that is 2 inches wider than the root system of the plant.

Avoid an overly large or small container as this will negatively affect the plant’s growth and recovery.

Also, pick a pot with sufficient drainage holes at the bottom. This will reduce the risk of overwatering in the future.

In addition to the pot, have enough well-draining soil to fill that pot.

Areca palm do best in loose, well-draining soil. This will help get rid of excess moisture to avoid waterlogged soil.

Once you have the potting mix and container ready, fill the pot with the soil up to about a third of the way. Then put the areca palm in after the roots have dried from the soaking earlier.

Finally fill the remainder of the pot with potting mix.


Don’t Water for a While

After repotting, don’t water your areca palm immediately.

I like to let the plant stay in dry soil for a bit to help it recover from the overwatered state is has been. Remember, for root rot to occur, the plant will have had to be overwatered for a while.

Thus, your areca palm needs some reprieve from the wet, damp soil conditions.

Giving it a few days to a week or so to stay dry before you begin watering will help with its recovery from root rot.


Adjust Your Watering Schedule

While you wait to water your areca palm, it is a good idea to figure out how to modify your watering routine.

Here, consistency and allowing the soil to dry between waterings are the two most important things to consider.

Always wait until the top 2-3 inches of soil has dried before adding more water. Never water the plant before this to avoid overwatering.

When you water, do so thoroughly. This will give the roots the drink they need.

But make sure to let the water drain afterwards to avoid waterlogged soil and overwatering.


Worse Comes to Worst, Propagate Your Areca Palm

One of the reasons why areca palm root rot is very dangerous is that the plant is not always savable.

In some situations, even after repotting, the plant will keep deteriorating.

Other times, by the time you see the root rot, it has spread to a point where no matter what you do, the plant cannot be saved.

In these situations, the best thing to do is propagate your areca palm.

This way, in case the mother plant cannot be saved, then you still have the propagated plant which will grow into a clone of the parent.

To propagate an areca palm, you have two options.

  1. Take a healthy cutting and plant it into a well-draining soil.
  2. Prune the dead roots then divide the remaining healthy roots into new plants.

In both cases, the earlier you do this, the better since in the later stages there will be fewer healthy cutting available.

With the latter, once you run out of enough healthy roots to divide, then it will become impossible to propagate using this method.

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