Root rot in Bird of Paradise plant is a very serious problem that can happen. It is difficult to diagnose because the roots are hidden under the soil.
As such, you only notice symptoms when the reach the leaves and stems. And most of the time, the symptoms are similar to other less serious issues. This makes identification of root rot challenging.
Bird of Paradise root rot is most often caused by overwatering and waterlogging. This leads to root suffocation or fungal infections, both of which can destroy the plant eventually.
To fix this issue, you need to repot the plant and use fungicides or hydrogen peroxides to disinfect the roots.
Bird of Paradise Root Rot Symptoms
The first thing you want to be aware of when dealing with root rot in Bird of Paradise plants are the symptoms. This allows you to quickly tell that there is a serious problem going on.
Just as importantly, it lets you distinguish between minor issues or root rot, which is a much bigger problem that you need to immediately address.
Below are the main signs and symptoms that will let you know that your bird of paradise has root rot.
Brown, Black Roots That Are Soft and Mushy
This is the telltale sign of root rot.
However, because the roots are hidden under the ground, this is usually the last thing you’ll see in terms of symptoms. Therefore, when you see the following symptoms happening to the plant’s stems and leaves above, I’ve always found it a good idea to unpot the plant and quickly check the roots.
Any suspicion always warrants a check of the roots.
The reason is that root rot only needs to happen once.
Healthy roots are white or translucent white in color. They are pliable, yet firm to the touch. And they don’t really have much of a smell except for some earthiness and soil.
On the other hand, one look at rotted roots and you can easily tell.
These are black or brown in color. They are soft and mushy. And when your or hold them, they will easily tear or separate.
Also, even before you see the roots, you’ll notice a stench, foul odor as you take out the soil. Root rot has a distinct, smelly odor.
Once you see these roots, the only question is how much of the root system if affected.
If too many of the roots have rotted, the plant will likely end up in the garbage bin no matter how you try to save it. On the other hand, if only a smaller portion of the root system is affected, you may have a shot as reviving and saving the plant.
Swollen Stem That Feels Mushy
Root rot works from the bottom up. And it begins from the roots and goes to the base of the stem and keeps rising up the stem.
So, you’ll notice the affected areas of the stem feel swollen and mushy. The stem may also be distorted in shape usually twisted or curled in some way. One look and you can tell that it’s not normal.
Finally, the stem at the base will start smelling too.
So usually, one quick way to check is to smell the soil area. If there is root rot happening, you’ll likely smell something odd that’s very different from what soil normally smells like.
One of the early signs that will show up is slow growth. Then over time, the growth will keep slowing until it comes to a complete halt.
When you see your plant suddenly stop growing, and it is getting sufficient light, it is important to investigate further because it usually means something else is wrong.
Usually slow or stunted growth can happen if the plant is left if low light. It can also happen if the temperature gets too low or there are watering issues.
Lack of fertilizer or nutrient deficiencies can likewise cause this.
But if you’re sure that you’re giving the plant all these things and despite good lighting, fertilizer and water, it isn’t growing or flowering, then something is usually wrong.
Also, if new leaves emerge, they will be yellow, wilt and then drop off before they reach their full size.
Smelly, Foul Odor from The Roots
This is worth repeating because a quick whiff on the surface of the soil is sometime enough to warn you of root rot.
The smell is bad and stinky because anything that’s rotting always smells that way. And roots are no exception.
So, if you notice wet soil even days after you’ve watered the plant, take a quick whiff of the soil near the base of the stem and see if there is a bad smell coming from there.
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Usually, root rot will produce significantly yellowing of the leaves. This yellowing will also quickly spread and cover a good portion of the plant’s foliage.
It is not uncommon to see 50% to 70% of the leaves turn yellow due to root rot.
So, when more than one or two leaves turn yellow and it seems to keep spreading by the day, I like to quickly unpot and check the roots.
This is a safety precaution so you can act as early as possible.
In general, you’ll see healthy leaves turn yellow. Then they will wilt and drop. The yellowing begins at the base of the plant and works its way up.
That said, there are many other reasons for the leaves to turn yellow.
These include pest problems, nutrient deficiency, overwatering and too much direct sunlight. But root rot is the most serious of all, so I always give that priority.
Once I’ve eliminated that, I’ll check the other potential causes to narrow things down.
Just as many of the plant’s leaves will turn yellow, a lot will also wilt one after the other. It follows the same trend staring from the base of the plant and works its way up.
Usually, the main cause of wilting is lack of water.
That’s because water pressure is what makes plants’ stems stay upright. So, lack of water leads to wilting.
With root rot, the plant is not able to absorb water efficiently or properly. The more damaged the root system is, the less water it can take from the soil no mater how much you add water.
This is why the plant wilt’s when there is root rot.
Again, there are other potential reasons for wilting. Usually, it is just lack of water or the soil has gotten dry. But it can also be pests, overwatering and cold temperatures that the plant cannot tolerate.
Brown Leaf Tips
In addition to yellow leaves, some will turn brown.
But with root rot yellow leaves happen first while brown tips then later entire brown leaves will occur.
So, if you see yellow and brown leaves happening at the same time, the problem may be root rot.
The reason brown leaf tips and later brown leaves happen midway or later in root rot is because as the roots get destroyed, the plant will start to lack water.
Again, that’s because the roots don’t function anymore. So, they cannot absorb water from the soil.
This leads to brown tips. And since the problem keeps getting worse, entire leaves eventually turn brown as well.
How to Save Bird of Paradise Root Rot
For many people reading this article, this is the most important section. Here, I’ll detail how you can save your bird paradise from root rot once you discovered the problem.
I’ll take you through the steps one by one below and explain each as well.
Overwatering is the number one cause of houseplant death. And this is true for the bird of paradise plant.
In fact, overwatering, is usually the main reason why you’re dealing with root rot.
So, it will be the first thing to you need to stop.
Since the plant already has had too much moisture, stop watering it and allow the soil to dry.
Usually, you’ll find plants with root rot have wet, soggy and mucky soil due to overwatering.
Remove Affected Leaves and Other Parts
Root rot usually happens because of two reasons.
- The roots rot because they suffocate with too much water. Thus, they excess water prevents them from breathing. Since they need oxygen to stay healthy, being deprived of air for too long causes them to rot.
- Other side effect of overwatering is fungal infection. And root rot can occur because of certain fungal diseases. Again, it is the excess water that causes the rotting roots, but this time what actually rotted the roots is the fungi and not suffocation.
In order to prevent the spread of any infection if there is any you want to remove all the affected leaves, stems and flower buds. Basically, any part that’s looks abnormal you take off.
If you group your plants together, isolate the plant with the root rot.
Then check to see if any of the others have been infected as well.
Unpot the Plant & Allow the Roots to Dry Out
Once you’ve done the preliminary tasks above, it is time the take the plant out of the pot. You want to do this as soon as you can.
Remember, with root rot, time it not on your side.
Remove all the soil that you can. If the cause of root rot was a fungal infection, the soil and the pot will be contaminated as well.
Therefore, you want to get rid of all the soil.
Be careful when disposing of the soil so it does not come into contact or close to any of your other plants.
If the soil is stubborn or stuck to the roots, run the roots in the sink. The running water will make it easier to remove all the soil.
Wash the roots so that you’ll see all of them clearly.
Many of the rotted roots are very soft and will break off. Don’t worry about them because they’re not going to function again anyway.
Prune the Rotted Roots
Sterilize a pair or scissors or pruning shears with rubbing alcohol.
Then cut off all the rotted roots. Anything that is dead, brown, black of mushy. Make sure to be careful not the get the healthy roots. You want to save as many of them as possible.
Repot in Fresh, Dry Soil
If there is no fungal infection, you can now repot the plant.
Use a new pot or clean the old pot first. If you want to reuse the same pot, use a hydrogen peroxide solution (1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide per cup of water) or use a bleach solution to disinfect it.
This ensures that there are no pathogens left in case the cause of the root rot was a fungal infection.
Also, use fresh, dry, well-draining potting. Use a new one and not the old soil.
Doing so ensures that if the cause of the root rot was a fungi, you won’t be brining it along with the plant when you repot.
If it was overwatering and not a fungal disease that caused the root rot, you can let the roots dry first then pot up the plant in the container with new soil.
If you suspect or know that the cause of the root rot was a fungal infection, you’ll need to disinfect the roots first.
To do so, fill the sink or a large container (depending on how big your plant is), with the hydrogen peroxide solution. Make sure to use enough water the dilute the hydrogen peroxide. Otherwise, it will be too potent and damage the plant as well.
Then sink the entire root system into the solution and leave it there for a few minutes.
This will disinfect the roots.
Make sure to let the roots dry right after. Once they’re completely dry, you can pot the plant with the healthy roots remaining into the new soil.
Before doing so, prune the plant proportionately to what you pruned the roots.
For example, if you removed a quarter of the root system, remove a quarter of the plant as well. If you pruned half of the root system, prune half of the plant as well.
This gives the remaining roots a fighting chance to survive since they won’t be overloaded supporting an entire plant when only a fraction of them are left.
But removing the same amount of plant as you did roots, they’re able to sustain the remaining plant while trying to recover from the damage as well.
Remember, overwatering was the cause of the root rot. It was excess moisture that led to root suffocation or the fungal disease that caused the root rot.
Therefore, don’t water the soil for about a week after repotting.
Leaving the soil dry for a while will help the roots recover.
Then start watering gradually and eventually move up to your new watering routine. Make sure to adjust your new watering schedule to avoid overwatering again.
Propagate Your Bird of Paradise
In some cases, even repotting won’t be enough to save your bird of paradise plant from root rot. This happens is the damage is too severe and only very few healthy roots are level.
So, if you repotted and the plant continues to deteriorate, your only choice to save the plant is to propagate it.
The mother plant will die and you’ll throw it away.
But you’ll be able to start a new bird of paradise that will eventually grow into a clone of the mother plant.
The downside is that you cannot propagated bird of paradise from stem cuttings.
Therefore, you cannot wait until the last minute to do this because you need to get a healthy part of the rhizome to plant with the stems and leaves.
And since only a small part of the root system is left you need to take this entire root stem cutting before the plant deteriorates enough.
With stem cuttings, all you need to do is get one healthy stem. So, you can wait a little longer.
To propagate the bird of paradise,
- Take a healthy part of the rhizome. Make sure that section has roots and also stems and leaves.
- Use a sterile knife to cut that section away from the mother plant.
- Then pot up this root stem cutting into fresh soil.
- Water the soil and keep it moist. Also, leave the plant in bright, indirect light.
Since you have a small version of the plant, you don’t have to wait for it to root. It will just grow from there.
And in time, it will mature and become as big as its mother plant.