Dracaena root rot is something every plant owner has to be aware of. While dracaena are pretty tough and resilient plants, they can be susceptible to this problem.
Because of its consequences, root rot should never be taken lightly.
And if you suspect it, the best thing to do is confirm whether or not root rot is present.
This way, you can immediately treat the problem.
If you suspect dracaena root rot, unpot the plant and check the roots. Healthy roots are white, firm and flexible. Rotten roots are dark brown, smelly and mushy.
If there are rotten roots, immediately treat the plant by pruning the dead roots and disinfecting the root system. Then repot the plant in fresh, dry soil to allow it to recovery.
Don’t forget to adjust your watering routine to prevent root rot due to overwatering from happening again.
What Is Dracaena Root Rot? Why Is It Happening?
Dracaena root rot is when the roots of the plant die then rot. Unfortunately, this means that the roots cease functioning which puts the plant at a disadvantage.
And because root rot spreads, time is of the essence.
The earlier you spot the problem, the higher the likelihood of saving the plant.
The problem is that root rot occurs underneath the soil. So, its initial signs and progress cannot be seen unless you take the plant out of its pot.
This is why it is very important to be aware of the possible signs of root rot.
Once too many roots have been damaged or have rotted, the remaining roots won’t be able to sustain the plant.
Thus, your dracaena will experience dehydration and malnutrition causing it to weaken, deteriorate and eventually die.
This is why early detection, intervention and treatment as crucial.
In most cases dracaena root rot is caused by overwatering.
The excess moisture suffocates the roots as they deprive them of oxygen. The more you water, the more moisture will fill the air pockets between soil particles.
In doing so, the moisture pushes out the oxygen from the gaps and fills them will water.
If the excess liquid does not drain or dry in time, the roots eventually die from suffocation. After a while, they’ll rot.
Similarly, if the roots do not die from suffocation, the wet conditions promote fungal development.
Some fungi will eat through the roots of your plant destroying the roots. Again, this leads to root rot. But in this case, it is a pathogenic infection causing the rotting instead of root death by suffocation.
Either way, the more roots that rot means the fewer healthy roots are left to absorb water and nutrients from the soil.
As a result, it will weaken your dracaena plant if not addressed.
Signs Your Dracaena has Root Rot or Overwatering
Slow Growth or Stunted Growth
Dracaena root rot will cause your plant’s growth to slow down. And it will keep slowing down until later where growth completely stops.
As more roots rot, fewer healthy roots are left.
This causes the root system to be able to absorb less water and nutrients from the soil regardless of ow much you water the soil or feed the plant.
Dracaena root rot almost always happens due to overwatering.
And overwatering is what causes the roots to eventually die then start rotting.
But before this happens, the leaves will turn yellow due to overwatering. The excess amount of moisture will suffocate the roots preventing them from functioning at 100%.
In doing so, the plant will experience nutrient deficiency which leads to yellowing leaves.
However, if the overwatered situation persists, the roots will eventually die from suffocation or fungal disease will develop and start eating through the roots.
This poses another problem since fewer roots means less moisture and nutrient absorption.
As a result, leaves will start turning brown as well due to underwatering.
This is why you’ll see a combination of brown and yellow leaves on dracaena with root rot in its more advanced stages.
Wilting and Drooping
Overwatering also causes wilting and drooping in dracaena. And you’ll see its leaves start to droop while the plant will start looking weak and sad.
That said, wilting or drooping can happen due to a number of different issues.
So, while they do occur in dracaena with root rot, these symptoms may or may not mean that the plant has root rot.
Unfortunately, stem rot is a very bad sign. It means that the roots are severely damaged by rot to the point that the rotting is now spreading upwards.
Stem rot initially happens from the base of the plant near the soil.
And you’ll see the stems turn soft and mush in contrast to a healthy dracaena’s strong, firm stem structure.
As the stems weaken due to rot, you want to be careful about pulling the plant or tugging it as the weak points can break and detach parts of the plant from the rest of the roots.
Dark Brown, Mushy Roots
The main way to confirm dracaena root rot is to take the plant out of its container.
When you do so, you may need to brush away some of the excess soil and dirt to get a clear view of all the roots.
If there is root rot, you’ll see dark brown, mushy roots that stink.
These are dead roots that have since rotted. And they will never recover or become healthy roots again.
On the other hand, what you want to see are the white roots that are flexible. These are healthy roots.
In all likelihood, you’ll see a combination of both dark and white roots if there is dracaena root rot. The question is that the percentage of each is.
Ideally, all the roots are healthy. Thus, there is no root rot.
However, if all the roots or almost all the roots are rotten, then the likelihood of saving your dracaena is very slim.
Sadly, it may mean that the plant will probably end up in the trash can later on.
However, if only a smaller section of the roots are rotten, there’s still a very good chance to save your dracaena from root rot.
And I’ll show you the steps below.
How to Save & Revive a Dracaena from Root Rot
In this section, I will show you how to save a dracaena from root rot step by step.
Keep in mind in that the plant is in a fragile state. So, avoid pulling, jarring or dropping which can easily harm it more.
It is important to be extra careful with its roots since you want to preserve as many healthy roots as possible since these are what will help the plant recover.
Step 1: Unpot the Plant & Clear the Excess Soil
The first step to saving a dracaena with root rot is to take it out of its container. This will allow you to get a clear look at the roots and how much damage they’ve sustained.
To do so, gently take the plant out of its pot.
Be careful and try not to pull it out forcefully or jerk it out.
You don’t want to further damage any roots.
Once out of the pot, the next step is to rinse way all the excess soil that’s stuck to the root system.
You can do this in a sink, bathtub or outside with a garden hose depending on the size of your dracaena.
Step 2: Prune Any Rotten Roots
When you’ve rinsed all the soil away from the roots, you’ll now be able to clearly see the healthy and rotten roots.
Healthy roots are white in color and have no smell. They are firm to the touch and are pliable.
On the other hand, rotten roots are dark colored usually brown or black. They are soft, mushy and have a foul rotten smell to them.
Once you’ve identified all the rotten roots, it is time to trim them all off.
You want to do this because rot can spread.
To do so, sterilize a pair of scissors or pruning shears. Then start cutting off all the rotten roots.
Avoid clipping off any of the healthy roots. You want to keep as many as you can since your dracaena will depend on them to survive and recover later on.
Step 3: Prune Affected Leaves and Stems
Once you’re done with pruning all the rotten roots, sterilize the cutting tool to remove any pathogens that may have stuck onto its blades.
The next step is to remove any damages leaves and stem.
These won’t recover or turn green again. So, cutting off the brown, yellow and other affected foliage and stems is needed.
In case you pruned more than one-third of the root system in the previous step, you’ll want to trim off the corresponding amount of leaves as well.
Doing so will reduce the size of the dracaena so the smaller root system has a better chance of saving the plant and supporting it.
If you leave the plant with its original size, the remaining roots will likely be overwhelmed by the workload to support the plant.
In doing so, it compromises its ability to recover from root rot.
Step 4: Wash and Disinfect Your Dracaena
This is a crucial step you do not want to skip.
In most cases, dracaena root rot is caused by overwatering or waterlogging. When either happens the roots end up sitting in lots of excess moisture for prolonged periods of time.
Here, one of two things can happen.
The roots eventually suffocate due to too much water which deprives them of oxygen for extended periods of time.
If this persists, the roots eventually die from suffocation then rot.
Another scenario is the wet, damp environment promotes fungal development. Some of these fungi will eat through the plant’s roots.
And if not treated, root rot occurs as more and more of the roots get destroyed by the fungal disease.
In the case of the latter, you need eradicate the fungal pathogens before repotting your dracaena plant. Otherwise, the same fungal root rot will resurface later on.
To do this, you can use a fungicide solution or a hydrogen peroxide solution.
Rinse the entire root system or soak it in the solution to make sure all the nooks and crannies are covered.
After that, place your dracaena on a few old newspapers and let it dry.
This will take a few hours.
Step 5: Sanitize the Pot and Find a New Pot
While waiting, you also need to disinfect the pot. You can use the same hydrogen peroxide solution or a bleach solution.
Scrub the pot first with soap and water. Then wipe it down with the solution.
A simpler way is just to soak the entire pot into the solution and leave it there for 5-10 minutes.
Then let it dry after.
Besides disinfecting the current pot, you’ll need to find a new, clean pot to move your dracaena to.
The new pot will likely be smaller given that you’ve pruned some roots.
Avoid choosing a pot that is too big or too small. This will cause problems for your dracaena down the road.
Instead, choose a container that is 2-3 inches wider than the root system.
This will give the plant some room to grow but not too much that it is put at risk of overwatering.
Step 6: Throw Away the Soil
After taking care for the pot, it is time to discard the soil.
Again, the soil can contain some remaining pathogens. Thus, there’s no point in taking any risks.
You never want to reuse soil with root rot on other plants because it can pass along that same pathogen and cause the next plant to experience the same fate.
Thus, be careful when discarding it into the trash.
You don’t want the soil to come into contact with any of your other plants.
Step 7: Repot Your Dracaena
Once the roots have dried you can now repot the plant.
Use the new pot and fill it with fresh, dry, well-draining potting mix.
You can do so by filling the pot with the dry soil up to about a third of the way. Then place the plant in and fill the remaining space with more soil.
Don’t over compact the soil. Just put enough to keep the plant stable.
You want to let the soil have enough aeriation to let oxygen get through to the roots.
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Dracaena Root Rot Recovery & Aftercare
Aftercare is very important as well.
I don’t like to water the dracaena immediately after repotting since it just came from an overwatered condition which caused the root rot.
So, let it stay dry for a few days to around a week to help the plant quickly recover.
From there, you can ease into watering again.
However, make sure to adjust your watering schedule to avoid overwatering in the further.
Always check the soil before adding water. Make sure that the top 2-3 inches of soil has dried between waterings.
Never water before then.
By following this simple guideline, you’ll reduce the risk of watering too frequently.
Note that it will take quite a while before your dracaena will recover from root rot. In the meantime, give it ideal living conditions including a warm spot with bright, indirect light and good humidity.
In a few months, you should start seeing the plant start growing again.