How to Save a ZZ Plant from Root Rot: A Step by Step Guide

Last Updated on June 10, 2022 by Admin

ZZ plant root rot is a serious problem that needs to be immediately addressed. So, if you have any suspicion that this may be happening, it is always worth a check.

Better safe than sorry, right?

The reason for this is that if it is not treated in time, root rot can keep spreading.

And it can eventually kill your beloved ZZ plant.

So, if you find ZZ plant root rot present, try to immediately save the plant.

To save a ZZ plant from root rot, unpot the plant and rinse off all the excess soil. Then prune the damaged and rotten roots.

You’ll also need to disinfect the root system to eradicate any fungal disease that may be harbored there. And finally, repot the plant in fresh, dry soil.

Don’t forget to adjust your watering routine after to avoid overwatering in the future as this is almost always the cause of root rot.

Signs of Root Rot in ZZ Plant

Slow or Stunted Growth

Since ZZ plant root rot affects the roots, it affects how much moisture and nutrients the plant can absorb.

The more roots that get damaged, the less sustenance the plant is able to get for itself no matter how much you water the soil or add fertilizer.

This will result is a weak, sad and slow growing plant.

As the problem gets worse, the slow growth rate will come to a complete halt as well.


Leaves Turn Brown

Brown leaves are usually caused by dryness.

Although overwatering is usually the reason for ZZ plant root rot, once too many roots have been damaged, the plant will only be able to absorb a fraction of the water it normally does.

As a result, you’ll see leaves start drying up and turning brown.

This is a bad sign as it signals a more advanced root rot problem.


Yellowing and Wilting

Yellow leaves will also develop in combination with the brown leaves.

The yellowing will be a result of the lack of nutrients.

As more roots die and rot, the less nutrients the plant is able to absorb from the soil. And this will cause the leaves to turn yellow.

In most cases, the bottom leaves will turn yellow first.


Stem Rot

Stem rot is another late stage symptom. Here, you’ll see the base of the stem become soft, mushy and slimy.

Normally, a ZZ plant’s stem is firm and stable.

Stem rot is usually caused by root rot which is not spreading upwards.

So, it is a sign that the roots have already sustained extensive damage at this point. And it is beginning to take other parts of the plant with it.

Because of the soft, weak state of the stem, don’t try to pull the plant or the stems will may just break away from the roots.


Brown or Black, Mushy Roots

The sure sign of ZZ plant root rot is dark brown colored roots that are soft, mushy and stinky.

This means that the once healthy white roots have died then rotten.

For this reason, whenever I suspect overwatering, I like to take the plant out of the pot and check the roots.

This allows me to get a quick confirmation on whether there is root rot occurring or not.

In doing this, I don’t need to guess or check on the other symptoms as the roots themselves will tell me whether or not rotting is present.

Ideally, you won’t see any rotten roots.

But if you do, the hope is that only a small section of the root system is rotten. This makes the ZZ plant very savable.

The more roots are rotten, the harder it will be to save the plant.


How to Save Your ZZ Plant from Root Rot (Step by Step)

In this section, I’ll go into detail on how to save your ZZ plant root rot.

Note that these steps are time sensitive in that the earlier you detect root rot, the better chance you have at saving and reviving your ZZ plant if you act quickly.

On the other hand, a severely rotten root system can compromise the recovery ability of your ZZ plant.

And sadly, when the damage to the roots is severe, they’re a likelihood that you won’t be able to save the plant no matter what you do.

That said, here are the steps to saving a ZZ Plant with root rot.


Unpot the Pot and Clean the Roots

Carefully take the ZZ plant out of the pot. You don’t want to pull it out or jerk it out especially if feels stuck in the pot.

At this point, you don’t want to damage any of the remaining healthy roots.

And you don’t know how many of these healthy roots are left. So, you want to gently ease the plant out of its container.

Once you have the ZZ plant out of its pot, rinse the roots to remove any excess soil.

You want to do this in an area away from your other plants.

That’s because you don’t want the soil to come into contact with other plants just in case a fungal disease is what causes the root rot.

If this happens, the disease can infect your other plants and cause the same problem.

You can do the rinsing off in a sink, bathtub or outside with a garden hose.

This will allow you to clearly take a look at all the roots as well.


Prune Any Damages ZZ Plant Rotten Roots

If your ZZ plant has root rot, you’ll see some brown or back roots that are smelly and mushy. These are dead roots that have since rotted.

They’re useless.

And they can still harbor some disease.

So, it is best to prune them immediately as they can spread the problem.

To do so, sterilize a pair or scissors or pruning shears with rubbing alcohol. Then start cutting the rotten roots.

If you see any rhizomes that look rotten and mushy, remove them as well.

Be careful not to cut off any of the healthy white, firm looking roots.

These are healthy will work perfectly fine. And the plant will need them to support its revival and recovery.


Treat the Root System

Once you’re done pruning the dead, rotten roots, there’s an extra step that needs to be done.

This is disinfecting the root system.

ZZ plant root rot can be caused by overwatering where the excess moisture suffocates the roots to death. But it can also be caused by several kinds of fungal infections.

If it is the latter, then it is important to sanitize the root system with a fungicide solution or hydrogen peroxide solution.

This way the fungal disease will not resurface later on after you’ve repotted and saved the plant, only to cause it to rot again.

To do so, you can rinse the root system with either solution.

But make sure to be thorough and get all the nooks and crannies as well.

An easier way is just to fill a container and submerge the roots into the container for complete coverage.

After that, make sure to let the roots dry. This will take a few hours.

You can place the plant on a bunch of old newspapers to help absorb the moisture.


Clean the Pot

While waiting for the roots to dry, there a re a few other tasks that need to be done.

Once is to disinfect the pot that the ZZ plant was in.

If there are any remnants of the fungi that are left in the pot, it will infect the next plant you grow in it.

So, sanitizing the pot with the hydrogen peroxide solution or a bleach solution is needed.

This will eliminate any possible pathogens that are there in the pot.

Once you’re done, let the pot dry under the sun.


Carefully Throw Away the Used Potting Soil

The last part of the cleansing process is to discard the potting soil that the ZZ plant was it.

Again, this has to do with eliminating any possible pathogens in that may be left in the soil.

You never want to reuse the soil for other plants. Otherwise, it could cause fungal root rot in that plant as well.

Be careful when throwing the soil away since you don’t want any of the particles coming into contact with any plants you own.


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Get a New Pot and Potting Mix

Now it is time to prepare for your ZZ plant’s new home.

Here, you’ll need a new pot and fresh, dry soil mix that is well-draining.

Try to choose a pot that is the ideal size for your ZZ plant. A pot that is too big or too small will be harmful to the plant over the medium to long term.

So, select a container that is 2 inches wider than the plant’s root system.

This will give the plant some space to grow without leaving too much excess space for soil.

In all likelihood, you’ll be using a smaller pot for your ZZ plant since its roots have been pruned a bit.


Repot Your ZZ Plant

Once the roots have dried, you can not pot up the plant.

Fill the new pot with the fresh, dry, well-draining soil. Try to fill it up to about a third of the way. Then put the ZZ plant into the pot before backfilling the rest of the space with soil.


Remove Any Affected Leaves and Stems

The last step is to remove any damaged leaves and stems. This includes any yellow or brown foliage as well as mushy stems.

Make sure to sterilize your cutting tool before cutting so you don’t pass any of the pathogens from the rotten roots to the top part of the plant.

Another thing you want to keep note of is that if you pruned more than a third of the entire root system earlier, you’ll also want to prune the corresponding amount of leaves as well.

This reduces the overall size of the plant, so the roots have a chance of supporting it during revival.

You don’t want to overtax the roots by giving it a much bigger plant to support given that the root system has already been reduced.

This cuts down its chances of survival and recovery.


ZZ Plant Root Rot After Care and Recovery

Once you’ve repotted the ZZ plant, it is time to let the plant recover.

Here, there are a few things that help.



Since the most likely cause of the root rot is overwatering, don’t water the plant for a few days to a week or so.

The dry condition will help the plant with recovery.

During this time, adjust your watering schedule so as not to repeat overwatering.

You want to wait until the top few inches of soil has dried before adding more water each time. Never do so if the top 2-3 inches of soil is still moist or wet.



The same goes true with fertilizer.

Try to avoid feeding the plant for a few months. At least, wait until you see new growth before you start feeding it.

The initial goal of the ZZ plant after repotting is survival then recovery.

Thus, you don’t want the plant to divert its energy from these tasks to focus on growth yet.

Otherwise, while there may be some small development, the plant will later deteriorate and go downhill from there.


If Your ZZ Plant Can’t be Saved, Propagate It

Unfortunately, all the steps above in saving a ZZ plant with root rot is not 100% guaranteed to work.

On some occasions when the damage to the roots is just too extensive, the plant is beyond saving.

In this case, it is always good to have a backup plan.

So, if you notice that majority of the roots have rotted or after repotting the plant it seems to still be deteriorating, then propagating it is a good option.

Try to propagate more than one cutting if possible since this can be a last ditch effort.

In short, you don’t get second chances once there are no more healthy cuttings left to take.

You can opt to take left cuttings or stem cuttings and propagate them. At this point, you will likely need to go with that’s available.

Therefore, look for both healthy leaves or stems and take cuttings from there depending on which one looks more promising.

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