Philodendron root rot is one of the few weaknesses of this plant. Its ability to adapt to indoor and outdoor living conditions make it a popular houseplant.
However, you always want to be on the lookout for potential warning signs and symptoms because root rot can destroy even a large, otherwise healthy philodendron plant.
So, to help you out, below I go through in detail how to identify philodendron root rot, the causes and solutions so you can treat the problem.
How do you treat philodendron root rot? Saving your philodendron plant from root rot means removing the rotten roots other affected parts.
It is important to treat with fungicide or disinfectant to get rid of any possible pathogens before repotting the plant in fresh potting mix.
In case you cannot save the mother plant, propagation is the best option and grow a new philodendron.
Philodendron Root Rot Signs & Symptoms
Root rot in philodendron plants will usually present itself in a number of ways.
Unfortunately, because it happens under the soil, the symptoms we often first notice are those on the leaves and the overall plant.
By the time the symptoms reach these parts of the plant, there’s already damage happening to the roots.
That said, common philodendron root rot symptoms include a weak, wilting plant.
The leaves will also become discolored.
They will turn yellow initially. But once root rot sets in, you’ll see brown leaves as well. As such, there will be a combination of yellow and brown foliage.
Of course, the best way to identify root rot is to check the soil and the root system itself.
With the soil, feel the surface and the top few inches of soil.
When there’s root rot, the soil will usually be soggy, mucky or wet. That’s because overwatering is usually involved.
This is a bad sign.
Once you feel wet soil along with the other symptoms above, it is time to unpot the plant.
Slowly take the plant out of its pot.
And you’ll see its root ball.
Odds are if there is root rot, you’ll smelly a rotten odor once you take the plant out of the container. That’s because rotten roots stink. They’re dead and have rotted. So, that makes sense.
The sure way to verify that there is in fact root rot is to remove the soil from the roots. This will let you see all the roots.
Healthy roots are white, firm to the touch yet pliable or flexible.
Rotten roots are black or brown in color, soft, mushy and have a rotten odor to them.
If there is no root rot, you’ll see all healthy roots. But in most cases, if there is root rot, a portion of the root system will be healthy and another part that’s rotten.
How much of the root system has rotted will depend on how long the problem has been occurring. It will also determine whether or not you can save the philodendron plant.
Causes of Philodendron Root Rot
When it comes to philodendron root rot, excess moisture is almost always related in one way or another.
That said, it is still important to narrow down the actual cause since it will help you find the right solution to fix the issue or prevent it from happening again.
Below the are most common causes of root rot in Philodendron plants.
Overwatering is by far the number one cause of philodendron root rot. Sadly, it also happens to be the biggest cause of houseplant death.
Therefore, it is very important to know how to water as well as when to water your plants, including your philodendrons.
Overwatering usually occurs when a gardener waters the plant too often.
This is common especially since many people have the misconception that you should water plants daily.
While this works in tropical regions due to the hot weather, it is not a good idea in the rest of the world.
Another reason for watering too frequently is that people believe that plants need lots of water, sunlight and fertilizer to grow.
Therefore, they treat them like people and become overly generous with water and food.
Sadly, this good intention produces negative results.
Why does overwatering cause root rot?
In most cases, it is due to two things.
I’ll begin with the first one.
Plant roots need both water and oxygen. Ideally, the two are balanced.
In the case of Aroids like philodendron plants, their roots don’t like sitting in water for long periods of time.
Instead, they like to get their drink. Then stay on the dry side to breathe oxygen.
So, when you overwater the soil, the excess liquid will fill up all the air pockets between the soil particles.
When this happens all the oxygen in these air pockets are pushed out by water. And in their place is moisture.
As a result, the roots of your philodendron plant are left swimming or drowning in lots of water. This deprives them of oxygen (since you cannot breathe in water).
Therefore, if the water does not dry or drain in time, the roots suffocate due to oxygen deprivation.
If this persists, the roots will eventually die, then rot.
On the other hand, disease can also occur.
In most cases, fungal disease is the cause.
So, even if the roots don’t suffocate from too much water, the damp environment makes it conducive for fungi to develop in the soil.
Unfortunately, some of these microorganisms like to chew on and eat through the roots of the plant.
When this happens, the roots will eventually die and rot as the disease slowly eats through them.
Either way, you end up with a similar result.
And in both cases, overwatering the plant is the cause.
Another common cause of philodendron root rot is lack of drainage.
Here, there are two main causes again.
- Poorly draining soil
- Lack of or insufficient pot drainage
Philodendrons need well-draining soil.
This is because its roots don’t like being left in lots of water for long periods of time. Therefore, good drainage is very important.
Otherwise, even if you water correctly, the soil will end up holding on to too much moisture.
This will result in the roots swimming in water once again.
With well-draining soil, the potting mix will retain some moisture which is enough to keep the roots hydrated.
But it will get rid of excess water to avoid waterlogged soil.
Lack of soil drainage is what causes waterlogging. Unfortunately, waterlogging leads to overwatering and potentially root rot as well.
This is why it is not a good idea to use heavy soils for your philodendron plants.
I also don’t suggest using regular houseplant potting soil, at least not without amending it.
Instead, I prefer to use an Aroid mix, which is designed to provide good drainage and aeration.
Ideally, any kind of soil that is loose, well-draining and has good aeriation works well for philodendron plants. It also prevents root rot.
A simple potting mix to avoid philodendron root rot consists of:
- 1 part potting soil
- 1 part orchid bark
You can also go with:
- 1 part potting soil
- 1 part coco fiber
They key here is to check the soil. If it feels wet even after a few days since you’ve watered, it usually means that the soil is retaining too much moisture.
If this is the case, try replacing the potting mix with well-draining soil mix.
The second aspect of poor drainage is the pot you use.
Ideally, use a pot with sufficient drainage.
In most cases, this means containers with drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
The holes will allow any excess water that drains from the soil to exit the container.
Without holes, the excess liquid will just build up at the bottom of the pot. Therefore, this will negate even a perfect watering schedule and well-draining soil mix.
That’s because as the moisture accumulates at the bottom of the pot, it will keep the soil wet.
Thus, while pots with holes at the bottom may not look as pretty as those without they serve a function. This is especially true for Aroids like philodendrons whose roots don’t like sitting in water for extended periods of time.
Finally, if you do place a saucer underneath your potted plants to catch the liquid that drips, make sure to throw away any water that collects on the saucer.
Overpotting is a hidden danger that can sneak up on you.
Basically, overpotting means using a pot that’s much larger than what the plant needs.
In most cases, it is a container that leaves a lot of extra space for the plant to grow.
In theory, this sounds great.
Some people like using a much larger pot because it looks nice in terms of interior décor. Others do so to reduce how often they need to repot the plant.
Therefore, instead of moving up one size each time you repot, why not just move up 6 sizes and not have to repot for the next 10 years or so.
Again, this sounds like a very logical idea.
I’ve also come across some people who believe that keeping a plant in a bigger pot will let it grow faster.
All of these seem like valid explanations.
Unfortunately, in reality they don’t work.
That’s because there’s the hidden danger of overwatering.
When you put your philodendron (or any plant for that matter) into a much larger pot than it needs, it means filling the extra space with soil.
Sadly, when you water the soil, this also means that there will be an excess of water.
And the bigger the pot compared to the root system means the more water there will be relative to the size of the root system.
This increases the risk of overwatering.
Lots of wet soil means the roots end up in tons of water. It also means that it will take much longer for the soil to dry.
Thus, it leaves the roots wet for prolonged periods of time.
From above, you know both are not good scenarios in terms of philodendron root rot.
Low temperature or cold weather has an indirect effect on philodendron root rot.
That’s because when temperature drops, the plant’s growth slows. As such, it won’t need as much nutrients and water as it does when it is actively growing.
So, if you keep watering the plant like you do during the warmer months, it increases the risk of overwatering.
Another reason that lower temperature increases the risk of root rot is that it takes much longer for soil to dry in the cold compared to warmer environments.
This means, you need to adjust your watering schedule and scale back on watering the philodendron significantly.
Otherwise, it will likely end up being overwatered.
What should you do?
Cut back on watering during the colder months.
Wait until the soil is halfway dry before adding more water.
Additionally, it is a good idea to keep the plant indoors in a warm spot.
Other Related Posts
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How to Treat Philodendron Root Rot?
Now that you know how to identify philodendron root rot and understand its causes, it is time to treat the problem.
Treating philodendron root rot depends a lot on whether the cause of the root rot if suffocation or disease.
With the former, you know that the roots died and rotted because they lacked oxygen due to too much water.
If this is the case, you can just fix the issue and apply the solution.
But if root rot was caused by fungal disease, it is very important to sanitize the roots to get rid of the fungal infection.
Similarly, you need to throw away the soil since it is infected.
Never use that soil for other plants since it will put the those plants at risk of the same fungal root rot.
Lastly, you’ll also need to disinfect the pot.
Again, if you use the pot for other plants without disinfecting it first, there’s a high likelihood that those plants will also get the same root rot that afflicted your philodendron.
Now that you have an overview, it is time to treat philodendron root rot.
Confirm that there is philodendron root rot
The first step to treating root rot is to verify it is happening.
To do so, carefully take the plant out of the pot and check the roots. You only need a few rotten roots to confirm this.
You may need to brush away excess soil as well to get a better view of the roots.
Rotten roots are black or brown in color, soft and mushy to the touch. They also stink (as they’ve rotten).
On the other hand, healthy roots have a white color, are firm to the touch and very flexible.
It is very easy to tell the difference between the two.
Remove all the soil from the roots
Once you’ve confirmed there is root rot, it is time to remove all the soil from the root system.
You can do this by hand. Although, I prefer using water.
If your philodendron is not too big, you can do this in a large sink. Use water to make it easier to remove all the soil on the roots.
For a larger philodendron, I like to use a garden hose.
Make sure to keep the area clear of other plants.
In case the root rot was caused by fungal disease, you don’t want the soil to come into contact with your other plants.
Remove as much soil as you can. If possible, get all the soil off the roots.
This way you end up with the root system.
Once out, carefully discard all the potting soil. You don’t want the fungal infection to spread.
Prune the rotten roots
With the soil out of the way, the root system is now very visible.
It is time to prune all the rotten roots.
Make sure to sterilize the cutting tool with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide first. This ensures you don’t pass any pathogens to the plant from wherever the blade has been.
Now, cut off all the rotten roots.
Avoid pruning any of the healthy roots.
After you prune all the rotten roots, you’ll have a better feel of what’s left of your plant. This will allow you to make any decisions if needed.
If most or almost all the roots are rotten and you prune them off with very few healthy roots left, it is likely the plant is beyond saving.
Sadly, this can happen which is why it is very important to catch philodendron root rot early.
If this is the case, your best option is to propagate the plant.
You can use stem cuttings or another method depending on what kind of philodendron plant you have. After that, the mother plant will likely end up in the trash can.
I know, very sad.
On the other hand, if only a portion of the root system has rotten, you can still save the plant.
Here, you’ll need to make another decision.
If only a handful of rotten roots were pruned, then you can keep the entire plant above the soil level. But if you pruned off more than 1/3 of the root system, you’ll also need to prune off the same amount of stems and leaves from the philodendron plant above.
The reason is that a smaller root system has a better chance of saving and surviving if it is not overwhelmed by the load it needs to supply the plant.
So, a smaller plant that corresponds to the size of the root system gives the plant a better chance of survival.
Disinfect the remaining root system
In case the root rot was caused by fungal infection, it is important to disinfect the root system.
This will ensure that the remaining healthy roots are all free from any disease.
If not, the cycle will likely start over.
And you’ll have to deal with the same fungal root rot problem again later on.
To disinfect the root system, you can us one of two methods. Either one will work so you don’t have to double things up.
Method 1: 3% hydrogen peroxide
Mix 2 parts water to one part hydrogen peroxide.
Scale the solution as needed depending on how big the root system of your philodendron is.
The goal is to be able to dunk or submerge the entire root system into the solution.
You can use the sink, a large tub, pail or something else.
Method 2: Bleach
Mix 6 to 10 drops of bleach for every quart of water.
Again, scale the solution to how much you need in order to drench the entire root system in it.
After soaking the root system, you’ll know it is free of fungal infection.
Make sure to let the root system drain and dry right after.
Disinfect the pot
While you’re waiting for the roots to dry, turn your attention to the pot.
It is now time to use the same disinfecting solution to sanitize the pot you previously used for the philodendron plant.
Again, dunk the pot into the solution to make sure very part is disinfected.
Then leave the pot under the sun to dry.
Prune any affected leaves and stems
The last step before repotting the philodendron is to remove all the affected areas.
This includes discolored, wilted and damaged leaves as well as stems.
Sadly, these parts will not recover their lost glory. Similarly, yellow or brown leaves won’t turn green again.
Therefore, it is best to remove them.
This way, the plant can focus its new energy on producing new shoots and leaves. It will likewise channel its resources on the healthy parts.
Repot the philodendron in fresh, well-draining soil
Last but not least, it is time to repot the philodendron.
Note that if you’re sure that the cause of philodendron root rot was not a fungal infection, you could skip the steps on disinfecting.
Instead, after pruning the roots and affected leaves, you can directly repot the plant into fresh soil.
However, never skip those steps if the cause was in fact fungal root rot.
Otherwise, the repotted philodendron will sooner or later experience the same fate.
And this time, because it is smaller and weaker, it will be more difficult to save the plant.
That said, once the roots have dried from the hydrogen peroxide or bleach solution, it is time to repot the plant.
Use fresh, well-draining soil and a new pot.
You can use the old pot if it has already dried after disinfecting.
Or you can just use a new container to be safe.
If you had to prune part of the root system and/or the plant, you’ll likely use a smaller pot.
Avoid overpotting since that can cause overwater which puts the plant at risk of root rot again.
After repotting, don’t water the soil for a while. Instead, allow the plant to recover and stay dry.