Pothos Root Rot (Causes & Solutions)

Last Updated on March 19, 2022 by Admin

Pothos root rot is something all owners of this plant dread, and for good reason. It is something that not only threatens the healthy and growth of your pothos, but also its survival.

For this reason, root rot in pothos plants need to be diagnosed and addressed as soon as possible. Of course, it is best to avoid root rot and its symptoms completely.

With proper care, pothos plants can live for over 10 years. But, this can be significantly cut short if root rot sets in.

Therefore, it is a good idea to verse yourself on everything there is about it, including what root rot is, its causes, treatment and what you should do in case it happens.

All of which I’ll go through below.


What is Pothos Root Rot?

Pothos root rot is just what is sounds like, the decay of the roots.

This can happen due to 2 reasons:

  • Overwatered or waterlogged soil
  • Pathogens that cause diseases which result in the rotting of the roots

Once roots decay, their color and texture will change from slightly firm and white in color into mushy, brown or blacky, and smelly.

Because roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil, pothos root rot is a very serious problem. It also tends to spread.

Any time a root rots, it ceases to function. Therefore, it won’t be able to absorb any water or nutrients from the soil anymore no matter how much you water the plant or add fertilizer.

And the more roots start rotting the less moisture and fewer minerals it is able to get. After a while, this becomes insufficient to support the entire plant.

When this happens, the plant will turn yellow, wilt, look sick and start to weaken.

If too many roots are damaged or completely stop functioning, root rot can eventually kill your plant.

As such, pothos root rot is a very serious issue you need to avoid if possible. Should it happen, early detection is very important and immediate treatment should be applied to try and save the plant.


Why Do Pothos Root Rot?

Most often, pothos root rot is a result of overwatering. It can also happen with waterlogged soil.

The reason is that the roots of pothos plants are sensitive to too much water. As such, they cannot tolerate sitting in water for very long periods of time.

When this happens, root rot can happen.

Similarly, pathogens can lead to root rot. In most cases, excess moisture also plays a role here is since disease thrive in damp environments. Thus, too much water is what allows them to grow in the first place.


How Do I Know If My Pothos has Root Rot?

Unfortunately, because the roots are not visible (because they’re under the soil), you need to reply on other things to identify root rot.

In many cases, yellow leaves and wilting a warning signs that your pothos may have root rot. But you cannot be sure until you visually check the roots.

Another way to tell if your pothos has root rot is if you smell something funky. Plants are not supposed to stink. But rotten roots produce a stench.

Thus, if your pothos is producing a rancid smell, most people will say something that smells like a rotten egg, then it likely has root rot.


Signs of Root Rot in Pothos Plants

Root rot in Pothos plants can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms overlap with other problems.

However, the most common signs of Pothos root rot include:

  • A distressed, weak, unhealthy looking plant
  • Yellow leaves (sometimes brown)
  • Dropping leaves
  • Wilting
  • Bad, rotten smell
  • Slow or stunted growth

The thing is these symptoms can also appear in when other problems strike your pothos. However, root rot usually the most serious of them all. So, you should always check for it.

The Sure Signs of Root Rot

The only way you can really make sure that your pothos has root rot or not is to unpot the plant and take a look at the roots.

One look and you’ll easily be able to tell the difference.

You’ll also want to remove excess dirt and soil to see all the roots.

Root rot is easily identified by black or brown roots that are soft and mushy. They are smelly as well. In contrast, healthy roots are more firm and white in color. They also don’t have any smell.

Note that there may be not roots that are rotten. Or, a few of them rotting. Similarly, there could be a many or all that have rotted.

Checklist of How to Know if Your Pothos has Root Rot. Signs of Pothos Root Rot
Signs of Pothos Root Rot Checklist


What Causes Pothos Root Rot?

As mentioned above, root rot has 2 main causes:

  • Overwatering
  • Pathogens

I’ll go into more detail about each one here.


Pothos Root Rot from Overwatering & Waterlogging

Pothos don’t like having wet feet. Although they enjoys moist soil and need water, they cannot tolerate long periods of sitting in moisture.

That’s because in addition to water, the roots also need oxygen.

As such, there needs to be a balance between wet and dry in order for the plant’s roots to stay hydrated and breathy enough oxygen.

When you overwater the plant or there’s waterlogging due to too much water retention by the soil, the roots will suffocate in water as they won’t be able to breathe (for extended periods of time).

One good analogy is holding your breath underwater in a swimming pool. While you’re underwater, you won’t be able to get any oxygen.

This is what happens when you overwater the plant. If the moisture does not drain quickly enough the roots will eventually die (rot) due to suffocation.


Pothos Root Rot from Pathogens & Disease

The other reason that roots rot are pathogens. Unfortunately, there are many varieties of them. Often, gardeners will just group them together as fungal infections. That’s because the diseases are borne out of excess moisture in the soil.

However, there are many different types of pathogens and infections that cause these, including:

  • Pythium
  • Rhizoctonia
  • Phytophthora
  • Fusarium

More importantly, unlike the root rot that occurs from waterlogging, these pathogens can contaminate or spread to other plants (via their spores).

So, in a way, they are more dangerous. That said, these sports cannot survive or grow when there is not enough moisture.

As such, while the cause of this kind of root rot are the different pathogens, the reason these infections can happen is because there’s excess moisture. Therefore, you’re back to too much water.

Similarly, Pothos are generally resistant to these diseases. However, they become susceptible to them under stress. Therefore, it is very important not only to avoid excess moisture but also give the plant what it needs.

If your pothos is not under stress, the likelihood of infection-based root rot is unlikely. Thus, make sure it gets enough air, light and warm temperature. On the other hand, avoid too much water and overly high humidity.




How Do You Fix Root Rot in Pothos?

The only way to fix root rot in pothos is to get the plant out of the environment that caused the issue in the first place. This means moving the plant to new soil in order to give it time to recover.

That said, fixing root rot in pothos will depend on what the cause is. As such, the treatment will vary.

Below, I list down each of the processes step by step.


How To Treat Pothos Root Rot Caused by Overwatering

Of the two kinds, root rot caused by overwatering is the easier one to treat.

But before you do, make sure that this is the case. The biggest difference between the two kinds of root rot is in the leaves.

With overwatering, you’ll likely see yellow leaves and wilting. But, there are no abnormal lesions, markings, black or brown foliage.

You’ll also have wet, mucky soil and the foul smell.

Because the only way to diagnose root rot is to see the roots themselves, you’ll nee to unpot your plant.

Make sure to carefully do this.

With smaller pothos plants you can just pop them out of the pot. Similarly, you can tip the pot over and gently slide them out.

As mentioned, rotted roots are black, soft and squishy.

  1. Treatment starts by identifying the roots that are damaged or already rotten.
  2. Then, use a sterile pair or scissors and trim these black roots off.
  3. To even things out, trim the leaves of the plant as well. How much you prune will depend on how many roots you removed. If you removed 1/4 of the roots, remove 1/4 of the leaves as well. This will allow the remaining roots to support the plant without overburdening them.
  4. Remove as much of the soil you can from the roots as well and throw out the soil.
  5. Check for any pests or other signs of disease. The last thing you want it to have other problems over the root rot issue you already have.
  6. Finally, repot the plant in fresh, dry, well-draining soil. Make sure the pot you use has drainage holes at the bottom as well.
  7. Don’t water the plant for now. Wait around a week before you start watering. And make sure to adjust your watering schedule.
Checklist on How to Fix Root Rot in Pothos due to Overwatering
Checklist on How to Fix Root Rot in Pothos due to Overwatering


How To Treat Pothos Root Rot Caused by Infection

On the other hand if your pothos root rot is caused by infection, you’ll not only see an unhealthy, wilting plant but also black, brown or other abnormal leaf colors, blemishes or marks.

If this is the case, odds are, you have a soil-based issue wherein there are pathogens in the soil that you also need to deal with in addition to pruning the rotted roots and repotting the plant.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Gently take the plant out of the pot.
  2. The mushy, rotted roots will get squished and snap easily. But you don’t really need them.
  3. However, you want to be careful about the healthy roots, so do take your time and don’t just pull or yank the plant out. Instead, you can tip it on its side and slowly slide it out by loosening the soil.
  4. Remove the excess soil and dirt to get a better look at the roots. You can use your hands or a hose to wash them off.
  5. Like above, cut off the rotted roots. Make sure you sterilize your scissor’s blades before doing so.
  6. Also, prune the corresponding number of leaves as well.
  7. Because you know the cause of the root rot is pathogen based, it is very important to clean the pot. This ensures that no remnants are the infection are left there if you want to repot the plant in the same container. If not, it also ensures the next plant that goes there does not experience the same fate.
  8. Wash the pot with water and bleach. This will kill any fungal and bacterial infections.
  9. Next, dip the remaining healthy roots in fungicide solution. This will get rid of any pathogens left. It also helps prevent any re-infection.
  10. Then repot the plant in fresh, dry, well-draining potting mix.
Checklist on How to Fix Root Rot in Pothos Due to Infection
Checklist on How to Fix Root Rot in Pothos Due to Infection


How Fast Does Root Rot Happen?

Root rot does not take long to take hold. In most cases, it can take a few days to weeks to happen. In very serious instances, pathogen-based root rot can kill your plant withing 7 to 10 days.

That said, there’s no real definite answer here because there are so many factors.

This pathogen-based root rot, it depends on the kind of infection and the pathogen. Also, whether the environment stays consistently damp or wet enough for them to keep destroying the plant at a fast rate.

If the moisture dries up, the environment will be more hostile to these infections. Thus, affecting how quickly they damage the plant.

On the other hand, waterlogging often happens if you let the soil stay wet for hours at a time. With heavy soils or water-retentive potting mixes, the soil can stay wet for days a well.

And it will get worse if you water daily or over other day as the plant keeps getting moisture while the excess liquid has yet to dry up.

In most cases, you don’t want the soil to stay wet for more than 2 to 4 hours. Before that happens, the soil should become moist (not wet or soggy).

This is why allowing the soil to drain completely after you water is essential.


Can A Plant Recover from Root Rot?

Yes and no.

Unfortunately, the only way to tell whether you can save a plant or if your pothos can recover from root rot is to see how extensive the damage to the root system is.

With minor rotting, only a small section of the entire root system is affected. This gives the plant the best chance of recovering from root rot.

However, if the entire root system is black and mushy, then the plant likely can’t be saved.

The key is how many healthy roots are left. The more firm, white roots there are, the better chance of survival and recovery your plant will have.

The fewer the healthy roots, they less they’ll be able to support the entire plant. As such, when this happens, you can reduce the size of the plant and hope this is enough to help it recover.

By reducing the plant’s size (and sacrificing stems and leaves), you’re reducing the amount of sustenance the roots need to provide to support the plant.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining healthy roots don’t eventually succumb to rotting as well.


Can A Pothos Plant With No Healthy Roots Be Saved?

It most cases, this reduces its chances.

However, I won’t say that you cannot save a pothos plant with no healthy roots. That’s because a friend of mine was able to do so.

The key was he had at least 3 healthy leaves. Note that these are healthy, green leaves with no yellowing.

If you have then, you can place the leaves in rooting hormone and replant them. In a way, this is like propagating the plant again.

So, it is not technically saving the original plant but kind of growing a new one from the pothos that was decimated by root rot.

Nevertheless, you still saved a part of the plant that will allow you to grow a clone of your original plant.


Should I Water After Repotting Root Rot?

Wait at least a week after you repot your plant before watering. This will allow the roots to recover in dry soil. And while the roots will look thirsty and the plant wilting, resist the temptation to water before then. The roots need time to recover from the damage.

Also, when you do start watering, start slowly and gradually work your way up.

Make sure to adjust your watering schedule so as not to end up in the same situation again.


Can Pothos Get Root Rot in Water?

Yes. But it depends on what you’re talking about here.

In a pot, too much water increases the risk of root rot. As such, it is always important to allow at least part of your pothos’ soil to dry out between waterings.

If you water too often or use water-retentive soil, the excess moisture will eventually lead to root rot.

So yes, pothos will get root rot in water.

If your question is about growing pothos in water, will it still get root rot then?

The answer is also yes.

Propagating pothos in water is actually one of the most popular ways to grow new plants. As such, the stems can stay in water for long periods of time. And they will root in water as well.

In most cases, once the roots have gotten about 2 inches or longer, growers will move them from water to soil.

But you can keep your pothos in water longer as well without any issues.

However, from experience, as time passes, the risk of root rot increases. I’ve noticed that once you pass the 1 year or so mark, you’ll start seeing some roots rot and the process will keep continuing.

When this happens, prune the rotted roots. New ones will grow.

However, the cycle will keep continuing from there. So, most growers will soon pot up the plant since you’ll be wasting time allowing new roots to grow while others just keep rotting.

The longest I’ve seen anyone keep a propagated pothos in water was a little over 2 years.


Is Neem Oil Good for Root Rot?

Yes and no.

In general neem oil is used for pests. It helps prevent and is used to treat bugs like whiteflies, mealybugs, aphids, mites, caterpillars and beetles. Thus, it is one of the most effective solutions for pest control and prevention.

Neem oil can also be good for root rot. But only if the root rot is caused by mildew and fungi or some other infection. It will not help if the cause of root rot is overwatering.

That said, the hardest part about using neem oil on root rot is that you cannot get to the roots. As such, neem oil is often used a drench or soak where you can soak the roots into the diluted neem oil solution to get rid of diseases.

But before you can do so, you’ll need to unpot the plant.

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