I have many succulents in my garden and I am now very much familiar with their behavior. With that experience now I know most of their problems arise due to changes happening in their roots. So If you are wondering why your succulent’s roots are rotting, I think I have a simple explanation for that.
To identify Succulent Roots Rotting at the early stage is nearly impossible. Unless you check the roots during re-potting, you will have to wait until the plant shows symptoms on the leaves or stems. So what are these symptoms and how to resolve succulent roots rotting problems, Let’s find out here.
What is Root Rot?
Succulent Roots are Rotting means infected roots in a plant. It’s a common succulent disease that affects the roots to rot and die. Generally, the roots take oxygen from the soil space for respiration and photosynthesis apart from taking water. Most root rot diseases are mainly caused by over-watering succulents. When there’s too much water in the soil for an extended period, the dampness makes it hard for the roots to do their most important job, breathing as they can’t get enough air.
It finally leads to root rot. The succulents with root rot need immediate attention and active treatment.
How can I know if my Succulent Roots are Rotting?
Make sure to check the lower leaves and stem of your succulent regularly to prevent root rot leading to its final stages where you won’t be able to do anything to save it. When you first see any signs of root rotting, you need to act immediately. If you are re-potting, make sure they are healthy before planting succulents again.
There are mainly two ways that you can identify root rot in a succulent.
Leaves and stems
If your succulent is overwatered, it will reflect on the leaves. They will become bulky and soft. The leaves will become lighter than a typical healthy plant and fall off if you touch them, especially the lower leaves, as they get affected first. When the root rot is terrible, it will show on lower leaves and stems. They will turn pale and yellow due to nutrient deficiency.
There can be black spots or brown spots in the lower part of the stem. Eventually, the leaves and the stem will become sloppy. The infected parts will have a swollen look. At this stage, it will be either impossible or tough to save your succulent as the rot has got into the stem. It will overall have a very sick and unhealthy look.
Generally, healthy roots are yellow or white. Rotten roots are dark brown or black and are wet and thin parts of the plant. They will break into pieces when you take them off the soil. Even the plant will be shaky as the roots have got weakened and lost. They also give a slight smell of rotting vegetables.
Why are my succulents’ roots rotting?
The main reason for rotten roots is overwatering. As succulents breathe from roots, wet ground for an extended period makes soil particles stay together, blocking enough air to the plant. As a result of not getting enough air, the roots will slowly start to rot, eventually leading to the rotting succulent roots and making the whole plant die.
Thus, you need to ensure that you don’t water your succulents often and use good draining soil to dry them out quickly. If your succulent shows signs of root rot, it indicates that you have given too much water to the plant than it requires. Generally, succulents can stay 10-14 days without water.
Container with no drainage holes
Another possible reason for root rotting can be the pots without drainage holes. If you have used a hole-less pot to plant your succulents, the soil doesn’t have the full capacity to dry out completely, and also, there’s no place for the additional water to go. As a result, the soil will retain the unwanted moisture for the plant causing root rot. If you plant a succulent in containers like mugs or glass bowls that don’t have holes, be extra cautious when watering.
Further, the outgrowing and bounding roots can block the pot’s holes. It is a result of not re-potting at the right time when the plant grows, and the pot isn’t enough in size to grow further. Because of blocking the holes, the soil can’t dry as it retains the excess moisture.
Use of wrong soil
The use of regular potting soil for succulents can also cause root rot. The regular potting soil that we use for vegetables and flowers is not meant for succulents. The clay nature of the typical soil can retain moisture, which succulent doesn’t prefer because such soil has large particles that keep moist for a long time. So it’s vital to use a well-draining soil mix for your succulents as the plant keeps enough water for survival in its leaves. Then, extra water in the soil is harmful to the plant.
In a rare case, root rot can be caused due to a natural circumstance by origin, like a bacteria or a fungus infection. Succulents are mostly kept indoors in a different setting than their natural habitat and are mainly planted in commercial potting soil. So, it avoids the chance for bacteria and fungus to infect the roots of a succulent.
What should succulent roots look like?
In general, succulents have two types of roots. One is fleshy, which keeps the additional moisture. It goes into the deep levels and across the ground to seek water, making it a vast system. Jovibarba heuffelii is an example of such tap roots. The other one is small and hairy. They stay close to the soil surface to get the moisture from either dew/vapor or rainfall.
Echeveria and many succulents belong to this category. The roots grow tight in a circle around the pot. There’s a shallow root system in the succulents. That’s why they don’t need too much soil. There are so many long roots, and they stick to the soil, forming the pot’s shape. If succulent roots are healthy, they are white or yellow. If the roots are light brown, the plant is dry and becomes unhealthy.
The roots also have fuzzy hair. They can be either the roots that absorb water or a fungus that helps take nutrients.
Ways to treat root rot
Usually, root rot is identified much later when the symptoms are shown through leaves or stems. By then, it will be late to be cured or fixed. Still, you can try a few ways to save your succulent from root rot. If you give it the necessary care and treatment, at least you can save some parts of the succulent like a leaf or a stem to breed and get a new baby succulent.
If it’s at the early stage where the signs of rot have just started to show and there’s a small amount of actual rot in the roots, you should un-pot the plant, remove all the soil from the roots, and let the plant dry for few days.
You can try drying out the succulent entirely, and it will only work if the root rot hasn’t spread into the stems. The plant can be saved by this method the rot has affected the lower leaves slightly. Suppose you notice the rotting roots while re-potting. Then, it’s better to keep the plant unpotted for a few days in a bright area so that it gets enough air before re-potting.
When it’s dried, you can wash the roots and remove the infected root areas by cutting them off. Then, leave to dry. It can take a few hours, and you are good to re-plant it in new soil.
Trimming or salvaging
You can do trimming if you notice any root rot while you are re-potting. You can then cut off the infected roots a bit more up from the infected areas so that you make sure there’s no rot is left, and it won’t continue to spread. The succulent growers recommend a cut at least 2 inches above the visible rot.
Beheading or air rooting
Beheading is the best and the last method to save your succulent if the root rot has got into the stems or leaves. It is considered a breeding method than a treatment, and also it rescues a part of the succulent. If the stem has started to rot, there’s very little chance it would survive, but beheading helps a lot to get a new succulent sapling from the cuttings of the surviving parts of the succulent.
Cut a part of the healthy stem and let it dry in a ventilated area to make the edge hard and dry. After a few weeks, you can see roots.
Use of Sulfur
Sulfur makes the soil acidic. When you re-pot, you can add Sulfur to the roots as Sulfur plays a vital role as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal chemical element. You must be cautious about using Sulfur only for the diseases you know are infecting your plant because Sulfur can harm the helpful bacteria and fungus while killing the harmful ones. If the reason for root rot is overwatering, there’s no use in using Sulfur to cure.
How to save my succulent from root rot?
It’s not hard to prevent root rot. If you take care of your succulent according to its plant care guidelines, there’s no way your succulent gets affected by root rot. Here are the tips to save your succulent from getting any root rot issues;
If you water often, the plant doesn’t get time to dry out as the succulents prefer dry soil. So, it would be best if you water your succulents occasionally. Still, when you water, you need to give the soil a complete soak-up, and before watering again, you need to let it completely dry. Watering depends on a few factors like the weather/ climate, indoor or outdoor, kind of container, and seasons. Even if you stick to a watering schedule, you can’t blindly follow it without monitoring the plant and the soil’s dampness.
So, you should adjust watering as per your plant’s requirement depending on how the above factors affect your plant. Especially during winter, most of the succulents go inactive and are resting. During this period, you need to be extra careful not to water your plants like usual. It would help if you cut off watering by half in winter. Always check the soil before watering.
Use a well-draining soil that is aerated and loose – It’s better to use a commercial potting soil or homemade suitable soil mix of soil, sand, gravel, and perlite or pumice. Sterilize the potting soil – When the root rot comes by origin as bacterial or fungal, which is rare, and then you can put your soil mixture in the oven at 250 degrees F for 30 minutes to sterilize.
Plant succulents in pots with drainage holes – Terra cotta/ clay pots with drainage holes are highly recommended, while mugs and terrariums, though pretty, make the plant care harder. As they don’t have the holes to drain excess water, it will retain the moisture, which will make it hard for the plant to breathe and cause root rot.
a. Do succulents have deep roots?
Yes, some succulents like Jovibarba heuffelii have deep roots. Succulent roots grow on relatively large ground. The roots are thick and go deep to absorb the moisture from beneath. While they succeed in any container, from mini pots to average pots, they can even thrive in a small pot that’s 4 inches deep.
Large pots do not allow a succulent to grow to its full potential as the succulent can’t fill the pot with its roots due to the pot’s large capacity. So, the pot’s correct size is 5% – 10% larger than the plant’s size.
b. How to root a succulent stem?
Cut the stem from a clean and sharp pruner. Remove 1/3 of the lower leaves and keep the stem in a dry and warm place without direct sunlight and let the stem end dries up and hardens for 5-7 days. You can identify that the stem is ready for planting when the end of the stem where you cut is sealed and looks dry. Then you can plant it in a pot with drainage holes and well-draining sand mixed soil.
c. How to save a succulent without roots?
You can save a succulent which is overwatered. If you give it the necessary care and treatment, at least, you can save some healthy parts of the succulent like a leaf or a stem. You can do beheading not to completely lose your succulent if the roots can not be saved by trimming. Then you can let it dry for a few days and re-plant it in a new potting mix, and get a new baby succulent.
Conclusion on rotting succulent roots
As overwatering is the leading and most common cause of succulents’ root rot, always keep in mind to occasionally water your succulents and then give them a chance to dry out before watering again thoroughly. It is the golden rule of succulent care. Then, the plant will have a good breathing condition and a healthy soil atmosphere to grow better. In brief, excess moisture in the soil, caused for several reasons, leads to root rot.
Anyway, it’s always better to prevent root rotting than to treat it once it occurs, as it can be challenging to treat a rotting succulent. Follow the common health rule, ‘Prevention is better than cure. So, always stick to the correct succulent care guidelines to avoid any complicated diseases in your precious succulents and Succulent Roots are Rotting.