Indoor plant root rot: How to prevent, spot, treat and fix it?

You might already be familiar with this issue, but it could also be new to you: indoor plant root rot. If you and your watering can are inseparable, you run the risk of your plant's roots becoming ‘suffocated’ and dying.

While regular watering is necessary for house plants, excessive or too frequent watering can actually cause root rot. But what does root rot look like and how can you save a plant from it?

What is plant root rot?

The biggest pitfall when caring for indoor plants is excessive watering. If you're enthusiastic with the watering can, you need to be extra cautious. Root rot can occur in various types of house plants, from the Sansevieria and Monstera to the Calathea and Strelitzia. Even hanging plants like the Lipstick plant are not immune to root rot. In other words, root rot can affect plants of different species and sizes.

Root rot fundamentally occurs when there's prolonged excess water around the roots. Most house plants are planted in decorative pots where excess water can’t drain away, unlike outdoor plants where excess water usually flows into the soil.

When you excessively water an indoor plant, the potting soil becomes saturated with water. This directly impacts the oxygen level in the soil. However, the plant requires oxygen through its roots to survive. If the roots receive too much water and too little oxygen, it eventually leads to root rot. Due to the growth of mould and lack of oxygen, the roots will gradually rot, degrade, and ultimately, the plant loses the ability to absorb nutrients through the roots. Unfortunately, this is usually the point at which the plant probably can no longer be saved.

How to prevent root rot?

The most important way to prevent root rot is simple: make sure you don't overwater your house plant. But how do you know how much water your plant needs? And how do you avoid giving a plant actually too little water? We can't give a straightforward answer to these questions, because the watering needs depend on several factors such as plant species, location and temperature.

We advise you to water your plant on a regular schedule and not to water too much at once. For example, you can stick your finger into the potting soil a few times a week to feel whether the soil feels too moist or too dry. Then, based on this, you can determine whether you are watering enough, too much or too little.

In addition, these extra tips also help prevent root rot:

  • If you forget to water once, it's not a problem. Don't compensate by giving the plant double the amount of water next time
  • Use a moisture metre to determine if the potting soil is still moist enough
  • Place the plant in a pot with drainage holes, combined with a saucer to catch excess water
  • Provide a drainage layer at the bottom of your decorative pot. We recommend using clay pebbles, as they effectively absorb excess moisture
  • Grow your plant with its roots submerged in water, instead of in potting soil. This is also known as hydroponics. Note: not every plant is suitable for this growing method

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How to spot, treat and fix root rot?

What does root rot look like and what symptoms or signs help spot it?

You can spot and identify indoor plant root rot in many different ways. Below, we have listed the main symptoms and signs which help you spot it.

Yellow or drooping leaves

The most common symptom of root rot are yellow or drooping leaves. In addition, you can often tell whether a plant is suffering from root rot by looking at its leaves or stem, without first removing the plant from its pot to look at the roots themselves. Root rot often starts with yellow spots on the leaves, followed by drooping leaves.

Leaf drop

Indoor plants suffering from root rot will drop leaves earlier than a healthy plant, this is also a symptom by which you could recognise root rot. In this case, the yellow spots on the leaves first turn a brown colour, then the leaves dry out and finally the leaves fall off.

Potting soil or indoor plant smells bad

Do you smell an unpleasant rotting odour after watering an indoor plant? Or does it even smell around the plant when you haven't watered it? Then root rot is most likely the culprit.

Soft stem or stalk

For house plants like the Dracaena, a cactus or succulent, you can spot root rot by a soft stem or stalk. This softness may even start to look a bit slimy over time.

If you spot or identify one or more of the above symptoms for your plant, this could indicate root rot. However, this isn't always necessarily the case, as a symptom can also be the result of another cause. A good way to confirm whether your house plant is actually suffering from root rot is by closely inspecting the plant's potting soil and roots.

Root rot usually causes an unpleasant rotting smell. The moment you start checking your plant's potting soil and roots, you will quickly notice the smell. In addition, root rot can be spotted by the soft, brown and sometimes mouldy roots. On the contrary, a healthy plant has sturdy roots with a cream-white colour. Both the smell and the appearance of the roots are symptoms you can see as a confirmation that your plant is suffering from root rot.

Treat and fix root rot in 3 steps

Prevention is better than cure, but if you've reached this part of the blog, this advice probably comes a bit late. However, we're still here to assist, offering a chance to potentially save your indoor plant. Root rot typically doesn't fix itself, so we recommend following the 3 steps below.


  • Scissors or knife
  • Old towel
  • Rubbish bag
  • Fresh potting soil

Step 1: Remove the indoor plant from the pot

Do you suspect your indoor plant is suffering from root rot? The best approach is to carefully remove the plant from its pot and remove the potting soil from the roots. Placing the plant on an old towel can help contain any mess. Gently shake the plant to loosen the potting soil. Not all of it needs to come off, as long as you get access to the roots.

Tip: After following all the steps below, consider using fresh potting soil to refill the pot where the plant was initially potted. You can dispose of the old potting soil in a rubbish bag.

Step 2: Cutting or trimming off rotting roots

Now that the indoor plant has been removed from its pot, you can check which roots are damaged. Healthy roots are sturdy and have a cream-white colour. If you come across rotten roots, carefully cut them away using a clean knife or scissors and discard them in the rubbish bag. Be careful not to damage the healthy roots to avoid spreading bacteria or causing unnecessary damage.

Step 3: Pruning the indoor plant

After removing the damaged rotten roots, we recommend pruning a portion of the plant with a clean knife or scissors. Why, you may wonder? Pruning a part of the plant restores the balance between the remaining roots and the plant. If you've removed half of the roots, we also advise pruning approximately half of the indoor plant. The plant should have enough roots to absorb water and other nutrients.

We hope that our information and tips will assist you in improving the health of your beloved indoor plant. Hopefully, it will recover soon!

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