Root rot is one of the biggest killers of plants, and many well-meaning plant parents fall prey to this issue with their beloved plants. It isn’t really surprising that this happens; it’s easy to get over-enthusiastic and water your plant too much.
Root rot has a number of warning signs, including wilting, yellowing leaves, or leaf loss. It may also result in a strange, unpleasant smell coming from the plant’s pot, and could progress to mushy stems. If you see these things, you’ll need to repot your peace lily in fresh soil and remove the old roots.
This issue can very quickly kill a peace lily, so it’s important to know what to look out for and how to address it when it occurs. This could be enough to save your plant, but it will depend on how fast you noticed the issue.
What Is Root Rot?
Root rot is caused by too much water around your peace lily’s roots for too long. This prevents oxygen from getting to the roots and starts to compromise the structures of the plant. Bacteria and fungus will then form and attack the roots, eating away at their cells, and devouring the tissue. This will quite quickly result in the following:
- Wilted leaves
- Yellowed leaves
- Loss of foliage
- Mushy, browning stems
- An unpleasant, decaying scent from the plant’s container
If you notice any of these issues, it’s likely that your plant has root rot, although wilted and yellowed leaves and loss of foliage can also be caused by the plant being too dry. This is frustrating, but you should soon be able to tell what the problem is by touching the soil. If it’s dry, the plant is thirsty, but otherwise, root rot is the most likely explanation.
Because root rot attacks a plant’s root network, it can swiftly cause your plant to die. Without its roots, a plant cannot absorb water, nutrients, or oxygen properly, and it may only be a few days before this kills it. Ironically, an over-watered plant often dies of thirst, because without its roots, it can’t drink.
You, therefore, need to look out for signs of root rot, especially when the weather is damp and not much water will evaporate from the plant’s container. Be constantly aware of the risks associated with over-watering your plant, and always check that your peace lily needs a drink before you supply one.
What Does Root Rot Look Like?
You can identify root rot by tipping the peace lily out of its pot and rinsing or brushing the soil off the roots.
Inspect the roots closely. Peace lily roots should be creamy and firm to the touch and should have minimal smell.
If the roots are dark in color or they feel squishy and wet, the chances are that they have started rotting. They may also smell unpleasant, as the bacteria that produce decay often release unpleasant smells.
What Causes Root Rot In Peace Lilies?
Root rot can be caused by a few different things, including poor drainage, over-watering, heavy soil, and fertilizer overuse. The wrong type of pot, cold temperatures, being planted too deeply, and being stressed will also increase your plant’s risk of root rot. You may find that poor air circulation and using contaminated soil are further risk factors.
Let’s explore each of these potential issues – and how you can avoid them – by turn, and then look at how to deal with root rot when it occurs.
Cause 1) Poor Drainage
Poor drainage is probably one of the biggest causes of root rot; if your plant’s container only has very small drainage holes or if the holes get clogged up easily, there is a high risk of the roots rotting. You should be aware of this when you choose the container for your peace lily.
The container ought to have several reasonably large drainage holes that allow the water to escape from the pot. You should make sure that these are clear from debris and consider enlarging them if they aren’t big enough to ensure the pot drains freely. It is always best to have multiple holes so that if one gets clogged up, the water can still escape from the pot.
You should also think about what you are standing the plant on, and remember to empty its saucer or tray regularly. It is fine to let the plant sit on a wet tray for a few hours, but after that, it’s best to empty the water away. Peace lilies like damp soil, but they dislike being soggy, and they hate having “wet feet” for too long.
Regularly checking that the pot is draining well and emptying the drip tray will help to minimize the risk of root rot and keep your plant looking healthy.
Cause 2) Over-watering
Obviously, over-watering is likely to cause root rot, because it means you’re constantly adding more water to the pot without allowing it to dry out enough. This will result in the roots gradually starting to rot because they will never get enough oxygen and the wetness will start to break them down.
Over-watering is relatively easy to avoid if you are careful. Many people try to water their peace lilies on a specific day of the week or a specific schedule (e.g. every three days), but this isn’t a great idea. It means that you aren’t watering based on your plant’s actual needs. How much your plant needs to drink will vary depending on its conditions.
In the summer, your plant will need more to drink, because the sun will cause water to evaporate from the soil more quickly. In the winter, the plant should need less, because the evaporation rate will decrease. Peace lilies also grow less in the winter and consequently need less water.
The best is to water based on how dry the soil is, not on a schedule.
To check this, push the tip of your finger into the soil to about an inch deep. If the soil feels dry, your peace lily needs water. If it is still damp, wait a few more days and then check again. This maximizes the chances of you only giving your peace lily a drink when it needs one, and should prevent over-watering.
Cause 3) Heavy Soil
Heavy soil can also induce root rot problems because it will cause water to cling to your plant’s roots. This is a similar issue to the poor drainage one but is specifically caused by the substrate, rather than the container’s inability to drain.
Choose a loose potting medium for your peace lily. A mixture of things like potting compost, coconut coir, perlite, orchid bark, and peat moss will work well, ensuring that the soil stays damp but not soggy for as long as possible.
If you notice the soil staying wet for longer than you would expect, check whether the substrate has got too compacted, or whether it’s heavy. Clay and soil with no other substrate mixed in could be problematic, especially after the plant has been potted for a long time because it will gradually compact.
If your plant’s soil does get compacted, make sure to repot it into a more suitable substrate as soon as possible. This will also give the plant a better flow of oxygen around its roots and make it easier for it to spread its root network, which is ideal for your plant’s health.
Cause 4) Too Much Fertilizer
Although excessive fertilizer is less likely to cause root rot than the other reasons, it can be a problem. Over-fertilizing burns the plant’s roots and will cause stress, making it more vulnerable to root rot. The more your plant’s roots get damaged, the more vulnerable they are to rotting.
Make sure you follow the instructions on your fertilizer packaging and remember that too little fertilizer is better than too much. If you have over-fertilized your plant, flush the soil out with some fresh water and then allow the plant to dry out almost completely before you water it again.
Peace lilies are not heavy feeders, so you don’t need to fertilize your plant too often. Once every few weeks during the growing season should be fine, and less or none while the plant is dormant.
Cause 5) The Wrong Type Of Pot
You should also think about the kind of container that you are using and what it is made of. Some materials allow better moisture evaporation than others. For example, if you use a terracotta pot, moisture will evaporate from the container through the sides, as well as draining out of the bottom.
Plants in plastic pots are more vulnerable to root rot because the plastic isn’t porous and will prevent the water from evaporating. On the other hand, plants in plastic pots need less frequent watering, so this may work better for your watering schedule.
Cause 6) Cold Temperatures
When the weather is cold the water won’t evaporate from the container as quickly, if at all. Damp weather will also decrease evaporation. If you bear this in mind, you can adjust your watering schedule accordingly and make sure you are not over-watering the plant.
You should also remember that peace lilies may turn semi-dormant in the winter, and will need less water when they are in this state. As long as you are checking whether the plant needs water or not, you should be fine.
Cause 7) Deep Planting
When it comes to potting your peace lily, it’s wise to be aware that planting it too deeply could increase the risk of root rot. If the roots are cramped at the bottom of the pot, they are more likely to be in contact with water, and they will have significantly less air.
The bottom of the pot is always going to be damper than the top area, so it’s important to make sure you aren’t cramming the plant’s roots down there. By allowing a little space between the plant’s roots and the bottom of the container, you will reduce the risk of root rot. Bear this in mind whenever you pot your peace lily.
Cause 8) Being Stressed
Stress makes your plant more vulnerable to all sorts of diseases and pests, and this applies to root rot too. If your plant’s conditions are not suitable for it, it’s far more likely to suffer from problems like root rot.
Cause 9) Poor Air Circulation
Good air circulation is a great way to minimize your plant’s risk of getting any fungal problems, and that includes root rot. The roots won’t get air directly flowing over them, but airflow in the room will help the soil to dry at a good rate.
Although having other plants near your peace lily can improve the humidity levels, too many will cause stagnation. If you are having a lot of problems with root rot, check whether there’s enough airflow in the room and try to increase it if there isn’t.
Cause 10) Using Contaminated Soil
If you are repotting your peace lily, it’s important to use fresh soil. If you use soil that another plant has been potted in previously, there is a risk that this soil will contain pathogens that could attack your plant’s roots. There are quite a few of these, and they thrive in damp soil.
In general, these pathogens will only survive if the soil remains damp, but it’s still better not to risk having them in the soil in the first place. Soil that has been used for outdoor plants is more likely to contain pathogens, so avoid reusing it for indoor plants, and your peace lily is less likely to get root rot.
If you do need to reuse soil, make sure you dry it out thoroughly before putting it in your peace lily’s container.
How Do You Fix Root Rot Once It Has Started?
Fixing root rot can be challenging, and unfortunately, peace lilies will not always survive when the rot has set in. You will need to act as quickly as possible to save your plant, so as soon as you realize there is the possibility of rot, you should follow the steps below.
Step 1) Tip The Peace Lily Out Of Its Pot
First, take a sheet of newspaper and spread it on the table to protect the surface and minimize the mess. Next, ease the peace lily out of its pot, being careful, especially if the stems are mushy.
Place the peace lily on the newspaper and use a brush to remove the soil from it. If the soil is very wet, take the plant and gently rinse it under the tap instead. Get as much soil off the roots as you can, and then place the plant back on the newspaper.
Step 2) Inspect And Trim The Roots
Closely inspect the roots to see how bad the rot is
The more root that has been affected by the rot, the less likely the plant is to survive. Gently use your fingers to probe the roots for squishiness, and inspect the whole root network.
Sterilize and trim
Sterilize some scissors in boiling water and then trim off all the mushy areas. Any parts that have gone brown should be removed, as there is a risk that they will reinfect the healthy roots if you leave them in place.
Keep sterilizing the scissors
Is important to sterilize the scissors as you work so you aren’t spreading the pathogens from the rotting roots to the healthy roots. Discard all the rotting roots without touching them against the healthy roots if possible.
Re-check if you got all the rot roots
Once you think you have finished, rinse the roots again and check that you have removed all of the brown, squishy areas. Even a single unhealthy root could cause further problems, so get rid of them all.
Step 3) Remove Leaves If Necessary
If you are pruning off a lot of the roots, the plant will no longer be able to support its whole leaf network, and will therefore need to be trimmed back to reduce the strain created by the leaves.
Take a few leaves off, especially ones that have turned mushy or discolored, and your plant should be able to focus on new, healthy growth.
Your peace lily will gradually re-establish its root system and grow new leaves as it increases its ability to support them. This could take several months, but it’s the best way to ensure that your plant is able to absorb enough nutrients and water for its leaves.
Step 4) Rinse With Antifungal Solution
Next, to make sure you have got rid of all of the fungal infection, you should prepare an antifungal solution and then gently wash the roots in this for a few seconds, following the manufacturer’s directions. Rinse the roots with water and then set the plant back on the newspaper and leave it to dry out.
Step 5) Dry The Plant
You now want to get the plant’s roots as dry as possible, and you can use kitchen paper or another clean, absorbent material to blot the roots and pull water away from them. You can do this for as long as you like and then set the plant back on the newspaper to dry for a few hours.
Make sure you keep it in a cool, dry place away from direct sun while its roots are exposed. Direct sun could kill the plant.
Step 6) Sterilize And Prepare The Container
If you want to keep the peace lily in the same container that it was in before, make sure that you take the time to sterilize it first. You can use a weak bleach solution and some soapy water, and then thoroughly rinse it so that it’s clean.
Next, add a layer of a new fresh substrate. Do not use the same soil, as it will have bacteria or fungal spores spread throughout it, and these are very likely to reinfect the plant.
Instead, you should put plenty of good drainage material in and use entirely new substrate. When you have prepared the bottom layer, put the pot beside the plant and allow it to finish drying.
Step 7) Repot The Peace Lily
Finally, put your peace lily back in its container, making sure the root ball is around the same height as it was before. Fill in around the plant’s root ball using compost and other potting mediums, and gently but firmly press the potting medium down around the roots.
You can then lightly water the peace lily to help spread the soil around the roots, but only add a little, as you don’t want to make the roots too wet again. Put your peace lily out of direct sunlight, and treat it very gently for a few weeks while it recovers.
It may take your peace lily a long time to recover, depending on how bad the root rot was, but it should now start to do so.
Root rot is a big issue with peace lilies, so be aware of this problem as soon as you get your plant, and take steps to minimize the risks. Good drainage, loose potting medium, and a proper approach to watering are all important. Always check whether your plant needs water before you give it any, and look out for signs that your plant’s roots are rotting.