What Does Root Rot Look Like in Succulents?

Root rot looks different in every plant. Some are easy to identify, while others take a bit of inspection to diagnose, especially in the early stages. This begs the question: what does root rot look like in succulents?

If your succulents have been affected by root rot, their roots will take on a dark color instead of white or yellowish-white. They’ll feel wet and slimy to the touch, and smell like rotting vegetation. The stronger the smell, the worse the rot.

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about root rot, including how to identify, treat, and prevent it. Let’s dive right in!

How to Identify Root Rot In Succulents

Unearthed root lump of a potted succulent

Among all the diseases a succulent can get, root rot is perhaps the deadliest. It’s the top-most cause of succulent death, even more than blight, botrytis, and dry rot.

Identifying root rot in succulents can be difficult in the early stages of its development because symptoms only appear on the roots themselves.

Plant parents don’t typically dig up their plants to check the status of their roots, so the disease can go unnoticed for weeks. By the time the plant shows obvious signs of root rot, it might already be too late to save.

There are two ways to identify root rot in succulents: from the roots and from the leaves and stems.

Check the Roots

If you suspect your succulent of root rot, the best way to make sure is to check its roots. Remove the succulent from its pot, shake off excess soil, and look at its roots.

If the succulent’s roots are white or yellowish-white, dry to the touch, long enough to hold the shape of the pot, and decently veiny, the plant is healthy and thriving.

On the other hand, if the roots appear either dark brown or black, the plant is likely affected by root rot. Left untreated, this discoloration will spread to the rest of the succulent, slowly killing it. 

Another indication of root rot is slimy or wet roots that disintegrate when you pull or touch them. These roots often smell like rotting vegetation instead of the normal earthy smell of soil. The worse the rot, the stronger the smell.

Also Check: What Color Light Is Best for Succulents?

Check the Leaves and Stems

Unless you happen to be repotting your succulent, you’re unlikely to detect the early stages of root rot. In most cases, you’ll notice the first signs of root rot from the succulent’s stems and leaves.

Succulents affected by root rot have yellowing stems with dark brown or black spots and lower leaves that appear pale or yellowing. If left untreated, the leaves will become droopy and mushy, unable to support themselves.

Note that it’s only root rot if just the lower leaves turn yellow. If the whole plant turns yellow, it’s likely a sign of nutrition deficiency.

How to Treat Root Rot In Succulents

Root rot kills fast; not even the hardiest of succulents can combat it. If left to fester, it’s farewell to your succulents.

Luckily, there are several ways to treat root rot in succulents. As long as the rot hasn’t affected the succulent’s entire root network, it can still be saved.

Method #1: Let the Soil Dry Out

Dry soil

The most common method of treating root rot in succulents is the drying method. This method is most effective on early-stage root rot, particularly before the leaves start changing color.

For this method, you’ll need to remove your succulent from the pot and let its roots air-dry for two to three days.

Keep the soil and root ball intact. Once the roots have dried up, re-pot your succulent and water it just enough to make the soil damp.

Afterward, don’t water the plant for the next two weeks to a month, depending on the temperature. If it’s warm, water after two weeks. If it’s winter, water after a month (or even after a month and a half).

Method #2: Remove Infected Roots

Cutting damaged roots from succulents is a common practice in succulent care, especially during repotting. As long as you trim only the damaged or rotten parts of the roots, no harm will come to the succulents.

When trimming the infected roots from the succulent, use a sharp, sterilized knife or a pair of sharp scissors. Gently trim away the rotten parts, making sure to cut a little past the area where the rot begins to avoid the risk of spreading.

If you have multiple succulents in one pot, you’ll need to transfer the healthy succulents to a separate pot to avoid possible infection. You’ll have to trim the roots if they’ve merged with the infected succulent.

Once the infected roots have been removed, let the succulent air-dry for one to two days before repotting.

Read more: What Do Succulents Symbolize?

Method #3: Dust With Sulfur

In plant care, sulfur is an essential element in forming vitamins, proteins, chlorophyll, and enzymes in plants. When used to treat root rot, it works much like rubbing alcohol on human skin: it kills bacteria growing on the roots, good or bad.

To use sulfur to treat root rot, you’ll have to remove the succulent from the pot, trim off the infected soil, and let it dry for several hours. Then, dust a bit of sulfur on the roots.

Sulfur creates a hostile environment for unwanted bacteria, acidifying the soil and making certain nutrients less available. This prevents the rot from spreading further and infecting the entire plant.

If you don’t have sulfur, cinnamon will do just as well because it’s a natural fungicide.

Method #4: Propagate Unaffected Succulents

propagation of succulents 3

If the rot progresses more than it can be saved, the only way to retain your plant is to propagate healthy cuttings so they can grow new roots. You can do this by propagating either the leaves or the stem. If you choose to propagate the leaves, make sure they aren’t discolored or yellowing.

To propagate a succulent, cut the head of the plant off a stem, leaving about an inch of the stem attached. Dry it out for several days then plant it in a new pot.

Alternatively, you can twist the leaf completely off the stem in one clean pull and place it in the soil, making sure the ends don’t actually touch the soil at all.

Water the cutting after a day or two with a spray bottle.

How to Prevent Root Rot In Succulents

Here are some crucial tips to follow to prevent root rot in succulents:

  • Use appropriate soil and container for your succulent. Don’t use regular garden soil for container plants, as it pushes oxygen out of the root zone and compacts easily in the container. Instead, use well-draining succulent soil that works well for your plant type.
  • Ensure there are proper drainage holes in the bottom of your container. If your pot doesn’t have holes, try to add them yourself using a drill.
  • If your pot is placed atop a saucer or other basin to collect excess water, drain it every time you water your succulent. Never let your plant sit in standing water.
  • Water your succulents appropriately. Unlike other houseplants, succulents don’t need much water at all. At most, they need to be watered once every week. During cooler winter months, they need water even less—once every month.

Wrap Up

Succulents affected by root rot have darkening roots that appear wet or slimy. When touched, the roots will break or disintegrate. These roots would smell of rotting vegetation.

Another common sign of root rot in succulents is discolored stems and leaves. The stem would appear yellow or brown with dark spots, while the leaves would appear yellow and mushy in later stages.

If your succulent shows signs of root rot, act quickly. Succulents affected by late-stage root rot are difficult to save.