Think your Philodendron has Root Rot? Look for Symptoms and Treatments

How do you know if your philodendron has root rot? Here are some tell-tale symptoms to look for:

  • drooping yellow leaves,
  • browning stem base, and
  • slow or stunted growth.
Philodendron Root Rot

If your philodendron is exhibiting any (or all) of the above signs, keep on reading because we’re going to walk you through the steps for treating your philodendron’s root rot, and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

But, before we jump to conclusions, let’s be 100% certain your philodendron is suffering from root rot.

What Does Philodendron Root Rot Look and Feel Like?

The symptoms of root rot we have described are just a few of the initial visual cues to warn you that something is not quite right with your philodendron.

If you suspect (even in the slightest) your plant is suffering from root rot, the best way to confirm this is to carefully lift your plant out of its pot to perform a visual and smell inspection of the roots.

Once you have your philodendron out of the pot, perform these three tests to determine if root rot is present :

Root Rot Visual Test

Rotting roots will appear dark (almost black) and mushy. Healthy roots are usually white or light brown in color, look strong and plump. You’ll also be able to tell healthy living roots by the way they are gripping onto the surrounding soil, usually holding them in the shape of the container.

Healthy Roots vs Root Rot
Healthy Roots vs Root Rot

Root Rot Smell Test

If you’re unsure or have any doubts about your diagnosis, you can always smell the suspect areas of the roots. Healthy roots won’t smell, and you should only get wafts of that all too familiar fresh soil smell. Whereas, roots suffering from root rot will smell…well rotten, like something is decomposing and a bit off.

Root Rot Touch Test

The final test you can perform is the touch test. This is only optional, and should only be used if you are absolutely unsure about your diagnosis. To test the integrity of roots, pinch them with medium pressure. A strong healthy root should be firm to the touch, and should not have any give when squeezed. Rotting roots will be soft and mushy roots, and may even break off when pinched.

Remember to wash your hands with soap after performing the touch test. Root rot is a disease that can be transferred to other plants.

How to Treat Philodendron Root Rot?

Philodendron leaf

Okay, so by now you should have established whether your philodendron root rot is real. The next step is to torch the plant and run for the hills. Just kidding, you should know we would never hurt a plant like that!

You may feel like it is a lost cause, but not all cases of root rot will end up in disappointment and frustration. The one thing we will recommend is that quick and prompt action is required to stem the spread of root rot.

Let’s look at our recommended steps to salvage your philodendron houseplant before the infection progresses too far.

Steps for Eliminating Philodendron Root Rot

  1. If you haven’t already, carefully remove your philodendron from the container, and
  2. loosen the soil from the root ball. We recommend gently washing the soil away from the roots under a tap.
  3. With a hydrogen peroxide or bleach solution, wash the old pot and any gardening tools to kill pathogens and prevent the spread of fungal spores. The solution is made by mixing one part bleach with two parts water.
  4. Sterilize scissors with rubbing alcohol. Use the clean scissors to cut off all the brown, rotting dead roots. Keep as many healthy portions as possible. Remember to re-sterilize your scissors after use.
  5. Pour fungicide solution over the remaining roots to kill root fungus and prevent another infection. If you don’t have a fungicide, you can use the hydrogen peroxide solution (mix one part bleach with 15 parts water).
  6. Using the same ratio as the infected root removed, prune back the same proportion of the plant foliage. This will reduce the burden on the pruned, smaller root base to support the plant foliage.
  7. Re-pot your philodendron into a container with sufficient drainage holes. Use a fresh batch of potting mix that has good drainage properties. We like to make up our own indoor plant soil using our recipe to ensure our indoor plants have soil that drains well, but also retains enough moisture to thrive.
  8. Finally, make sure to feed your philodendron with fertilizer. It will need it to recover and grow stronger than before.

Here is a short video by Big Boy Plants showing how to repot a philodendron:

Causes of Philodendron Root Rot

Now that you have successfully treated your philodendron root rot, the next logical step is to understand how and why your plant ended up in this situation, so you can prevent it from happening in the future.

Overwatering Your Philodendron

One of the most common causes of root rot is overly moist soil resulting from overwatering.

Moist soil is the perfect breeding ground for fungal spores and bacterial infections, because it allows them to breed and multiply quickly.

If you belong to the group of overzealous indoor plant waterers (there is no shame), this is the likely cause of your philodendron root rot.

To prevent future bouts of root rot, we recommend testing your plants’ soil BEFORE you top it up with water.

There are a few ways to go about testing for excess moisture levels in your soil. Those that are short on time, or prefer to use gadgets, can use a soil moisture meter.

But, our favorite way to determine if your plant needs water is with the humble finger test. It is easy, quick and extremely budget friendly (because it costs nothing)!

Insufficient Drainage

Drainage holes in pots

If you think your watering regime is correct and isn’t the cause of your waterlogged soil, there could be other reasons at play.

Moist soil isn’t always caused by overwatering. If there is insufficient drainage in your pot, this can also lead to root rot growing.

Poor drainage can be caused by many factors, such as:

  • pots without drainage holes or too few drainage holes,
  • poor quality soil mix that is too dense and heavy, which will hold onto water and result in a lack of oxygen flow, and
  • non-porous pots (such as plastic) will keep water in the container and lead to wet, soggy soil.

The solutions to these problems should be self-explanatory. Make sure your planters have enough drainage holes at the bottom, if they don’t change pots or engage in some DIY by cutting more holes.

Always use soil that has good drainage properties, but also has water retention capabilities. We like to use a combination of coco coir (for water retention), perlite and vermiculite (for aeration and drainage of excess water) for indoor plant soil.

Stressed Plants

Plants that are stressed are more susceptible to diseases, like root rot.

A stressed plant is a weak plant, which means it is easier for root rot to set in and take over the root system.

Plants can be stressed by many factors, such as inappropriate lighting conditions, water stress, and changes in humidity and temperature. Even over feeding your plant can cause it to become stressed.

If you are unsure about the ideal care conditions for philodendrons, check out our care guides, including this interesting guide on one of our favorite philodendrons, the Philodendron Atom.

Frequently Asked Questions about Philodendron Root Rot

Can I save my philodendron with a brown base?

Unfortunately, when root rot reaches the base of the philodendron, it has progressed too far. Brown coloration and mushiness of philodendron plants indicates the entire root system is infected. And the only way to save your plant is through propagation. Find and locate a healthy plant that has been unaffected, and follow the root rot treatments described earlier. It is important to treat the healthy roots with a fungicide solution to eliminate any possibility of the disease spreading to the new plants.

Can philodendron root rot reverse itself?

Root rot will not resolve itself without intervention. Unfortunately, this is not one of those diseases that you can bury your head in the sand, cross your fingers and hope for the best. Once root rot sets in, you need to jump into action immediately.

We recommend following our recovery steps above to give your philodendron the best chance of survival.