Spider Plant Root Rot – Identification, Treatment & Causes
No matter how easy and low maintenance a spider plant is, without proper care it is still susceptible to some diseases and ailments. Root rot is one disease, even the hardiest plants can become infected with. But how do you tell if your spider plant has root rot?
The following are symptoms of spider plant root rot :
- wilted leaves with black spots,
- slow or stagnant growth, and
- browning with a foul odor around the base of the plant (close to the surface of the soil).
If your spider plant is exhibiting any of the above signs, you need to act fast. The reason we recommend haste is that the earlier you can treat root rot, the higher the chances are of survival and success. We’ll get into the treatments for root rot a bit further on, so keep reading.
Before we get ahead of ourselves and prepare for plant surgery, we need to establish if root rot is actually the cause of your ailing spider plant.
How to Determine if your Spider Plant has Root Rot
As we mentioned above, as soon as you suspect your spider plant is affected by root rot, you need to harness your inner Dr Sherlock Holmes, and begin investigating further.
And the best way to do this is physically inspecting your plants roots. As daunting as that sounds, it is going to be the quickest path to a resolution. And with our guide, you’ll soon realize it isn’t as hard as it sounds.
To remove your spider plant from the pot, follow these steps :
- If your spider plant is in a plastic pot, gently squeeze the sides of the container to loosen the plant from the pot. If your plant is in a ceramic or solid pot, you can skip this step,
- Spread your hand over the surface of the soil. We like to place the stems of the spider plant snugly between our fingers so we can support the plant without crushing it,
- In a smooth swift action, tip the pot upside down. You’ll feel some topsoil fall down, but the plant will most likely stay in the pot.
- Gently coax the plant out of its pot but shimmying it out of its home. As the plant comes out, you should begin to support the plant with the hand that was covering the soil.
- Remove the rootball from the pot, and you have successfully extracted your spider plant.
Once you have extracted your plant from its pot, we can now perform the our three root rot tests.
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.
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 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 Spider Plant Root Rot – Complete Step-by-Step Instructions
Okay, we have identified any problematic areas in your spider plants’ root ball. Let’s walk through the steps for treating your plants infected roots and soil.
- If you haven’t already, carefully remove your spider plant from its pot.
- Loosen the soil from the root ball. Make sure to break away any soil over a plastic bag or container, because we will be discarding all the infected soil. We recommend gently washing the soil stuck on any roots under warm tepid water from a tap.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Re-pot your spider plant 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.
- Finally, make sure to feed your spider plant with fertilizer. It will need it to recover and grow stronger than before.
For repotting tips and ideas, here’s a quick video from This is a Plant:
Causes of Spider Plant Root Rot
By now you should have a recovering spider plant free of any root rot and diseases. If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for – did we not say ‘haste‘ is required? But before you go get your hands dirty, make sure to come back and read this next section, because we’ll be discussing how to prevent your spider plant from getting root rot in the future.
Overwatering Your Spider Plant
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 are guilty of indulging in drowning your plants in water, this is the most likely cause of your root rot problem.
To prevent future bouts of root rot, we recommend testing your plant’s 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 only takes a few moments to see if the soil is dry, and it has always been a reliable indicator of our plants’ water needs.
If you don’t believe your water regime is the problem, there may be a few other factors to consider.
Moist soil isn’t always caused by overwatering. If there is insufficient drainage in your pot, this can also lead to root rot.
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 relatively simple to implement. Make sure your planters have enough drainage holes at the bottom. You can change your spider plant’s pot or engage in some DIY by cutting more drainage holes yourself.
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.
Plants that are stressed are more susceptible to diseases, like root rot and pests.
A stressed plant is a weak plant, which means it is easier for root rot to set in and take over the entire root system.
Plants can be stressed by many factors, such as inappropriate lighting conditions, over and underwatering, and changes in humidity and temperature. Even overfertilizing your plant can cause it to become stressed.
If you are constantly experiencing problems with your spider plants, you can check out our comprehensive Trouble Shooting Guide for Spider Plants. It is a wealth of information that covers all problems home gardeners can encounter with spider plants.
Frequently Asked Questions about Spider Plant Root Rot
Can a Spider Plant with Root Rot be Salvaged?
Yes – a spider plant that is suffering from root rot can be salvaged, however it depends on the extent of the infection.
If the root rot has infected the entire root system and has worked its way up into the stems of the plant (indicated by browning and a rotten smell in the stem), then the spider plant is unlikely to survive.
If you find yourself in this situation, your best opportunity is to propagate your spider plant to grow new plants, with fresh roots.
How To Trim Spider Plant Roots
Trimming spider plant roots is simple. Using a sterilized pair of garden scissors, work your way back to a point where the roots appear strong and healthy, and make a clean cut. Continue working your way around the root ball until you have trimmed all the rotten roots.
Immediately discard the trimmed and infected roots in the waste bin. DO NOT use the infected organic matter in the compost.
Why Are My Spider Roots Above The Soil?
If you are observing spider plant roots beginning to grow above the soil line and out of the drainage holes in the pot, it is time for a re-potting session. Your spider plants’ roots are screaming for room, and trying to find new sources of nutrients and soil.
How to Save an Overwatered Spider Plant?
You can always let your overwatered spider plant to dry out by limiting the number of waterings you are giving it. However, if you are worried about root rot, then changing the wet soggy soil out for fresh high quality soil that has good drainage properties will be the quickest and best solution.