How to Fix Root Rot and Grow Better Plants [Step-by-Step Guide]

Root Rot Doesn’t Have to be a Death Sentence!

Whether you are growing plants hydroponically or with soil, you may have encountered this insidious yet preventable problem called root rot. It can be devastating to notice in your plants, but once you learn the causes, you can easily prevent it from happening again. Keep reading to learn from our mistakes, and you can guarantee your plants will never have to suffer the fate of root rot!

how to fix root rot

The Signs of Root Rot

Root rot is known in gardening circles as a plant disease caused by a drainage or overwatering issue. In the words of my wise father-in-law, “you’ve got yourself a drainage problem!” 

Root rot is literally the rotting of the leaves, something that no grower ever wants to encounter. Pathogens are quickly spread and greatly impact a plant’s growth and overall health. It is typically a death sentence unless immediately rectified.

In hydroponic growing, the roots typically turn yellow first, then the roots turn brown. The roots will continue to decay, become tangled, have an odor, and be slimy. Once root takes hold of your plants, a slime is created that makes it impossible for oxygen to reach the plant. In a healthy hydroponic growing system, the roots should look bright and white.

Other signs of root rot you can look for are in the leaves. Hydroponic plants benefit from their growers being able to observe the roots to inspect for any signs of disease. Outward signs of root rot include leaves typically turning yellow or wilting. An odd odor and slow growth are also other telltale signs a plant has been afflicted with root rot. 

Stunted plant growth and a reduced harvest end up being the inevitable ending of plants affected by root rot, along with plant death if not treated. If you’re just noticing this in your crop, we’ve got you covered on ways you can save your hydroponic plants!

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Saving Hydroponic Plants From Root Rot 

I love growing my own tomatoes because the taste is far superior to anything you can find in the store. Hydroponic tomatoes are also typically juicer and more flavorful than their counterparts. When I noticed root rot in my entire crop of tomatoes a few years ago, I was beyond devastated. Thanks to my father-in-law I mentioned earlier, I am well versed in how to combat root rot in soil and hydroponics, which each require their own different strategies. We were able to come up with some effective and simple solutions that I’ll share with you below in case you run into root rot troubles on your growing journeys!

There are a few different ways you can go about this, and thinking through your system and how advanced the root rot is, can help you determine the best course of action for your hydroponic growing system. 

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Hydrogen Peroxide and Root Rot

Many growers swear by using hydrogen peroxide to prevent and kill root rot, which is an inexpensive and quick fix to a potentially devastating problem. Trying this method first before a more elaborate method may be all your plant needs to cure itself of root rot. 

The mixture of hydrogen peroxide depends on the solution you buy, but assuming it’s 3% hydrogen peroxide, the ratio should be 2.5 tsp per gallon of water. You can add this mixture to your reservoir slowly to prevent or kill early-stage root rot. 

The mechanics of how it works is actually pretty cool. The hydrogen peroxide releases an oxygen atom into the water. This little oxygen atom is a highly reactive free radical with high oxidation potential. Basically, it is responsible for killing bacteria and pathogens immediately. And this added oxygen is great for the roots of hydroponic plants! 

As long as you follow the recommended solution guidelines, hydrogen peroxide won’t cause harm to your plants. Interestingly, hydrogen peroxide has been known to stimulate a plant’s immune system, helping fend off viruses and bacteria naturally!

If you have a more pervasive or advanced-stage root rot infecting your hydroponic system, you may need to take further action than just adding hydrogen peroxide. You will likely have to cut the affected roots away. We’ll walk you through all the steps needed to effectively cut away the root rot and get new root growth going!

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How to Fix Root Rot

  1. Firstly, shut down the hydroponic system in order to assess the problem more in-depth. 
  2. Remove the plants from the hydroponic system so the roots can be rinsed with water. This is essential to get rid of any debris and the dead roots affected by root rot. Ensure the roots are well rinsed before the next step. 
  3. Find a clear pair of scissors and get ready to help rid your plant of root rot! Now, cut back the remaining roots that are infected, making sure not to cut them all off completely. 
  4. Once you’ve trimmed the roots, the next step to take is to drain the nutrient solution from your reservoir. 
  5. Depending on the type of system you have, the recommended thing to do is take it apart and sterilize it. Obviously, if that’s not possible, do your best to clean what you can, taking care to not affect the other plants around it. 
  6. Next, make sure your nutrient solution and water cover only half the roots. You definitely want air space between your water line and base.
  7. If your plant is rather large, it’s recommended by avid gardeners to cut back some of the leaves so the plant can focus on rebuilding its root system. Having too many leaves diverts energy away from the essential job right now of rebuilding a healthy root system.

Congratulations, you are on your way to saving your plant from a life of root rot!

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Life After Root Rot

It’s time to get your well-cleaned hydroponics system back up and running now. Once the hydroponic system is ready to rock and roll, and it’s time to add the nutrient solution, think about adding a beneficial bacteria to your mix. Try keeping the nutrient solution around 69-71 degrees. Also, try leaving the air pump on 24/7 to ensure maximum oxygenation.

If that seemed a little lengthy, we’ve got a video from youtube for you so you can check out how one grower trims his roots affected with root rot:

If you have found that the root rot insidiously turned the roots to mush, the plants are probably not able to be saved. Taking care to provide your plants adequate drainage, using an air pump, adding hydrogen peroxide to your solution along with healthy bacteria are the top tips we recommend for thwarting off root rot in your hydroponics system.

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FAQ

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What are the Signs of Root Rot?

Hydroponic systems have the added benefit of easy root analysis, so anytime the roots turn yellow or brown, be suspicious of root rot. The roots decay and will start to emit a foul odor. It comes with some other obvious signs, such as wilting and discoloring of leaves. Leaves will turn yellow and brown and look generally unhealthy. Normally, plants affected by root rot are stunted in growth and production, too.

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What Kind of Healthy Bacteria Do I Add to My Hydroponics Solution?

There are actually quite a few out there you can add to your nutrient regime for your plants, but the ones that are known to inhibit pathogen growth are called Bacillus. Bacillus subtilis is found in Hydroguard, which you can buy at your local gardening store or amazon.

This bacteria also acts as a root cleaner and disinfectant. Another added benefit to adding Bacillus to your nutrient solution is it helps synthesize hormones and enzymes to make your plant as healthy as possible.

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What Causes Root Rot in Houseplants?

Many times, houseplants get watered and sit in saucers, which is great to collect any water from spilling onto counters but also harbors pathogens that can easily infect a plant’s root system. Houseplants are notorious for getting root rot because of being overwatered and not being adequately drained.

When watering houseplants, take care to let them drain adequately to ensure they aerate properly. Then, be sure to use pots with drain holes. Plants typically require less water in the colder months, so adjust indoor watering according to the season outdoors. 

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Can Root Rot Fix Itself?

Root rot is unfortunately a death sentence for plants if left untreated. Plants can die within 10 days of spotting root rot, so swift action is needed once spotted. By following our tips above, you can easily prevent root rot from getting hold of your plant’s roots.

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