Root Rot on African Violet Plants

Root Rot on African Violet Plants

Root rot on African Violet plants can unfortunately occur when we are overzealous with watering African Violets. Over-watering can permanently damage African Violet roots and lead to the plants death.
These are common questions answered about African Violet root rot:

What is Root Rot?

  • Root rot begins with the outer tertiary or secondary roots.
  • At the tip of the tertiary roots are present thin hair like structures known as rootlets.
  • These rootlets are barely visible to the naked eye.
  • These rootlets are responsible for water absorption from the soil.
  • Rootlets form the main part of the root ball and are intertwined and surrounded within the soil.
  • If there is too much water retention in the soil, the rootlets will start to absorb this water and transport it to the tertiary and secondary fine root hairs/ roots.
  • From there the water travels to the primary main root stem or crown stem.
  • If the water in the soil mixture is too much, the rootlets will get clogged with water and start to rot first.
  • This root rot then spreads to the tertiary and secondary root hairs/roots and finally the main primary stem or crown can be susceptible to root rot at the end.
  • Visually first the tertiary and secondary roots will look brown, soft and mushy, then these characteristics can spread throughout the root system till the crown looks brown, soft and mushy.
  • Root rot of the primary stem starts at the bottom of the crown/stem and moves up towards the center of the crown/stem to the top of the plant causing it to droop down or fall off in extreme cases.
  • In normal plants, these roots will be white or grey in color, not dark brown.

What Causes Root Rot and How Does It Occur?

  • Usually an over-watered plant can lead to root rot.
  • If the soil mixture in which the African Violet is planted, is too dense, then the water can clog up the roots and not drain out easily. This overtime can lead to root rot.
  • Heat can also lead to root rot.
  • If the plant environment is too hot during the day and cold at night, this change in temperature can affect the roots of the plant.
  • If the evenings are cold, and plants are watered in the evenings, this can cause root rot, as the cold water can shock the roots.
  • During the hot summers, the soil can dry out fast and even with diligent watering, the fast drying out of roots can lead to root rot.
  • Root rot can also occur if the plant is exposed to a stressful environment of changing soil conditions.
  • If the soil undergoes a cyclic change in moisture conditions, with first too dry soil, then over watering, then again allowing the soil to dry out again it can lead to root rot.
  • These changes of dry/wet/dry soil are too stressful for the roots, leading to a weaker root system and eventually root rot.
  • African Violet plants need adequate drainage, if they are planted in pots with limited or no drainage, root rot will occur.

What are the External Plant Symptoms of Root Rot?

  • The leaves will seem to droop down and the leaf stems of the bottom leaves will become brown and mushy.
  • The leaves may also become mushy.
  • The leaves will start to seem faded in color.
  • The leaves will not be firm, but soft and droopy to touch, seem wilted in appearance.

What are the Internal Plant Symptoms of Root Rot?

  • First when you remove the plant from the pot, if the soil is wet, along with mushy leaves, that’s a first tell tale sign that root rot may be present.
  • Next, gently clear away little bit of the soil from root system, just enough to check the tertiary/secondary roots growing from the sides of primary main root stem.
  • If they are brown in color and soft mushy to touch, then those tertiary/secondary smaller roots have root rot.
  • The next step is to check the primary main root stem.
  • If this feels soft and mushy to touch and looks dark brown in color, then the main primary stem is rotted from the inside too.
  • For further inspection of the root rot, can slice off the plant stub, when the sliced off stub is dark brown in the center and around, the plant tissue is rotten.
  • The inside tissue of the stub should light green to reddish in color.

Can Root Rot Be Reversed?

  • No, it cannot be reversed. One the root is rotted, dark brown in color, soft and mushy, it is gone forever. There is no way to revive this root.
  • If only the small roots sticking out from the side of the main root stub are dark brown and the stub is still firm to touch, dry and light brown in color it can still be saved.
  • If the inside of the stub is green-reddish in color, it can also be saved.
  • If only a few roots are brown in color and the other remaining roots are still firm, gray/white in color, then this African Violet can be saved from root rot.
  • You can trim away the brown rotted roots leaving the healthy roots and repot this violet in a light airy barely moist soil.
  • To prevent future root-rot, when potting up the plant, can add a thin layer of perlite at the bottom of the pot, to provide adequate drainage.
  • Also plant the African Violet in a light airy soil mixture containing 50% peat moss and 50% perlite.

Can I Save an African Violet Plant Dying From Root Rot?

  • Yes, you can save an African Violet plant from dying from root rot, depending upon the stage of root rot.
  • If its in its early stage and only the outside smaller roots are dark brown, you can gently trim these roots using sharp scalpel/scissors.
  • Gently trimming away the rotted roots, can prevent the spread of root rot.
  • Make sure to leave behind enough healthy grey/white roots for the plant to survive.
  • If externally the stub looks moist, dark brown and feels soft and mushy , then it’s best to slice off the soft mushy part of the stub using a sharp scalpel until you reach a point where the stub is dry /green-reddish in color and firm to touch.
  • Once you have sliced off the dark brown mushy stub and are left with at least 1/3” of good plant stub, you can re-pot this stub.
  • For more information on re-potting African Violet bare stems/stubs, please visit our post, “How to Bury and Re-Pot African Violet Bare Stems or Necks?“.

How to Remedy Root Rot in African Violet Plants?

  • First visually inspect the root system. If maximum number of roots are dead/old/ mushy and dark brown then there are not enough good roots to support the to growth of the plant.
  • This roots of this plant are rotted and will not survive.
  • There should be enough grey/white roots to support the plant. The primary root stem should also be firm, green and healthy not soft and brown.
  • If you do have enough healthy roots to support the plant and a healthy stem, first trim away the rotted roots and then start to focus on the top of the plant.
  • If the plant is large with 4-5 rows of leaves. You can trim down the plant to 2-3 rows of leaves. Can put down these leaves in soil to be on the safe side. For more information on leaf propagation, visit blog post, “African Violet Leaf Propagation“.
  • By removing the leaves and trimming down the plant, the limited healthy root system will be able to support the smaller plant.
  • Over time as the roots develop it will be able to support the growing plant.
  • If the plant is too large, the smaller root system will have trouble supporting the whole plant, as the roots are trying to recover and at the same time trying to support the growth of the plant. That’s why it is helpful to remove a few leaves and allow the plant to develop with a smaller root system.
  • If on further inspection the primary root stem/crown also seems moist, dark brown and mushy, then the root stub has also rotted.
  • Remove this rotted root stem, by using a sharp scalpel and slicing off the rotted part of the root stem, leaving only the fresh green or red part of the stem.
  • When the plant is ready to be re-potted, make sure the clean root stem is re-potted in a light airy mix. For more information on African Violet potting mix, please visit our post, “African Violet Soil/Potting Mix“.
  • This can be in a moist perlite only mix or a moist 50% peat moss+ 50% perlite mix. Make sure the soil medium is not too wet, only a moist.
  • Place this repotted plant in a Ziploc bag and seal to create a humid environment.
  • Leave for 1-2 weeks. Then only open up one side of the bag and leave for a few more days. Then open up the bag completely and leave for a few more days. This way gently acclimatize the developing plant to the outside environment.
  • Do not suddenly expose the newly potted plant to the outside environment by immediately removing the plant from the bag.
  • Do this step over time, otherwise the plant which was already in shock will become more in shock and the recovery process will be delayed.

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