How to Save a Succulent from Root Rot (11 Steps)


Succulents often come with only a few requirements, making them quite easy to grow and maintain, but such things as root rot can still set in and you need to know how to handle that.

How do you treat succulent root rot? The ideal scenario is that you discover the problem early so that you can remove it from the soil and then allow the roots of the succulent to dry under the sun. However, if the symptoms have already progressed too far, you will need to remove the root entirely and encourage the growth of new roots.

The ease with which you can care for succulents can lead some people to assume that they can just leave them alone, which is simply not advisable and would only kill the plant.

Steps to Saving Succulents from Root Rot

When you have succulents, you may not immediately think that they will be subjected to root rot. After all, a lot of people struggle to just keep their plants alive, especially those who have never cared for any kind of organism in their lives. They don’t really consider the possibility of diseases and such and would be much more concerned about not watering them enough.

However, when root rot does set in, you will need to be able to act on any available information that you have on hand. Part of the solution is being able to recognize the symptoms, in the first place. From there, you can follow the necessary steps that will allow you to save your succulent. As to what you might want to look out for, among the most common symptoms are:

·         Discoloration

·         Rotting leaves

·         Squishy bodies

·         Pest infestation

·         Funny smell

Fortunately for you, the process for treating root rot in succulents is actually quite easy and a lot of this is due to the considerable resilience of the family. As long as the rot has not completely destroyed the entire plant, it is still possible to revive an afflicted succulent. You just need to follow the steps included in the table below:

StepsDetails
Check for symptomsThe first step to treating the issue of root rot in your succulent is to check for symptoms, as already listed above
Assess the damageOnce you find what you are looking for, you need to conduct a preliminary investigation as to just how extensive the damage is from a superficial examination
Carefully extract the succulentAfter concluding that the succulent can still be saved, you will need to very carefully remove it from the soil, taking care not to do more damage than what has already been done
Remove dirt and other contaminantsFollowing the extraction of the succulent, you will need to wash away any of the remaining dirt and other contaminants still clinging to the roots so that you will be able to examine it more clearly
Examine the rotConduct a secondary examination, paying special attention to how far the rot may have progressed via the size of the damage and the level of discoloration
Trim damaged partsIf the damage is not that bad, you can just trim the parts of the succulent that were affected, keeping in mind that this scenario hinges on you catching the symptoms early
Dry if rot is not extensiveAssuming that the damage is minimal you can just leave the succulent under the sun for an hour or two for drying, taking care to make sure that you got all of the afflicted areas
Cut off roots if rot is too extensiveIf the damage is far too severe, you will need to see if there are still parts that can be salvaged and cut off the rotting roots, stems, leaves, and everything else
Allow for a new root to growUsing a dry medium, you can allow the salvaged parts of the succulent to grow new roots so that you will be able to transplant them
Transplant salvageable partsOnce the new roots on the salvaged parts of the diseased succulent have sprouted new roots, you can transplant them to their new homes
ObserveObserve the newly transplanted succulents for a few weeks, making sure that you don’t repeat the same mistakes that led to the onset of the root rot in the first place

Naturally, it is always better to prevent root rot from setting in, from the start. However, it’s only natural that this is not always possible. With this being the case, your only option is to do the best you can to save the succulent if it is still doable. This is why we will be looking into the steps discussed in the table above.

Checking Symptoms – Before you can save the succulent where rot has already set in the roots, you need to know if it is even worth saving, in the first place. If the rot has already gotten to the point where the top half of the leaves or the succulent have already been discolored, this means that it is likely already too late.

If this is the case, you might as well throw it away instead of going through so much effort just to try and save something that is beyond saving. However, if the symptoms suggest that there is still hope, you can proceed to treat it as needed.

What you will want to look out for are the symptoms that were already listed in the earlier section of this guide. Chances are high that those signs will come up together and you can tell just bad things have gotten when you notice all of them on just one succulent. You can basically use them as a measuring tool.

Preliminary Assessment – Once you have identified the symptoms that are on your succulent, it’s time to take it to the next level and look into the amount of damage done. However, you will want to focus on the surface issue, for now. This is so you don’t make a mistake when you finally have to take it out and you accidentally break off a part you could have saved.

The important point to remember here is that you are trying to make sure that you understand a bit more about the succulent right before you extract it. You can’t really afford to go in blind and with assumptions that are not informed here. You need to know exactly what it is you will be doing with the information that you have.

Only once you are confident that you have all of the data you need that you should proceed with the extraction. However, even during the process, you will be conducting assessments so that you can see how bad the damage is even as you are trying to remove the succulent. This goes doubly true for plants where you have one giant stem to work with, which can be a bit more difficult to regrow.

Extraction – The process of extraction of healthy plants is a delicate enough procedure as it is, but doing so with a sick succulent can be outright impossible for many. It basically involves carefully digging around the plant so you don’t cause more damage to the afflicted areas. You will then gently lift it out, not pull it out and it is very important that you know the difference.

When you extract a succulent with root rot, you are basically going to scoop it out. Do not touch the leaves or the body, as much as possible. If you have to save any of the salvageable parts of the succulent, it is best you do so via precise cuts from a sharp implement because this will encourage faster root growth later.

As already mentioned, you should also make sure that you keep on checking the succulent as you try to extract it so that you can gather more data as you proceed. This is important to note because a lot of people would just scoop it out without looking after the initial examination. It might be fine to do this or it might not, but the important thing to remember is that you are taking an unnecessary chance.

Cleaning – Following the extraction is the cleaning of the succulent that you had just extracted and this is as much of a delicate process as the extraction itself. The goal here is to remove any obstructions that might prevent you from getting a full grasp of how much damage is done to the plant. You already saw some of it from your initial assessment, but you will need to do another one.

After all, root rot is called that because it can be found at the base, but soil, bugs, and other things can hide certain damages that you might miss. This is why you need to wash the extracted succulent and do so in a very careful manner. A good method would be to hold it under running water, with the pressure turned down so that the flow is nice and gentle.

You will then rub the affected parts so that you clear out everything that might be obstructing your view. While you are at it, you might also want to feel around so that you can get a better idea of how big the root rot has become and how much of the plant you might need to cut.

Secondary Assessment – With the succulent finally being clean, you can conduct a secondary assessment where you will finally have the complete picture regarding your plant. What you see on the surface is only one small part of what might really be going on inside the succulent. In many cases, for example, a cactus’ stem could snap with just the gust of wind due to rot.

In some cases, you may not even see any external symptoms of rot until you look deeper by checking out the roots. This is why you need to do the secondary assessment so that you will actually understand what it is you are dealing with. Superficial examinations will only give you one side of the coin and you might end up with a dead plant.

The main goals to aim for when you are doing your secondary examination are twofold. One is to confirm your initial findings with the first examination. The other is to find new problems with the succulent that you might not have discovered before. You are more likely to do so, as well, since the actual issues with the plant are buried deeper.

Trimming – Following your secondary examination is the trimming of the damaged parts of the succulent. There are a few things that you need to note here and first is the fact that surface damage is only half the equation. Even if the rot only looks shallow on the surface, the internal harm could have extended much deeper.

This could then mean that you might need to cut off more of the succulent than you initially expected. Speaking of cutting, you need to use a blade for this job and it needs to be as sharp as it can possibly be. You cannot afford for the succulent to be dull because you will be risking the parts that you can still save. Blades that are dull will likely only tear the succulent, not slice it.

After cutting off the affected parts, you need to check one more time to see if you got them all. If you leave even just a small part of the rot, the whole process can begin again. Once you confirm that you got them all, you can proceed to wash succulent, patting it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, and then proceed to the drying stage of the process.

Drying – The drying process of saving your succulent from root rot is actually pretty straightforward. You just take the trimmed and cleaned pars that you managed to preserve and then place it in a spot where it is going to get a lot of sunlight. You don’t have to leave it there for that long, though, since a few hours should do the trick.

On that note, this method will basically only work if the root rot has yet to really set in and you managed to catch the problem early. Since this method basically involves preserving the roots that are still attached to the stem, you will certainly be taking a chance. If the rot has spread too deep and too far, you would be better off just getting cutting it off altogether.

Salvaging – When the root rot has already gotten to a point where you can no longer salvage the base of the succulent, you will have no choice but to cut off huge chunks of the plant. Depending on just how bad the rot has gotten, it can be as little as just the root part of the plant or it can be the entire second half of it.

Fortunately, succulents do have a tendency of being able to survive such as process and you can even regrow the whole thing as with the smallest pieces. Naturally, the smaller the piece, the lower the chance of actually salvaging the succulent. So try to keep your cuts as precise as possible to preserve as much of the plant as possible.

Growing Roots – When you have a piece of the succulent that is still of decent size, you can regrow the whole thing fairly quickly. You basically take the parts that you managed to save and then place them in a dry growing medium. These are things like floral sponges where you allow them to soak up water and give the succulent pieces plenty of moisture.

You do this until you see your succulent parts sprouting roots. Once that happens, they will be ready for transplanting.

Transplanting – Your succulent has already undergone quite the traumatic experience by contracting root rot, getting scooped out, having a piece of it trimmed or cut, and then having to grow new roots. Now, you will need to subject it to another type of trauma in the form of transplanting.

Hopefully, this is the last time that you will have to do so and it should be if you did everything right. You need to make sure that you get the pot and the soil right.

Observing – Once the succulent parts have been transplanted, it is now time to just observe them and see if they will thrive. You will likely have to do this for a few weeks. If the succulents that you transplanted have not died after a month, they should be fine going forward. Just make sure that you water them at the right amounts and that you don’t go overboard in the future.

Common Causes of Succulent Root Rot

There can be several causes for root rot, but the most common are overwatering, pest infestation, and fungal infection. We can start with overwatering first and the main thing that you need to understand about this is that succulents are types of plants that thrive even in extremely dry environments. This is because they are able to store water in their bodies more effectively.

Normally, this is a good thing because it means that even if you don’t water it for a few days, the plant should be fine. However, if you treat it like other plants and water it every single day, this is where the problem comes in. Too much water for succulents means not being able to absorb all of the moisture provided, and the plant ends up drowning.

Following overwatering with regards to the causes of root rot are pest infestations, which usually refers to insects like aphids. These kinds of bugs burrow into the plant to make their nests. The presence of such organisms basically prevents the succulent from healing completely and the would eventually fester. It’s only a matter of time before it finally leads to root rot.

Finally, we have fungal infections, which basically cause the same problems as the pest infestation. These pesky little microorganisms suck out the life of the plant while simultaneously compromising its structural integrity. Before you know it, the insides of the succulent are already dying and it is unable to produce enough nutrients to prevent its flesh from turning into goo.

Root Rot Prevention

Being able to fix the problem when your succulent contracts root rot is good and all, and it’s great that you now know what causes root rot, in the first place. However, what exactly can you do to make sure that your precious cactus, aloe vera, or whatever other succulents you have doesn’t get root rot, in the first place?

You can start by knowing exactly how often you should water your plants. If you are living in a place where the air is dry and temperatures can reach searing heights, you might want to water your succulents two to three times a week. However, if you are living somewhere more humid, then you only need to water them a few times a month.

On the bug infestation matter, you will want to constantly check your succulents to see if any harmful bugs have begun to make their homes in them. If so, you can brush them away, spray the plants with insecticides or soapy water, or transfer the succulents to another location. If the succulent is in a pot, you can even place it on a platform surrounded by water.

The solution is roughly similar when the concern is about fungi in that you can check on the succulents regularly to see if an infection has set in. If it has, you can cut away at the infected parts while the infection has yet to spread. You can also just use fungicide solutions, which can actually be made at home.

Related Questions

Why Are My Succulent Leaves Rotting?

If your succulent leaves are rotting, this could be a symptom of the onset of root rot, as discussed above. This is one of the signs that the rot has begun to affect the capabilities of the plant to draw in and absorb nutrients, which is then indicative of how far the disease has progressed.

How Long Can Succulents Go Without Water?

Succulents can actually last a pretty long time without water, which is why cacti can thrive quite easily in the desert. Even so, you do need to water them from time to time so that they can maintain excellent form. If you don’t, you will begin to see some places where the succulent no longer grows.

Other Threats to Succulents

Other than root rot, there are actually a ton of other threats to succulents that you will need to watch out for. We already covered the matter of giving them too much water, when bugs infest the plants, and when fungus begins to creep. However, there are also other issues like not giving the plants enough water, putting them in a place where they don’t get enough sunlight, and not pruning properly.

Even if you discount the threat that the fungi infection poses, you will also need to think about the matter of other diseases that can infect the plants. There are a ton of them for you to watch out for and with the rate at which pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are used, these diseases are only changing as the years pass.

At the end of the day, growing succulents is a much easier task than growing other types of plants. They don’t really require a lot of maintenance and as you might expect from plants that can survive in harsh environments, you can leave them for days without worrying about water.

Tips for Growing Healthy Succulents

If you are going to grow succulents, you need to make sure that they are going to thrive nicely. They need to be fully formed, standing straight up, and able to support their structures with no problems. It also goes without saying that they should be of excellent colors and that you there should be issues as far as smell goes.

In order to achieve this, you need to have the right soil for the particular type of succulent you are planning on growing. If it is the creeping kind, then you will also have to provide the appropriate platform and support that will allow it to stay up. Preparation is important for this kind of thing, especially when you are dealing with examples like cacti.

Then there is the matter of the nutrients, which succulents actually don’t need a lot of. Considering where they can usually be found, they don’t really require much in the form of fertilizers, mulch, and even water. As long as you remember to get them wet every few days or so, you should be fine.

What’s more, you should make sure not to give them too much water. This cannot be emphasized enough because a lot of folks tend to treat succulents like other plants. They are not and too much water can kill them. 

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