How to Save an Aloe Vera Plant With Root Rot

Does your Aloe Vera have root rot? There are many different symptoms of this fungal disease, and it's important to treat it right away once you've confirmed that it's the problem. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn looks at the most common symptoms of root rot, and how to fix it!

Aloe Vera with Rotten Roots Sitting on cardboard box on table

Root rot can appear in Aloe Vera plants as a common issue that arises from overwatering. There are a number of symptoms your plant will display, depending on the severity of the fungal disease and the condition of your plant.

Some of the more common symptoms include smelly soil, yellowing leaves, and a wilted, dying plant. But what happens when your plant isn’t looking its best, and you know that root rot is likely the cause of the problem?

Once you’ve identified root rot in your Aloe Vera plants, there are usually a few solutions depending how far along the infection is. Continue reading to learn the warning signs to watch for, as well as how to revive your plant once root rot strikes!

Smelly Soil

Rotting of the roots of  a succulent plant. Close-up of male hands demonstrating rotten roots in a flower pot. The plant has soft, withered, yellowish-green and brown dry leaves formed into two rosettes.
If you feel an unpleasant smell of stagnant soil, then this is a sign of a fungal disease of the plant’s roots.

The smell of stagnant soil is a sure signal that something isn’t going right inside your the plant’s pot. When you water your aloe and the excess water is unable to drain away, the water just sits in the soil.

After some time, the water, fungi bacteria begin decaying the organic matter around it. In this case, the organic matter is part of our potting mix and plant roots. As the level of oxygen is decreased, because of decomposition, the soil begins to stink.

Root Discoloration

Close-up of Mudish hands holding rotten succulent roots over a flower pot with soil. A man holds a soil ball with black rotten plant roots. The plant has a rotten stem from which a rosette of thin, long, withered leaves with brown tips is formed. Against a blurred background, there is a small garden shovel on a wooden table.
Rotten roots are usually orange-brown-black in color and have a slimy feel when touched.

A surefire way to determine if your Aloe Vera has root rot is to inspect the root system. Depending on the size of your plant, invert the pot over a trash can, tarp or outdoors, keeping your fingers around the aloe’s stem and wiggling off the pot.

Gently loosen the soil around the roots and look at the root tissue. Healthy roots will be firm, thick, intertwining and be yellow/orange/brown in color.

Rotting roots, on the other hand, are usually brown/black in color, slimy feeling when touched, may easily detach from the stem, have only a few roots or could be missing roots entirely.

Wilted Foliage

Close-up of withering leaves of a succulent plant on a white background. The leaves are thick, long, fleshy, bright green in color with white spots on the surface. Some leaves wilt, have yellow-brown dry or shriveled tips.
When the roots rot, the water stops flowing to the leaves and they begin to dry out and wilt.

So, you’ve noticed that your plant is looking wilted, or the leaves have started turning brown. Wilting is a sign that you need to water your aloe plant, right? Not so fast.

Watering on a regular basis whether it needs it or not, will cause an excess of water to build up. As we discussed above with the stinky soil situation, excess water can create an environment promoting decomposition and decay of plant structures, particularly the plant’s roots.

If the roots are damaged, they cannot transport water and nutrients out of the soil and into the stem. If there is no water movement up the stem, the leaves will begin to dry out, eventually showing signs of wilt.

Leaf Discoloration

Close-up of male hands holding a large clay pot with a diseased succulent plant in front of them. The man is wearing a white T-shirt. The plant produces a rosette of thick and fleshy leaves with small spines along the edges of the leaf blade. The leaves are discolored, have a gray-yellow-pinkish color due to root rot. The tips of the leaves are brown and dry.
With root rot, leaves can become discolored and turn yellow.

An Aloe Vera that has root rot, typically has many leaves that begin turning light green to yellow in color. Leaf discoloration may happen with or without symptoms of wilt, but usually present themselves at the same time.

Again, this discoloration is because the roots are unable to do their job; move nutrients from the soil to other plant parts.

Leaf Texture

Close-up of a withered aloe vera leaf on a blurred background. The leaf is long, thick, fleshy, with a pointed end, and small spines along the edges. The leaf is wilted, slightly curled down with a brown dry end and brown rot spots.
One of the signs of root rot is a change in the structure of the leaves to wilted or twisted.

When root rot settles in, the over texture and appearance of the leaves changes dramatically. Healthy leaves are thick, firm and have a nice opaque medium green coloration.

Leaves showing symptoms of root rot will become yellow in color, may look wilted or bent, become translucent and slimy-as though you peeled the skin off the leaf but you haven’t actually done that.  If you touch the leaf, it may fall off in your hand, even under the slightest pressure.

Plant Falling Over

Close-up of a lying Aloe Vera plant on a pale yellow table next to red gardening gloves and a black flower pot. Aloe has a rosette of fleshy, long, green leaves covered in irregular white spots and with small thorns on the edges. Aloe Vera roots are short, blackish-brown in color, covered with soil.
If the roots of Aloe completely rot, then the plant will not be able to keep the heavy leaves upright for a long time.

The job of plant roots is two fold; to absorb water and nutrients and to anchor a plant in its soil. When root rot has begun, the plant no longer has the support system it needs to keep the plant upright.

With its ability to hold water in its leaf tissue for long periods of time, this succulent is well known for being top heavy. If the roots have indeed begun to rot, the base of the plant is no longer able to support the above ground weight, and the aloe plant will fall over.

Fungus Gnats

Close-up of many Fungus gnats stuck to white sticky tape. These tiny black insects have two transparent wings, thin legs, antennae, and dark brown bodies. A piece of green leaf stuck to white sticky tape along with insects.
These tiny flying insects usually live in too wet soil and feed on plant roots.

Fungus gnats are tiny, black flying insects that are found in soils that are too wet. Similar to fruit flies in size, adult fungus gnats are often a nuisance pest flying near the soil surface.

The adults do not damage the plant, but the juvenile stages reside in the soil, feasting on decaying organic matter. If the population of fungus gnat larvae is high, the larvae may begin eating the roots of the plant that is housed within the pot. The more they feast on the roots, the less roots are available to support the plant’s growth.

If you have fungus gnats, the best way to control them is to eliminate overwatering of the soil. Fungus gnat larvae cannot survive in dry soil.

A simple way to see how bad the larvae population is in the soil, take a small slice of potato, about the size of a French fry, and insert it fully into the soil, letting it stay overnight. In the morning, gently slide out the piece of potato and look for little white, worm-like creatures on the potato. These are the fungus gnat larvae. 

You can repeat this process a few times to see if the population of larvae decrease over a couple of days. Combined with healthy watering habits, you will eliminate your fungus gnat problem without the use of chemicals. 

Saving Your Plants, Step by Step

Close-up of a gardener's hands in black gloves transplanting an aloe plant into a red pot filled with soil. The gardener is wearing a gray hoodie and a bright yellow jacket. The aloe plant is a succulent plant with thick, long, fleshy leaves that form a dense rosette. The leaves are green with small white spots on the surface. The edges of the leaves are covered with small thorns. Fresh soil is scattered on the table.
It is necessary to remove the plant from the existing soil and transplant into fresh soil and a new pot with good drainage holes.

All may not be lost if you have a plant with root rot. Aloe is a very tough plant. It has to be living out in the desert. Here are some tips on how to assist your aloe to a full recovery.

Whether or not you inverted your aloe to look at the root system for symptoms of rot, you will want to remove the plant from the existing soil. There are a number of steps you’ll want to take in remedying the situation.

Step 1: Dispose of Old Soil

Infected Plant Soil is in Gray Ceramic Pot. It has a white fungal growth in the pot and needs to be emptied.
Disposing infected soil is critical to keeping your transplants healthy,

Discard the soil into the trash or compost. We will not be reusing the original soil for anything since there is bacteria and fungi most likely present. Using infected soil defeats the purpose of trying to rehabilitate the plant.

Step 2: Find a Well-Draining Pot

Terra cotta pots with drainage holes in the bottoms. There are a number of pots stacked together, all of them have holes in the bottom.
Having a well-draining pot will ensure moisture doesn’t get trapped in the roots of the plant.

If your original pot did not have drainage holes, find a new pot with holes with a similar size and diameter to repot your aloe. Using a pot that has drainage holes, as well as a potting mix suited for cacti and succulents, will assist you in preventing stagnant soils.

Step 3: Clean Your Pot

Sanitizing terra cotta plant pots in red plastic bucket. There are three pots getting disinfected in a liquid solution.
You can opt to soak your pots in a bleach solution to sanitize them.

If your original pot has drainage holes, you can reuse the pot after proper cleaning and sanitizing. Take a stiff brush and remove any remaining soil from the inside of the pot. Next, using regular dish soap, thoroughly clean the inside of the pot.

You have to clean the pot first in order to sanitize the pot. To sanitize the pot, you can do one of two things. The first option is using 70% rubbing alcohol. Pour rubbing alcohol on a paper towel and wipe the inside of the pot, allowing the alcohol to evaporate.

The second option is soaking the pot in a 10% chlorine bleach solution. In a container that is large enough to allow the pot to be completely  submerged, fill the container with 9 parts water. Then add 1 part chlorine bleach For example if you have a 12 cup container, add your pot, pour in 9 cups of water, and 1 cup of chlorine bleach.

This will allow for some space at the top of the container so you don’t have bleach water splashing over the sides.  The amounts of water and bleach will vary depending on how large your pot is, but the ratio will remain the same. Allow the pot to soak for 30 minutes then remove from the solution. Gently rinse.

Step 4: Clean and Sanitize Your Tools

Garden tools sitting on a table. There is a small trowel for shoveling dirt with a black handle, and a three pronged fork tool for moving soil with a yellow and green plastic handle. A small pile of soil also sits on the table.
It’s critical to sanitize your tools in order to prevent the spread of disease.

You will need to clean and sanitize any tools, like pruners, knives and trowels, prior to using them on your aloe plant. The same methods apply to cleaning and sanitizing your tools as they did to cleaning and sanitizing your pot. 

One thing to know is that when chlorine bleach touches organic matter, its ability to sanitize is decreased substantially. It may be tempting to reuse the bleach water from soaking your pot to sanitize your tools, but the bleach is not nearly as potent now so a new batch of solution should be used. Same water:bleach ratio, soak times and rinsing.

Step 5: Begin Root Pruning

Pruning roots of succulent plants on wooden table. There are several aloe vera plants on the table with the roots exposed on each of them.
Root pruning is important as it allows you to remove dead root tissue.

Once your tools are cleaned and sanitized, begin root pruning your aloe plant. You will want to remove any roots that are black, slimy, mushy or smell bad.

By removing this dead tissue, you will stimulate the plant to grow new roots. If you find that you no longer have any roots on the plant, we will discuss what to do in a section further down.

Step 6: Repotting

Male gardener putting a succulent plant in a new pot. The plant was moved to a larger container with new and clean soil.
Repotting allows you to place the healthy parts of a plant into a new pot with fresh soil.

Using soil made specifically for cacti and succulents, repot your aloe into its pot with fresh soil. If you have large drainage holes, you can place a small piece of window screening or broken pottery over the hole to prevent the soil from leaching out of the pot. Then fill the pot ¾ of the way full, directing any remaining roots inside the pot.

Fill the pot with additional soil, leaving about 1” of headspace at the top. This will allow for overhead watering and prevent water from spilling over the sides of the pot. Press the soil down in the pot, gently but firmly. If there were healthy roots still on the aloe, thoroughly water the plant in the pot, waiting for water to exit the drainage holes.

When the water drains out of the holes, it means the entire soil profile is wet in the pot. Return your aloe plant to its location. It may take several weeks before you notice a response to the fresh soil above the surface.

But gradually you will begin to see new leaves emerging, so that means that the existing roots have rebounded or there are new roots growing now able to support new growth.

Saving a Plant Without Roots

Close-up of female hands in green gardening gloves holding two healthy cuttings of aloe vera for planting. Scarlet cuttings have long, bright green, fleshy leaves, the edges of which are covered with small spines. A garden rake and a shovel lie on a wooden surface.
If root rot has destroyed all the roots, you can use the remaining healthy leaves to start over.

Severe root rot may have destroyed all existing roots on your aloe, but all is not lost. If the leaves are still relatively healthy, you can take a cutting of the plant and begin again. Using a clean knife, cut the stem of the aloe plant off horizontally.

Step 1: Remove Discolored Leaves

Rotting succulent plant with yellowing foliage. The plant sits in a white ceramic pot on top of a gray table top.
Removing discolored leaves will allow you to replant the healthy leaves.

Remove any lower leaves that are discolored or slimy by gently sliding them off the bottom of the stem. Additional leaves may need to be removed in order to have the bottom portion of the stem about 2-3” in length.

This length is key for restarting your aloe because there are no roots to anchor the plant into the pot, so you need to be able to stick the stem down into the soil to create stability. Do not remove all of the leaves. The plant will continue to photosynthesize, using the water it has stored in the leaves.

Step 2: Callusing

Gardener cutting off part of succulent plant for callousing. The gardener is wearing white cloth gloves and performing the prune using a sharp cutting knife.
Once the healthy parts of the plant are removed, callusing will seal off harmful pathogens.

Place the cut aloe stem on a paper towel and allow the stem to dry out for a few days on the cut end. This drying out is called callusing, and seals the plant off from any pathogens looking to gain entry. Signs of a good callus are the cut end looking light tan/off white in color and the cut has  a shriveled, papery appearance.

Step 3: Potting Callused Plants

Fresh plant cuttings in garden soil within a terra cotta pot. The cuttings are fresh and green, and very recently transplanted into the pot.
Once callused over, the plant can be repotted into a fresh pot in attempt to salvage them.

Once callused, place the screening over the bottom drainage holes and fill your pot to within 1” of the top with a desert plant potting soil. Soils for cacti and succulents have a higher amount of items like sand, perlite and pumice that promote drainage better than standard potting mixes. 

Tap down the soil to compact it slightly. Create a small indentation in the center of the soil. Take the callused aloe stem and slide the stem inside the indentation. The remaining bottom leave of the aloe should sit slightly above the soil line.

Place your aloe cutting in a location that receives bright, indirect light and water the pot slightly. There is no reason to saturate the soil because there are no roots present to suck it up. Keep the soil evenly moist as the aloe regrows roots. Usually the first sign that new roots have formed is the appearance of new top growth.

Final Thoughts

Depending on the severity of your Aloe Vera’s root rot, you may be able to rescue your plant and restore it to its original beauty. Just be aware of how you care and maintain your aloe plant.

Do not repeat the same mistakes twice when it comes to overwatering in particular, or you will find yourself in the same situation once again. And unfortunately, you can only resuscitate a plant a few times before it is no longer salvageable.

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