11 Signs Your Monstera Plants Have Root Rot
Do you think your Monstera plant may have root rot? There are a few different signs that your plants will show when root rot is the potential cause. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton takes you through the most common signs your plant is battling this difficult disease.
Root rot is a condition many indoor and container gardeners are familiar with. Caused by a number of fungi developing in the soil and attacking the roots, it is one of the most common causes of houseplant death. The fungus that causes root rot develops when there is too much moisture in the soil and no airflow around the roots.
This excess moisture can be caused by a few things. Watering too often is one of them, especially if the top layer of soil is still visibly moist. More often, it is caused by a lack of drainage, either in the container or in the soil itself. Leaving your pots in full drip trays or pot covers can also lead to the same problem.
Houseplants, particularly hemi-epiphytic Monsteras, do not appreciate these soggy conditions. Lack of oxygen to the roots and excess moisture causes the roots to become soft and mushy, slowly rotting away. If the problem is not quickly controlled, it will lead to the untimely death of your Monstera.
Root rot can often be resolved if it is caught very early. That’s why it’s vital to look out for signs of root rot in your Monstera to fix the problem before it has time to kill off the plant for good. Let’s take a deeper look at the most common signs you’ll see from your Monsteras if they have root rot.
The first problem to look out for is a common one with Monstera plants – yellowing leaves. Many houseplants will develop yellowing leaves when stressed. Stress can be caused by such a long list of things that it can be hard to keep up, but one of the most common ones is definitely overwatering.
When roots are affected by root rot, they are no longer able to absorb water and, by extension, nutrients. Without these essential components traveling around the plant, the leaves will begin to lose their color and turn yellow.
As there are so many causes for yellowing leaves in Monsteras, it’s important to identify the source of the problem before you make any attempts to resolve it. Applying the wrong fix when the plant is already in trouble will only lead to further stress.
Monstera stems are usually relatively thick and strong, depending on the age of the plant. Holding the massive leaves upright, these stems should appear bright green and tough when the plant is healthy.
Once root rot has set in, this strong image changes. The stems will start to turn soft, beginning at the base of the plant around the soil line and working their way upwards. These soft stems may develop waterlogged spots and will start to fall over, unable to hold the leaves up any longer.
Mushy stems indicate that the problem has spread from below the soil to the top of the plant. It can be difficult to fix at this stage unless your plant is mature and has a few saveable stems left.
Soft stems can also be caused by burying the plant too deeply when repotting, so make sure to keep the base at the same level it was previously when repotting.
Along with caving stems, you’ll also notice leaves collapsing higher up on the plant. While wilting is usually the first sign of underwatering, it can also be caused by overwatering in advanced cases of root rot.
The leaves will droop with soft stems when excess water is the problem, compared to underwatered leaves that become dry and brittle.
Monsteras lose their shape in cases of root rot for a number of reasons. Firstly, once stems begin to go soft and mushy, they can no longer hold the structure of the plant, causing them to keel over.
In later stages, the rotten roots stop absorbing moisture and transporting it around the plant. Cells that lack moisture cannot hold the shape of the leaves, leading to wilting.
Curling leaves are another symptom most commonly associated with underwatering. This is a mechanism used by the plant to conserve moisture and protect the leaves under stress.
When caused by underwatering, curled leaves will usually develop brown edges or patches. This is not the case with an overwatered Monstera, where leaves will likely turn yellow first.
Again, it’s important to confirm the actual cause of the curling before resolving the problem. You don’t want to uproot your plant and repot unnecessarily if something like direct sun is the real cause of the issue. This will increase stress in the plant, making recovery that much trickier.
Root rot starts below the soil (hence the name), slowly working its way up the plant. Catching it early before it spreads too far is essential if you want to save your plant from an early death.
But if it does have the opportunity to spread, you’ll begin to see black spots on the stems that may even extend to the leaves if the fungus gets that far.
These black spots are parts of the plant that have begun to die off due to the same fungal problem below the soil. In stems, these spots will appear sunken and waterlogged. They are unlikely to appear in leaves, but if they do, those areas need to be pruned away to prevent the further spread of the problem.
If your entire plant begins turning black, it’s likely too far gone to save. It’s best to remove the plant from your home and discard it to keep the rest of your houseplants safe.
Roots perform a number of functions, all geared toward the growth and health of the plant. Therefore, it goes without saying that a problem with the roots will lead to problems with growth above the soil.
Once the roots stop working, all other functions within the plant are affected. Lack of water absorbed by the roots halts photosynthesis, leaving the plant unable to produce its own ‘food’ for growth.
Lack of nutrients prevents the upkeep of the cells and stops any further growth and development. In other words, without roots, your Monstera will eventually stop growing altogether.
If you notice stunted growth, check that low light levels or lack of pot space are not potential causes. Once those are ruled out, you can look at the potential for root rot.
Moist soil is not usually a cause for concern. Even if you’ve watered a few days prior, the soil may still remain moist if placed in low light or if growth is slow in off-seasons.
However, if the soil remains excessively moist for weeks, you have a bigger problem to consider.
Wet soil is a sign that your plant is not absorbing any moisture. To make matters worse, this excess moisture will only cause problems with root rot to accelerate, killing the plant quicker. Also check for lack of drainage in the soil and extremely low light levels as other causes to consider.
Even though indoor plants are more protected from pests than outdoor plants, they are not completely risk-free. When houseplant soil remains moist for long periods, it can create the perfect home for one of the peskiest pests around – fungus gnats.
These small flying pests are incredibly annoying, slowly fluttering around your houseplants and you if you get close enough. They love moisture and lay eggs in wet soil, hatching and spreading to other houseplants in your home.
Fungus gnats can appear without root rot and are quite common indoors. However, the conditions that lead to these two issues are the same. If you have a fungus gnat problem, keep a closer eye on the plant to check for problems with root rot down the line.
Monsteras can grow incredibly large (even indoors), requiring massive pots to contain their large root systems. In these containers, the top layer of soil may not show any signs of waterlogging, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem below that layer. Moisture can still become trapped in the soil lower down, causing root rot without you even knowing it.
One way to test the levels of moisture lower down in the soil is to simply pick the pot up. Moist soil is much heavier than dry soil, making the entire pot heavier overall.
You’ll need to have some idea of the weight of the pot before watering for this trick to work. If it is heavier than usual and you haven’t watered for a long time, there is likely a problem below the top soil layer you can’t see.
Lack of Drainage
Monsteras are hemi-epiphytic plants. This means they develop roots that can grow in soil and in the air, allowing them to attach themselves to trees in their native habitats. These roots are also incredibly sensitive to moisture and need well-draining soil to avoid root rot.
Lack of drainage in the container or soil is a sure sign you will deal with problems with root rot at some point. However, even when you have considered this drainage, it can still become impacted down the line.
Drainage holes can become blocked by larger soil particles, stopping water from leaving the container and leading to waterlogging.
Mushy, Smelly Roots
Most of these signs appear above the soil, indicating there may be a problem below the soil. However, the only way to know for sure is to check. Remove your plant from its container and take a closer look at the roots. If they are mushy and rotten or emit a bad smell, you have a case of root rot.
The key to fixing root rot is early detection. Advanced stages of the conditions are incredibly difficult to fix, so the sooner you fix the problem, the better.
Start by removing the plant from its current container. Remove all the soil around the roots and rinse with water to remove any soil particles completely. This stops any fungus residing in the soil from spreading again after repotting.
Next, grab a sharp pair of pruning shears and trim all the impacted roots. They need to be cut back to the healthy growth as any traces of rotting will continue to spread, even in a new container. Also trim any damaged or rotting leaves at the same time. It may seem severe, but it is the only way to save the plant from dying completely later on.
Repot your Monstera into a new container with fresh houseplant potting mix. The container should have plenty of drainage holes and the soil should be amended with perlite or bark chips to increase drainage.
Adjust your watering schedule and keep a close eye on your Monstera in the weeks to come. If it doesn’t appear to bounce back, you will likely need to discard the plant. However, if the leaves begin growing again, your plant has recovered and will be back to normal in no time.
As one of the leading killers of Monsteras (and all houseplants), root rot is a serious issue. Avoid it at all costs by watering correctly and improving drainage. The good news is that if caught early, you still have time to act. If you do happen to notice any of these signs, deal with them as soon as possible in order to save your plant!