7 Signs Your Pothos Plant Has Root Rot

Do you think your pothos plant may have root rot? This common fungal disease has a few telltale signs that indicate root rot might be a problem. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton shares the most common signs you may be dealing with this fungal issue.

Pothos Plant with root rot sitting in a white plastic container


Root rot is a term no gardener wants to hear. A frequent cause of early death in many indoor pothos plants, this fungal disease is incredibly common, and equally deadly if not caught early.

Root rot is a condition caused by specific fungi residing in the soil and attacking the roots. This fungi grows in moist conditions, appearing when your plant is overwatered or lacks drainage.

Each plant can show slightly different signs of root rot depending on the severity of the problem and its surrounding environment. Take a look at these common signs of root rot in your Pothos and if you spot any of them, follow the guide on how to fix the problem below.

Wilting Leaves

Houseplant with brown wilted leaves that are browning on the edges. The plant is in a white ceramic pot sitting on a table.
Wilted leaves are a common symptom of fungal disease.

Wilting is a common problem in houseplants, usually signaling that the plant needs water. However, the opposite problem – too much water – can also cause the leaves to start wilting.

Once the fungi begin to erode plant material below the soil, they are no longer able to take up any water or nutrients. Stems and leaves with excess moisture also begin to rot, severing the transport systems within the plant.

Wilting can also be caused by other factors. Underwatering is one of them, along with pest and disease problems. However, a close look at the soil at the stems should tell you which problem is most likely.

If the soil is not dry and compacted and there are no other signs of pests and diseases, your Pothos likely has root rot.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves on houseplant sitting in pot in kitchen. The plant is still healthy and looks like it can be revitalized with proper care. It still has many green leaves near those that are yellow.
Yellowing leaves can be a symptom of many problems..

Leaves suddenly turning yellow on your Pothos plant understandably lead to concern. Keep in mind that some types of Pothos plants have naturally yellow leaves that brighten in high light levels, and that old Pothos leaves may turn yellow and fall off the plant naturally over time. Once you’ve ruled out those potential causes, it’s time to look to your plant to problem-solve.

Although there is a long list of potential causes for yellowing in Pothos, the most common is root rot. These relatively drought-tolerant plants don’t need excessive watering and can handle periods of dry soil well. If you water when the soil is still moist, the roots will quickly rot, damaging the essential functions of the plant.

Without water and nutrients, the leaves will begin to turn yellow slowly. Rather than one or two leaves, several leaves along impacted vines will begin changing color. Once you notice this problem, it’s important to take action to prevent the early demise of your plant.

Mushy Stems

Houseplant with mushy stems sitting in wicker pot on countertop. The plant is spilling over the side of the container, with the foliage resting on the countertop.
Stems that are brown and mushy indicate there is a problem with your plant.

Pothos vines are relatively fleshy, commonly seen cascading down from pots or hanging baskets. This makes it difficult to identify any problems with the stems close to the soil line. But, if you see areas of rotting close to the soil line where stems should be strong, you have a case of root rot on your hands.

Brown, mushy stems typically indicate an advanced problem with fungal disease. This means the soil has been excessively moist for so long that the stems close to the soil line have begun to break down. Spreading from the roots upwards, the rot will continue to spread to the rest of the plant.

Unfortunately, mushy stems are tough to resolve. If they have rotted completely, there is no way for the rest of the vine to absorb water or nutrients as the connection to the roots has completely disappeared.

In severe cases, it’s best to trim the healthy parts of the vine lower down on the plant to propagate new Pothos plants. This will give you a far better chance of saving the plant compared to trying to repair irreparable stems.

To propagate pothos plants, identify healthy parts of the vines and trim them off just below a node. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cut and plant in fresh soil or root in water first. Never plant them back in the same container or soil as the fungi will simply spread to these healthy vines.

Soggy Soil

Houseplant sitting in soggy soil in red container ready to transplant. It grows with three leaves sprouting from the soil.
Soggy soil is one of the most common causes of fungal disease.

Signs on the plant itself are not the only things to look out for. You should regularly be checking the health of the soil your Pothos is planted in to determine when to water, check for pests and diseases and figure out the right time to repot.

When completing this regular inspection, you may notice the soil remaining unusually soggy. Waterlogging can occur when the container or soil lacks drainage, or if you water when the soil is still moist, causing the excess to become trapped in the soil.

This waterlogging stops air and water from flowing through the soil. Without this air and surrounded by moisture, the roots essentially suffocate and begin degrading.

A Pothos with severe root rot will stop drawing up moisture completely. The excess that remains in the soil from previous watering or when you water again will stick around, causing it to become soggy without ever drying out. These conditions only further the problem, requiring immediate repotting.

Stunted Growth

Small Plant with stunted growth is growing in a green pot sitting on a wooden table. The pot is made of a composite material, and the wall behind the table is white.
Stunted growth can happen as a result of fungal disease.

Root growth below the soil translates to stem and leaf growth above the soil. When the roots stop growing for whatever reason, the rest of the plant will stop growing too, leading to stunted growth. Lack of pot space can cause this issue, but when there are issues with excess moisture, root rot is far more likely.

Stunted growth is hard to spot in many houseplants. However, as Pothos are quick growers in the peak seasons of spring and summer, it is much easier to notice.

Lack of stem growth and no new leaves are a bad sign at these times. Leaves that do emerge may be much smaller than usual, causing the plant to look diminished.

This sign has many causes. As Pothos are considered low-light tolerant plants, lack of sunlight is the most likely cause of stunted growth. Lack of nutrients, although unlikely, is another potential cause. Make sure you inspect the environment and the care of the plant before you consider root rot as a potential cause.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnat crawling on houseplant indoors. The gnat takes up a good portion of the image. You can see tall green plant shoots that it is crawling up.
A common pest problem to most houseplant owners, fungus gnats are a symptom of a potential problem.

Fungus gnats are a common indoor garden problem no houseplant owner wants to deal with. These annoying bugs hang around houseplants and lay eggs in the soil, reproducing quickly and filling your home with terrible gnats. They may be small, but the disturbances they cause when buzzing around your home in large masses are almost immeasurable.

Although fungus gnats do not cause this disease and vice versa, both issues are found in the same conditions. Moist soil provides the right environment for the fungus that leads to root rot, and also attracts fungus gnats looking for the right place to lay their eggs.

Issues with fungus gnats don’t always mean disease is present. But, they are an indicator that your soil is too moist, which can lead to problems in the future. And, if you spot fungus gnats in conjunction with one of the other signs, root rot has likely set in.

Soft, Brown Roots

Browning roots of potted plant that is sitting outdoors. The roots are soft and brown, indicating a diseased plant that needs treatment.
Roots that are soft and brown indicate there may be a bigger plant problem.

Once you suspect root rot, the only way to know for sure is to take a close look at the roots. This is the final confirmation that the problem is root related, or will tell you if you need to look to other causes for any one of these problems.

This disease in Potho plants is relatively easy to identify when you get up close. The roots will be mushy and discolored, losing their structure completely. They will also give off a bad odor indicative of a fungal disease.

With this confirmation, it’s time to look to resolving the problem.

Fixing the Problem

Female gardener holding a houseplant during repotting process. There are two containers on the table, one of which has a trowel inside. She is getting ready to repot the plant.
While it is a difficult condition to fix, treatment of infected plants is possible.

Root rot is a difficult condition to fix unless it is caught very early. Damage to such an important part of plant growth typically means the death of the plant unless there are enough healthy roots to potentially save the plant.

Start by removing the plant from its container and getting rid of all the soil. The goal is to remove all infected soil so all traces need to be washed off the roots.

With a closer look, you can identify which roots are most affected. Trim these areas back to the healthy growth. Don’t leave any areas of rot on the plant as this will simply spread again after repotting.

Once all signs of rot are gone, repot your Pothos into a new pot with fresh potting soil. This will give it a chance to recover from the damage. Adjust your watering schedule to prevent this fungal disease in the future.

If all the roots are badly damaged and the vines are starting to rot, it’s best to discard that part of the plant. To retain some of the vines, trim them off with sharp shears from the point of healthy growth and root in water to grow a new and healthy Pothos. Again, adjust your watering or drainage so this new plant doesn’t face the same issues.

Final Thoughts

Root rot is a tough problem to fix, especially once these signs of damage begin emerging. Unfortunately it’s also a common problem with many gardeners who don’t adhere to a proper watering schedule. It’s much safer to prevent this disease altogether by providing proper drainage in the container and soil of your Pothos and watering correctly.

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