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Pothos Root Rot — Identification, Treatment, Prevention

Pothos Root Rot — Identification, Treatment, Prevention

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Pothos is an indoor plant and you can grow it in water. Surprisingly, for a plant that doesn’t need soil to grow, it can still come down with a serious bout of root rot. 

Take the proper steps for pothos plant care and it can live for a decade. 

Get it wrong though, it’ll give off a foul smell, leaves will wilt, discolor and wither away to nothingness. 

Pothos root rot

Pothos root rot can be caused by overwatering, or a fungal infection in the soil. Leaf discoloration is usually accompanied by a horrid smell. Rotted roots will be brown or black and feel mushy. Damaged roots need to be cut off, then the plant repotted in a sterile potting mix.

How to identify pothos root rot 

Pothos root rot can quickly be identified by the rancid smell of a rotten egg. That’s the stench of the roots dying a horrible death by suffocation. 

Roots in standing water can’t breathe. They suffocate. When that happens, the roots go from firm to brittle to mush. 

Slide the plant out of the pot, and you’ll see the roots are brown or black. Brown roots are the ones that are dying. The black roots are already dead. 

Signs of root rot on the leaves of pothos plants 

Even without a foul stench, your pothos plant will show other signs of distress when the roots are struggling to breathe. 

Early signs of root rot on pothos plants are leaves yellowing, sometimes the leaves turn brown when the rotting is extensive, and there’s a good chance you’ll see your pothos wilting, as well as experiencing stunted growth. 

What causes pothos root rot 

Two things can cause root rot in pothos plants, one more than the other. 

The most common is overwatering. There’s also a possibility (although rarer) of a fungal infection causing the roots to rot. 

Fungal infections are soil-borne diseases and these show more sinister signs on the leaves of your pothos plant. 

Yellowing leaves is caused by overwatering, or a lack of drainage in the soil causing the roots to be sitting in waterlogged soil.  

Brown and black leaves are more likely a sign of a pathogenic infection within the soil. 

  • Phytophthora root rot causes leaves to turn brown or black,
  • Pythium root rot causes leaves to turn brown,
  • Rhizoctonia blight is a soil-borne bacterial infection that distorts the shape of the leaves on pothos plants, and for dark spots to develop on the leaves.

How to treat pothos root rot caused by a pathogenic infection

If you’re seeing brown or black leaves on your pothos plant, it’s likely a soil-borne problem, in which case, you need to repot your plant with a fresh potting mix

To remove the plant from its pot, don’t pull it out. The roots are likely far too brittle to simply lift out. They’re more likely to snap. 

  • Tip the plant pot on its side, knock the side of the pot to loosen the soil, then gently slide the plant out being careful to avoid ripping any roots. 
  • Rinse the roots either using tap water or a shower hose. 
  • The damaged roots will need cut off with either scissors or pruners. But, before you start snipping, have something on hand to sterilize your tools after each cut. Use rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl) or hydrogen peroxide 3%. With bacterial or fungal pathogens in the soil, you need to avoid spores being spread on your scissors. 
  • If any roots are brown, black, or feel squishy, cut them off. 

Replace what’s left of your pothos plant in a clean pot with sterilized potting soil. 

How to treat pothos root rot caused by overwatering 

If the only signs of root rot you’re seeing are yellowing leaves accompanied by a foul smell from your plant, it’s likely you don’t have spores in the soil, but rather far too much moisture. 

Slide the plant out of the pot and you’ll still see brown or black roots that squish like slime when pressed. 

The fast fix for that is to repot in fresh potting soil without moistening the soil first because the plant already has plenty of moisture. 

Make sure that the pot you use has sufficient drainage holes in the base of the pot. 

Follow the steps laid out in our “how do you save an overwatered pothos?” guide to repot your pothos, get the post repotting care info, and/or save the vines to propagate new pothos from cuttings if the roots are too far gone.


How to prevent pothos root rot

Pothos plants with root rot are always a case of too much moisture. It’ll either rot the roots directly by reducing airflow, suffocating the roots or, it’ll provide the feeding ground for fungal and bacterial spores to develop. 

Two things need to be controlled to prevent root rot. Proper watering and adequate drainage to make sure the potting soil is only ever moist and never saturated. 

For the latter, you need your plant pot to have drainage holes. 

As for when to water a pothos, it’s best to water deeply less often to allow the soil to dry out between watering. 

The finger tests the soil first to see if it’s dry to at least 1cm of topsoil. Ideally, let the soil dry to between 1cm and 2.5cm before watering. 

Adding water when the topsoil is still moist is the #1 reason why pothos plants die of root rot.  

Frequently Asked Questions related to pothos root rot 

Can a pothos plant with no healthy roots be saved? 

If you catch it early enough before all the leaves are affected, it’s possible to rescue a dying pothos. You need to have at least 4 healthy (green, not yellow) leaves remaining. Use a rooting hormone to encourage root growth. 

Why does my pothos plant keep on getting root rot?

A recurring root rot problem with pothos plants would indicate that it’s a soil problem, in which case everything needs to be sterilized when repotting to prevent spores from transferring. If all else fails, propagate cuttings and start a new plant from scratch.