Root rot is a fungal disease that affects the roots of plants – both in pots and outdoors. If your pothos is growing in a container that does not have proper drainage holes, or in waterlogged soil, it can suffer from root rot. So, how do you identify root rot in pothos and how do you treat and save the plant?
Pothos root rot is caused by either fungus or overwatering. Symptoms include rotting roots, yellowing leaves, and a foul smell from the pot. To save pothos from root rot, remove the plant from the pot, rinse the roots, cut off the affected roots, and disinfect the healthy roots with hydrogen peroxide before repotting the plant.
But first things first – start by identifying the signs of root rot in pothos.
Pothos root rot symptoms
Note that if you do not treat root rot, the plant will die because of the inability to take in water, oxygen, and nutrients for survival.
Leaves turning yellow
Rotting roots cannot absorb water, nutrients, and oxygen to feed the plant. The deficiency of these nutrients can make the leaves of pothos turn yellow, droop, and wilt.
Also, pothos leaf yellowing caused by root rot is usually characterized by random yellow stripes all over the leaf; rather than on one side as is the case with leaf yellowing caused by overexposure to sunlight.
However, leaf yellowing in pothos can occur due to other reasons apart from root rot such as excessive direct sunlight and renewal of older leaves. Therefore, after checking for yellow leaves, you should also consider unearthing a few of the plants to check the roots to see if there are other symptoms of root rot there.
Roots rotting and turning black
Another major sign of root rot in pothos is the roots changing color to black and rotting. If you unearth the plant from the pot, check to see whether the roots are black and soggy; a surefire sign of root rot.
Remove pothos from the pot and check the roots for the following symptoms of root rot:
- Affected roots may fall off when you touch them.
- Roots feel mushy and weak.
- The roots appear to be black and rotting.
The worst affected roots tend to easily dislodge from the plant, as opposed to healthy roots which are usually firm. Therefore- if the mushy, black/brown roots on your pothos aren’t pliable and pull off easily from the plant, you’re most likely dealing with a case of root rot. Usually, healthy pothos roots should feel firm.
A rotten egg smell coming out of your plant’s pot is a sign the roots are rotting possibly due to overwatering.
You can also identify root rot from the decaying smell that comes from the roots. Healthy roots tend to have an earthy smell, so if that’s not the case, chances are your plants’ roots are decaying.
What causes root rot in pothos?
The two major causes of root rot in pothos are overwatering and soil fungi. However, additional causes exist too, as discussed below.
Pothos sitting in water
If you overwater your plants, the soil won’t drain the water fast enough. It’s this excess water that deprives the roots of much-needed oxygen, leading to root decay.
If the pothos has been sitting in water for too long, you’ll likely see the symptoms of root rot because of the inability to breathe and translocate water and nutrients.
Soil-inhabiting bacteria are the main cause of root rot in pothos and other indoor plants. If the soil on which you grow your plants has poor drainage, it’s likely to stay wet for long after every watering session. This creates a suitable habitat for soil fungi, which feed on the nutrients that would’ve been used by the plants. It’s this nutritional deficiency that leads to root rot.
How to save pothos from root rot
The best way to treat root rot and save pothos is to remove the plant from the pot, trim off the affected roots, and then treat the remaining healthy roots with hydrogen peroxide. Repot the plant afresh and provide enough soil moisture.
Here’s an elaborated process of treating root rot in pothos:
1. Remove the pothos from the pot
Carefully remove the plant from its pot. To do so, place one hand on top of the potting soil (base of the plant). Using the other hand, tip over the plant and the pot so that the soil and the pothos slide out of the container.
If the plant does not come out easily, tap the sides of the planter to loosen the soil first and then do the procedure. Avoid puling the plant out of the soil as this will tear the weak roots.
2. Clean the roots with running water
After unearthing the plant, run some water through the roots to remove the soil around the roots.
Cleaning will remove as much of the slimy coating as possible, exposing the roots for proper examination and easy identification of the soft, worst-affected roots.
3. Cut off the mushy, rotting roots
Cut off any decaying roots to prevent the fungal disease from spreading to other unaffected roots. The easiest way is to identify black or brown, mushy roots that are affected by the fungal disease.
Clean the scissors every time you cut the roots, or simply disinfect them using a hydrogen peroxide solution to prevent spreading the fungal disease to healthy roots.
4. Treat the roots with hydrogen peroxide
Dip the remaining healthy roots of your pothos plant in a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to kill the fungus.
You’ll also need to sterilize the plant’s pot using the hydrogen peroxide solution before adding new potting soil to it for repotting.
5. Repot the pothos afresh
The last step in treating pothos root rot is to repot the plant with a new potting mix. Keep in mind that pothos is like well-draining soil. After repotting, shift to a mild watering schedule as you observe the plant. Allow the soil to dry between watering sessions to prevent waterlogging.
You may also want to place it in a place where it receives medium natural sunlight.
Pro tip: Prune off any yellowing or wilting pothos leaves caused by overwatering and root rot. You may also need to prune off about half the pothos foliage to increase the chances of root regrowth by lessening the need to support all the leaves. Also, keep in mind that if identified too late, the root rot may be too advanced and your chances of saving your pothos plants will be minimal. Therefore, early identification and treatment are critical.
If you notice leaf wilting and a few black, mushy roots, but with no decaying smell just yet; it could be that your root rot problem is at its earlier stages. In such instances, simply let the wet soil cause the root rot to dry out. You’ll have to stop watering your pothos until the soil is dry.
In addition, if your soil had been mulched, you might want to remove the mulching to allow for enhanced evaporation. Remember, it’s this excess water sitting in the soil that supports pathogenic life, consequently leading to root rot.
Can a potted plant recover from root rot?
The chances of potted plants surviving root rot- Pothos included- depends on how early treatment begins. To help your potted Pothos plants recover from root rot, you can use known remedies like hydrogen peroxide, which boosts soil oxygen levels and helps ward off soil fungal infestations.
You’ll also want to replace the soil type in your pot with one that has good drainage. Alternatively, you can add perlite to improve the soil’s drainage. As the plant recovers, avoid applying fertilizer as this may have adverse effects on your Pothos.
How long does it take pothos to recover from root rot?
The duration takes for your pothos to recover from root rot will depend on the growth conditions. Therefore- to boost the recovery speed of your plants, you should take the necessary precautions for proper potting while repotting your Pothos. These include;
- Using a proper container size depending on the size profile of the Pothos roots.
- Use clay containers/pots that allow for side evaporation.
 David J. Norman and G. Shad Ali, The University of Florida, IFAS Extension: Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) Diseases: Identification and Control in Commercial Greenhouse Production
 University of Massachusettes Umass Extension: Pothos – Phytophthora crown rot
 Wikipedia: Root Rot
 The University of Wisconsin – Saving Pothos from Root Rot from Sitting in Water Too Long