Money Tree Root Rot: Save Your Plant from an Untimely Death
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Money tree is said to bring wealth and prosperity to your home, and with bright green, shiny leaves and a chunky trunk, it’s a lovely plant to add to almost any room. But when you start noticing signs of distress, in the form of discolored, misshapen leaves or a spongy trunk, you may be dealing with a serious problem: Root rot.
Money tree root rot happens when malicious fungi attack your plant’s roots, weakening them and destroying their ability to absorb oxygen, nutrients and moisture. The fungus needs damp conditions to multiply, and the most common cause of root rot is excess soil moisture. This happens most frequently from watering too often, using a pot with poor drainage, allowing the soil to become compacted and not taking seasonal/environmental factors into consideration.
Root rot is a potentially fatal plant problem, but if you catch it early enough, you stand a good chance of being able to save your money tree. In this article, you’ll learn how harmful fungi get a foothold in your plant’s roots and how you can recognize it as early as possible. We’ll also cover the steps for addressing root rot, and how to prevent it in the future.
Let’s get started and save your plant!
RELATED: Succulents are another popular houseplant that’s also vulnerable to root rot. Visit our post on the dangers of overwatering a succulent to learn more.
What Is Root Rot?
Root rot is a fungal disease that can occur in the roots of almost any plant, including the money tree. The fungus invades the root tissue, which then leads to rotting, decay and ultimately your money tree plant dying.
A few organisms can be to blame for root rot, but the University of Wisconsin Horticulture Extension lists 4 common culprits:
Some of these same organisms can also wreak havoc on outdoor plants, causing leaf and stem disease and death. When they strike houseplants, though, the roots are almost always the target.
The fine root tips, which are responsible for absorbing moisture and nutrients, are usually the first to suffer. When your plant’s underground absorption system gets weakened and damaged, there aren’t enough resources to go around for your plant to thrive.
And that means you’ll start seeing symptoms aboveground as well.
Symptoms of Root Rot in a Money Tree
Root rot symptoms are very important to identify early so you can intervene quickly and save your money tree. Here are the most common signs and symptoms:
- Its bright and shiny green, firm leaves start turning yellow and wilting.
- The firm trunk starts feeling soft and spongy.
- The once quickly growing money tree suddenly slows in growth.
- You notice a foul or musty smell from the soil.
Money trees should have dark green leaves with a smooth surface and healthy sheen. These are some photos that show leaf discoloration and contorted texture:
However, it’s important to note that visible root rot symptoms are latecomers. The fungal infection may already be advanced by the time you spot signs of trouble. And yellowing, droopy leaves can also be due to other problems, like nutrient deficiency, lack of sunlight or pest infestations.
The only reliable test for money tree root rot is to remove the money tree from the pot and examine its roots. If there is root rot, you’ll spot it quickly. I’ve marked some trouble areas with arrows here, and we’ll look at them closer up:
Healthy roots are usually white to tan in color, although sometimes potting soil will make them look a bit brown. They should also feel firm to the touch, not squishy or mushy. Here’s a better look at a rotten section:
Also, take a close look at the shape of the roots. Healthy roots should have a large central branch that separates into multiple smaller branches that ultimately end in fine, hair-like root tips.
Those fine tips are the first to suffer from rot, and you’ll notice that fungus-damaged roots look stubby and incomplete. This is because those fine tips have rotted away or gotten so weak that they snapped off, like this photo shows:
Here are some of those broken root tips I found in the soil:
Surprisingly enough, the trunks looked and felt ok:
What Causes Root Rot?
Now that you know what root rot is and what it can look like, what causes this fungus to get a hold in your money tree’s pot? There are 6 main reasons that could be to blame:
- Poor drainage
- A pot that’s too big
- Sunlight and temperature issues
- Watering when dormant
- A contaminated pot or tools
As with any plant, it just seems like the right thing to water often because it’s what they need to thrive, right? Unfortunately, overwatering is the number one reason root rot occurs. Microbes thrive in excessively moist soil, and they then start to wreak havoc on plant roots.
Money trees prefer to dry out somewhat in between deep waterings. This means that the top 2-3 inches of soil should feel dry to your touch when you stick your finger into the pot. If you’re watering before that, you’re likely adding more moisture to the soil than your plant can safely process.
Also, using a drip saucer when watering is good for preventing damage to furniture or flooring. But leaving your money tree sitting in a water-filled dish for more than 15 minutes after watering is a recipe for saturated soil.
2. Poor Drainage
There are a couple of different ways that drainage can suffer:
- A pot without a drainage hole. When there’s no place for the water to go, it has no choice but to stay stuck in the soil and cause problems.
- Blocked drainage holes. Your pot may have excellent drainage, but if anything is blocking the drainage hole (rocks, compacted soil, etc.), water still stays retained in the pot.
- Compacted soil. As soil ages, it settles and becomes dense. This makes it harder for the money tree to absorb nutrients, and it won’t drain moisture as well.
3. A Pot That’s Too Big
Using a pot that’s too large means excess water that takes longer to drain or for your plant to absorb. It’s all too easy to overwater in a big pot, so choose one that’s only about 1 inch wider in diameter than your plant’s root ball.
4. Sunlight and Temperature Issues
Money trees prefer bright, indirect sun for at least 6 hours per day and a room temperature between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your money tree doesn’t get enough sunlight, its growth and, therefore, demand for water also slows down. This often leads to soil staying wet for too long at a time, where fungus can take hold.
Along the same lines, cool temperatures will also cause slowed growth and less water evaporation.
5. Watering When Dormant
Money tree goes through a seasonal dormant period, usually from October through March.
During dormancy, your plant is resting and not growing as much or at all. Decreased growth activity means less water is needed, so if you’re watering on your normal spring/summer/fall schedule, it’s almost certainly too much. Cutting back on watering frequency by half is about right while your plant is resting.
6. A Contaminated Pot or Tools
If you reuse a pot or tools (scissors, pruners, etc) that were previously infected from root rot and weren’t cleaned well, the fungus will remain and infect any other plant.
Check out this article from the University of Minnesota Extension on methods for cleaning and disinfecting tools and containers.
How to Save A Money Tree from Root Rot
The best way to relieve your money tree of root rot is to repot it immediately. For the best results, follow all of these steps:
Remove as Much Old Soil as Possible
Brush away any old clumps of soil, letting it fall onto your work surface. This soil is infected with fungus, so discard it in the trash.
Do not attempt to save or re-use any of this contaminated soil, and don’t throw it in your garden or compost.
Once you’ve brushed away as much loose soil as you can, rinse the roots out under running water. This flushes out any stubborn soil and can also wash away extremely rotted sections.
Inspect the Roots
What you’re looking for are any mushy or discolored root sections.
Sanitize scissors or pruners with alcohol, then trim away any damaged root sections you find. Cut all the way back to healthy root tissue. Don’t worry right now about trying to save questionable roots- if they’re already infected, they’ll only continue to spread the disease.
Treat the Infection
Consider using a fungicide, like this one from Bonide. Make sure to follow the package directions carefully.
Or you can make a mixture of one part 3% hydrogen peroxide and two parts water to rinse the root system and kill any root-rot causing organisms.
Replant in a Clean Pot with Fresh Soil
Repot the money tree in fresh peat- or coco coir-based potting soil in a new, clean pot with good drainage.
Disinfect the Previous Pot or Discard It
If you’ve got a pot that housed a money tree (or any plant) with root rot, you’ll need to clean it thoroughly or get rid of it to prevent the spread of disease:
- Non-porous materials, like plastic or glazed ceramic, can be cleaned in a diluted bleach bath (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Allow to soak for several hours, then rinse well under running water and air dry.
- Porous materials, like terra cotta and cement, cannot be sterilized well enough and are best discarded.
Also, be sure to sanitize any pruning shears or scissors used to trim diseased roots to prevent the spread of microbes. You can use the same 9:1 bleach dilution for this or use rubbing alcohol.
RELATED: Money trees aren’t the only houseplants that can run into trouble. Stop by our posts on pothos suffering from brown spots and what to do it you’ve under-watered your snake plant.
What to Do if Your Money Tree Does Not Respond to Treatment
Because most of the early damage from root rot occurs beneath the soil surface, the infection can be pretty advanced by the time you catch it. If your money tree doesn’t start perking up within 7-10 days of the treatment steps outlined above, it may be too far gone to save.
If there are parts of the money tree that are still healthy and your plant is large enough, you can take some stem cuttings to propagate a new money tree plant. Then discard the mother plant.
Unfortunately for me, this particular money tree is still fairly young and doesn’t really have any mature stems that are truly ready for propagation:
However, if it’s a choice between throwing the whole plant out or taking a chance on propagation, it’s definitely worth it to try!
Propagating a Money Tree from a Stem Cutting
We’ll lay out the steps for propagating a money tree below. But if you’d like a visual aid, this video from Easy Peasy Gardening shows how to take cuttings, plant them in soil and what kind of results you might be able to expect:
Step 1. Choose a stem that’s at least 6 inches long, has a few leaf nodes and doesn’t show any signs of infection. Nodes are where leaves emerge from the main stem, and that’s also where your cutting will develop new roots.
This is the same stem from the photo above, this time giving you a better view of the four nodes:
Step 2. Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the branch, or from just the lower two nodes if your cutting is small. Cut as close to the main stem as you can without nicking it. You need bare nodes for roots to form, so take off as much of the existing leaf as possible.
Step 3. Dip the cut end into a rooting hormone to help ensure that new roots grow.
Step 4. Place your cutting into moistened soil-free potting mix, preferably mixed with perlite or orchid bark for extra drainage. Make sure the lower nodes where you stripped the leaves are completely under the soil surface.
Step 5. Cover your potted cutting with a humidity dome or a plastic bag loosely tied around the pot. The extra moisture can help encourage the cutting to root faster.
Step 6. Place your cutting in a warm spot where it will get bright but indirect light.
Step 7. After 4 weeks, test for new roots by gently pulling on the cutting. If you feel resistance, that means that new roots have sprouted and are anchoring the cutting in place. Success! If the cutting still moves freely, give it another week or two and test again.
NOTE: It’s also possible to get your money tree cutting to root in a glass of water, but cuttings often seem to struggle in making the transition into their permanent soil home. So rooting the cutting in soil is your best chance for success.
Frequently Asked Questions about Money Tree Root Rot
- Money tree root rot happens when fungal organisms reproduce rapidly in your plant’s soil. The fungus attacks the plant roots, making it hard for your money tree to absorb the water and nutrients it needs.
- Above-ground signs of root rot include yellow discoloration, leaf texture becoming bumpy or misshapen, the trunk feeling spongy and a musty odor from the soil. Damaged roots will appear brown or black in color, have a soft texture and possibly a bad odor.
- Root rot typically takes hold in soil that’s overly damp. Watering too frequently, having poor drainage in your pot, compacted soil and a pot that’s too large can all lead to wet soil.
- To address root rot, clean off as much old soil from your money tree as possible, cut away damaged root sections, treat with fungicide or hydrogen peroxide and replant in a clean pot with fresh soil. Clean the old pot and all tools carefully with alcohol or bleach.
- If your money tree doesn’t show signs of improvement in about 7-10 days, it may be too damaged to save. Take a healthy cutting for propagation, and throw the mother plant out.
When you catch it early, root rot doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your money tree. And even if the rot is too severe for your plant to recover, you can usually harvest at least a few healthy cuttings to propagate new rot-free money trees.
We want to hear from you! Have you had problems with root rot in the past? Did you learn any other tips for treating or preventing it? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments- your contribution may be exactly what someone else needs to hear!