Your succulents are your babies, and knowing how to take care of them in the face of overwatering, underwatering, and other sure signs of plant struggle. When your succulents are struggling, one of the first things to go are the roots. Catch early signs of common plant problems with these tricks for checking your succulent’s roots:
What do Healthy Roots Look Like?
Succulents are resilient, and even if their leaves, stems, or roots are a little bit damaged, they’ll press on and continue to thrive. Healthy succulent roots always appear white or light in color, long enough to hold the dirt in the shape of your pot, and veiny. Healthy roots will also appear moist and will taper in thickness the further they get from the rootball. If your succulent’s roots don’t quite hold most of the soil in your pot, don’t transplant it-- instead, let it grow a bit more before repotting.
What do Unhealthy Roots Look Like?
Unhealthy roots may appear dry, crumbly, or dark in color. Alternatively, your succulent may be struggling if small root tips are visible above the soil’s surface or if roots stick out from the drainage hole in your pot. When repotting, always check your succulent’s roots to make sure they are healthy! There are a few common root problems that show themselves when you examine your plant’s roots:
1. Root Rot
Root rot is a product of overwatering but can also be caused by pests or poor drainage in your pot. Succulents struggling with root rot will have roots that appear either dark brown or black, and this discoloration will eventually spread to the rest of the plant if left untreated. Root rot kills fast, so it’s best to take care of it immediately.
There are several ways to treat root rot, and treatments vary based on how damaged your succulent may be. The first method for treatment, “the drying method,” is best for early-stage root rot (before any leaves start changing color), although it may take a few days to complete. With this method, remove your succulent from the pot to let its roots air out and dry. It may be hard to tell if this cures the rot immediately, so it is recommended to leave the roots exposed for a day or so before repotting.
Another method to treat root rot is by pruning the roots. Although cutting roots may seem risky, it is a common practice in succulent care-- just be sure to trim only damaged or rotten parts of your roots and let the remaining roots dry out before repotting! Using a sharp, clean knife or pair of scissors, gently trim away any damaged or rotted parts of your succulent’s roots. Be sure to always cut a little past the area where rot begins to avoid potential spreading. After trimming, always let the roots callous over before replanting to ensure a higher chance of survival.
Dusting your roots in sulfur is another way to treat root rot as well. Sulfur is most often used in gardens to increase soil acidity, and many gardeners will dust their plant’s roots in sulfur before repotting them. Sulfur works like rubbing alcohol on your succulent’s roots-- it will kill any bacteria growing on the roots, good or bad. When you dust roots with sulfur, always make sure that the roots are dry and your root rot isn’t caused by overwatering.
2. Aerial Roots
Aerial roots are roots that grow above the soil, on your succulent’s stems. While they aren’t a sign your succulent is in danger, these white, sometimes pinkish roots may cause panic when you first see them. Aerial roots are common among plants that prefer humid environments, and you’ll also find them when propagating cuttings. Their appearance on your plant doesn’t mean that it’s dying, but it may just need a TLC.
Aerial roots are a sign that your succulent isn’t getting all of the water or nutrients it needs from the soil alone. So, if you spot aerial roots on your succulents, it may be due to a lack of sunlight, underwatering, or an increase in humidity. Changing your succulent’s environment with more water or sunlight will help aerial roots fall off on their own. Otherwise, you can trim them with a small pair of clean and sharp scissors.
3. Root Bound
Root bound succulents have outgrown their pots and thus do not have room to grow or absorb adequate nutrients from the soil. To spot a root bound succulent, check the drainage hole of your pot-- if you see roots sticking out, you’ve got a root bound plant. You can also see if your succulent is root bound by removing it from the pot-- if the roots are tightly matted together around the rootball, it’s time to repot.
The best way to help a root bound succulent is to either give it a new home or trim the roots. Although it’s best to repot right before the growing season, you should repot root bound succulents as soon as possible. When trimming the roots, use the same method as you would when pruning for root rot. When repotting root bound succulents, be sure to detangle the roots from the rootball as best you can and transfer them to a pot at least 10% larger than your current pot. Be sure to leave at least ⅔ of the plant’s roots intact.
No Roots? No Problem
If your succulent’s roots are too damaged to save, your best bet is to behead the plant. Like propagation, growing your succulent from a cutting takes time, and while it won’t save the whole plant, it can at least potentially save a portion of it. When taking a cutting from your succulent, use clean, sharp scissors or a knife to cut off a healthy leaf or through the stem before any rotted sections.
To propagate, take your cutting and let it dry for a day away from sunlight. Then, bury the base of the stem in a sterile pot with fresh soil. You may need to remove some leaves from your cutting to plant it. Keep up a regular watering schedule and treat your cutting like you would your original plant-- with the same amount of sunlight and same room temperature. Eventually, succulent buds will sprout from your stem, and a root system will develop in the soil.
Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels
When working with leaves, try and find one that’s fallen off of the succulent first-- it’s natural for succulents to lose their leaves occasionally, even if the leaves are healthy. If you need to cut a leaf from your succulent, use sharp, clean scissors to trim the leaves as close to the plant’s stem as possible. Then, let your leaves dry for a day or so as you would a cutting. To propagate succulents from leaves, bury the tip of the leaf in fresh soil and mist it with water a couple of times a week. After two weeks, you should see new sprouts coming from the soil; you can repot your new baby once it’s about an inch and a half long.
See more about How to Stimulate Root Growth in Succulents
For Types of Succulents Careguide. Read more information here.
If you found this article interesting, share it with your succulent loving friends!
And get a free plant when your friends make an order. Sign up here!
Learn more about how to nurture and enjoy many gorgeous succulents and clever decoration tips with our newsletter. Let's sign up!