How To Know if Your House Plant Roots Are Dead

The root system’s health is critical for your houseplants’ overall health. It would be best if you never ignored the signs that house plants are in ill health as the symptoms could worsen and the plants may die. It’s possible to save your houseplant if you act on symptoms early, but most of the time, it’s too late, and the root system meets its demise. 

Here are five ways to know your houseplants roots are dead:

  1. There is wilting or discoloration of the leaves.
  2. The plant growth is stunted or in poor condition.
  3. Your house plant has a weak structure.
  4. There is an odor coming from the soil.
  5. The appearance of the house plant’s root system.

This article will explore the five ways to know the roots have died and other conditions that show the same signs, leading to root death if untreated.

1. There Is Wilting or Discoloration of the Leaves

A decline in leaf health is often the first sign your houseplants show you when something is wrong. You should assess your houseplants during and after each watering is essential to prevent health issues from going unnoticed. 

Look for the following signs from your leaves:

  • Droopiness in the leaf structure.
  • Yellowing of the leaves.
  • Browning on the leaf tips.
  • Your plant’s leaves are falling off.

As the first symptoms of impending root death, you should act promptly to rectify the condition. 

Leading Causes of Root Death

When your plants are losing leaves, and they have become discolored, there is a good chance the root system is dying due to the following reasons:

  • Your plant has waterlogged soil from poor drainage. 
  • There is a nutrient overload or not enough nutrients.
  • Your plant is thirsty.
  • Your plant is rootbound in the pot.

With these other conditions causing health issues for your houseplant, it will lead to root death if not treated promptly. Let’s take a closer look at these leading contributors to root death. 

Waterlogged Soil

This problem is the most common contributor to a decline in the health of houseplants and is one of the most straightforward issues to fix. It’s crucial to have proper drainage in place to prevent health issues from arising in your root system. Ensure your pots have drainage holes to prevent the soil from becoming anaerobic, which will ultimately cause root rot with death.

One drainage hole is usually enough to allow proper drainage of your plant’s soil. However, you should also ensure the soil medium is suitable for your plant’s needs. And if one drainage hole isn’t cutting it, make new ones to prevent suffocating the root system with oversaturated soil.

Nutrient Overload or Not Enough Nutrition

A proper balance of nutrients is vital in the process of photosynthesis. Your houseplants must be able to use the minerals and other nutrients in the soil to make energy and distribute it throughout the plant for new growth and other functions. You’ll begin noticing changes in the leaves when insufficient or too many nutrients are available.

Often, an abundance of nutrients leads to root burn and eventually death because the plant will not be able to cool itself.

Your Plant Is Thirsty

Plant dehydration is an easy fix by providing them with water to moisten the root system. Allowing the soil to become too dry prevents the roots from carrying out essential duties to keep the plant hydrated, functioning correctly, and alive. Use your finger to poke the soil to check for dryness at least once a week to prevent this issue from occurring.

Your Plant Is Rootbound

Plants that have become rootbound begin to show signs of lacking the resources needed to survive. Rootbound plants suffer from the following:

  • A lack of pot space causes the roots to consume the entire pot.
  • The roots dry out quicker due to the lack of soil to retain the moisture.
  • They lack nutrients because there’s no room for soil to provide the minerals and organic matter they need to convert into energy.
  • The plant suffers stunted growth because they don’t have enough energy to produce new growth.
  • Your plant is losing leaves because of its survival instinct to conserve energy for other parts of the plant.

When the root system has become rootbound, repot them immediately into a larger planter to allow growth and development with proper nutrition and to prevent the roots from dying.

2. The Plant Growth Is Stunted or in Poor Condition

If health issues compromise your plant’s root system, it cannot do what it needs. The roots are what feed the plant by breaking down the nutrients and oxygen from soil and water and are critical to the survival of your houseplants. So, when the roots aren’t doing their job, the whole plant begins to suffer and cannot produce energy for new growth.

However, other conditions could cause growth issues in your plants, and they include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Dormancy.
  • Sunlight.
  • Rotation.
  • Nutrients.


If your plant is looking sickly during the winter months, it may be due to dormancy. While in a state of inactivity, your houseplants are conserving energy, and growth will slow or stop altogether. During this time, continue care and prevent overwatering because your plants will not absorb as much water due to the lack of sunlight available in winter.


Solar energy is part of photosynthesis and vital for plant health and survival. Ensure your houseplants are getting enough sunlight exposure to promote healthy growth. When plants don’t receive enough sunlight, they begin showing signs by shedding leaves and slowing growth to conserve energy.


This requirement is aligned with sunlight issues because you should expose all angles of your houseplant’s sunlight exposure. To do this, you must frequently rotate your plants to prevent leaves from wilting or awkward and weak growth forming by your plants trying to ‘reach’ for the sunlight. 

You can rotate your houseplants during each watering or assess them during this time to see how they’re growing and if rotation is needed.


Plants are bound to a potted life and rely on you to provide them with a favorable environment to thrive. As mentioned above, without the proper balance of nutrients from water and soil, they cannot produce energy for new growth or healing when injured. The roots uptake and break down the nutrients, disbursing them throughout the plant where it’s needed.

If an overload of nutrients builds up in the soil, your roots begin to suffer from burn and will start decaying. When left untreated, the root system suffers rot and dies. Without the root system, the entire plant dies.

3. Your House Plant Has a Weak Structure

You may notice your houseplant is unable to support itself, or its stems are weakening. This decline happens when your root system has deteriorated and no longer provides energy throughout the plant. Other conditions mentioned in this article can cause the same issues and are as follows:

  • Water: Too much or too little water prevents the roots from creating energy (foods), and they cannot breathe from the lack of oxygen.
  • Sunlight: Not enough sunlight causes weakness and stunted growth.
  • Nutrients: Not enough nutrients weaken the plant due to insufficient energy to promote healing and growth.

4. There Is an Odor Coming From the Soil

A foul odor from your plant indicates root rot. Root rot forms under soggy soil conditions, allowing bacteria to take over the roots. And when this happens, it’s almost always irreversible because your plant’s root system has died. 

To ensure this doesn’t happen to your houseplants, you must check that the soil drains properly. Most houseplants do not tolerate sitting in saturated soil for too long. When soil becomes anaerobic, the roots cannot breathe from the lack of oxygen and, therefore, will suffocate and die. 

5. The Appearance of the House Plant’s Root System

Lastly, remove the plant from the pot and assess the root system to know if your houseplant has suffered root death. A healthy root system should appear light in color with a healthy spread throughout the soil. Your roots are dead and rotten if it’s mushy, stinky, and brown.

This process is the best way to know your houseplant’s roots have died. It’s also an excellent way to understand what has caused the decline and death of the roots. 

By checking the root system of your houseplants, you’ll see signs of the following issues:

  • Oversaturated soil.
  • A rootbound plant.
  • Dryness.
  • Mineral build-up.
  • Bacterial growth or fungus.

Whenever you repot your plants, that’s an excellent time to assess the roots of your houseplants to ensure they are healthy, without signs of stress or becoming rootbound.

Contributors To Root Death

As mentioned throughout the article, your houseplants show signs of distress before the root system succumbs to its demise. If you frequently assess your plants as you water them, you can prevent the root system from becoming damaged or dying.

In Conclusion

Signs caused by dead roots are the same as the health issues that possibly caused the roots to die. Assessing your plants often is essential to ensure root death doesn’t happen. Roots suffering from a decline in health can be reversed, depending on the issues and severity. 

Signs of root trouble are noticeable from the leaves responding to the change. The leaves of your houseplants provide visible information on the health of your plants. Healthy leaves are vibrant and visibly happy, while unhealthy leaves appear droopy, discolored, and sad.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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