Bird of Paradise Root Rot

The Bird of Paradise is a beautiful tropical plant that is native to South Africa. Formally known as Strelitzia, this plant is often mistaken for a bird in its natural environment. That’s where it got its fitting nickname.

This plant is also often mistaken for banana plants. Although they are part of the same family, unfortunately, you will not be growing any bananas from this houseplant.

In full bloom, this really is a showstopper of a plant. But whether you choose to make it a centerpiece for your home or decide to plant it in your garden, there are a few pitfalls to be aware of in order for this tropical beauty to be kept looking its best.

In this article, I’ll be focusing on what causes Bird of Paradise root rot, what to do if your plant is a casualty of it, how to tackle it, and also, how to prevent it in the first place.

What Is Root Rot?

Root rot can be a common problem for many indoor plants and is caused either by excessive watering, insufficient drainage, poor soil conditions, or lack of sunlight. Any of these factors can cause plant roots to become saturated by water and be prevented from absorbing water.

A healthy root system looks milky-white or cream in color and is firm to the touch. Roots that have become diseased turn black or brown, look decayed, and start to feel soft or mushy. This disease starts at the tip of the root and works its way gradually through the rest of the root system if not treated.

This disease can be easier to identify than you might think. It’s also straightforward enough to treat as long as you catch it early. Thankfully, your Bird of Paradise will provide you with plenty of clues to signal if it is unhappy and needs its roots tended to — even if they are buried in the soil.

How To Identify Root Rot

It is important to know the signs of this disease in order to identify it early on. That way, you can take the necessary steps in order to treat your plant accordingly to prevent further spread and to save your beloved Bird of Paradise.

Early Signs

The good thing is there are easy-to-spot signs that will help you quickly realize that your Bird of Paradise plant is suffering from root rot. When you do spot the signs, act quickly and don’t delay! Failure to take action could be fatal to your plant’s health.

Yellowing Leaves With Brown Tips

Although yellowing leaves and browning of tips can be a symptom of a number of problems, it is also one of the earliest signs that your plant is suffering from root rot.

Check the overall health of your plant. If it has declined to the point where around 60% of the plant’s leaves have started to turn yellow or have become discolored, then alarm bells should start to ring and you will need to evaluate the root system.

Stunted Growth

It’s unlikely that your plant will be able to produce any new leaves if its afflicted with this disease. This is because the damaged roots are unable to absorb nutrients or oxygen in order for them to function and grow. Any existing leaves will lack vitality and health, appear yellow, and will seem much smaller than their usual size compared to the normal growth rate.

Where new leaves do grow they will unlikely survive so will most likely wilt away soon after they are produced.

Soft Stems

If you begin to notice that the stems of your Bird of Paradise plant begin to discolor, turn brown, or appear to be soft, swollen, or feel mushy to touch, it is a good idea to check the root health. This symptoms usually starts at the base of the stem and progresses upwards.

Stems may begin to curl or twist rather than grow straight. In any case, if stems appear distorted as they grow or become soft or mushy, this can be a clear indicator of root rot. Investigate further and treat accordingly. Also, expect to lose these stems as they are unlikely to survive and heal.

Wilting Leaves

If the leaves begin to wilt or curl, it’s a clear sign that you’re dealing with a case of root rot. This usually occurs on the bottom leaves and foliage to begin with.

This happens as the leaves are not able to absorb water or nutrients effectively. It is the plant’s way of protecting itself from dehydration.

However, wilting leaves can also be a sign of other issues such as lack of humidity or warmth, underwatering, or pests. I recommend identifying other symptoms before moving forward with treatment.

Brown and Soft Roots

Of course, this disease starts with the roots and spreads upwards. If you suspect root rot is to blame for your plant’s symptoms, you should proceed by examining the roots.

To get a good look at the roots, you’ll need to remove your plant from its pot. Do this as carefully as possible to prevent further damage to the root system.

As you lift the plant from the pot, you also need to be careful not to pull on the stems. It’s a good idea to tip the pot on its side and loosen the soil around the edges of the pot with your finger or a sterilized garden knife. This will make it easier to slide the plant from the plant pot or container

Gently brush away as much soil as possible from the roots using your finger or a soft-bristled brush. Now that the roots are exposed, give them a thorough inspection. Healthy roots are firm to the touch and cream or white in color. 

Any roots that appear brown or black and are soft and mushy will need to be trimmed away. Always use a sterile and sharp knife or pair of scissors to cut away all traces of the diseased roots.

When repotting, use fresh, well-draining potting soil and a clean pot. 

As we cannot see our plants’ roots, issues often go undetected and that’s where problems can start. Each time you re-pot your plant, it’s a good idea to thoroughly examine the roots for any signs of damage, discoloration, or disease.

According to the University of Wisconsin, another noteworthy symptom is an unpleasant smell coming from the roots when you expose them. This is a very clear sign that you have root rot.

Take a look at Best Bird of Paradise Fertilizers

How To Avoid Root Rot

Overwatering is a common mistake but also a sure way to cause root rot in most houseplants. The Bird of Paradise plant does not need much water. In fact, it enjoys the soil being completely dry in between watering so that the roots have an opportunity to soak up much-needed oxygen.

The only exception is following propagating the plant by division. In this case, keep the division well watered until established.

Make sure to only water your plant when you notice that the soil is completely dry throughout. You can easily check the moisture levels in the soil by inserting two fingers deep into the soil.

I prefer this method of checking when my plants need watering rather than sticking to a rigid watering schedule. This is because your plant will absorb more or less water depending on the time of year, room temperature, and whether it is in its active growing season or not.

When watering, either use a long-spouted watering can to aim the water directly at the soil or try bottom watering the plant so that it can absorb only the water it needs. The bottom watering technique helps to avoid drainage issues that can be caused by soil or containers that do not allow for sufficient drainage.

Poor drainage is another key problem when it comes to root rot. If your pot does not have sufficient drainage holes located at the bottom of the pot then the water is going to get trapped.

Your Bird of Paradise needs to be in a pot that has sufficient drainage holes in the bottom. If your plant is placed in a decorative pot or on a tray it’s important to pay attention to how much excess water your plant might be sitting in. Ideally there shouldn’t be any water. Once you have watered your plant, pour away any excess water that collects in the tray.

Poor drainage however can also be caused by the soil that you are using. A dense potting mix or planting soil tends to retain water for long periods of time meaning that it is prone to becoming waterlogged. This can mean that when it does dry out it will harden, starving the roots of the water and oxygen that they need.

It can also cause fungus or mold to grow on your soil which can potentially cause more issues for your plant.

Adding perlite or coco coir can help to improve drainage in your soil massively and will help to create that all-important well-draining soil that your Bird of Paradise needs to thrive. You could make your own potting soil by combining sphagnum moss, coco coir, gravel, or perlite. 

Alternatively, you could use a purpose-made Bird of Paradise potting soil. Here’s one I found that contains an excellent balance of minerals and is also 100% natural.

Bird of Paradise Potting Soil

Also, I use either a wooden stick or chopstick to poke holes in the soil occasionally. This can help to circulate air in the soil and provide roots with enough oxygen. You just need to be careful not to damage the roots when doing so.

If the worst happens and you have identified that your plant is suffering from root rot, try the following course of action:

  • Stop watering your plant immediately and give it a chance to dry out.
  • Remove your plant from its pot and brush away all soil from the roots and bottom of the stems.
  • Remove all roots that appear brown, black, soft and mushy. Do this with sterile scissors and remember to re-sanitize after every cut.
  • If necessary, keep your plant out of the pot for a day or so to give the plant time to dry out.
  • Repot your plant. Change the soil and give the pot a thorough clean at the same time.
  • Inspect the plant thoroughly for any signs of damage and cut away any dead leaves, stems and flowers. This will help prevent any further spread.

Conclusion: Bird of Paradise Root Rot

The best way to prevent root rot is to provide Bird of Paradise with the right care by not overwatering it, planting it in well-draining soil, and using a plant pot with drainage holes.

Keep an eye on your Bird of Paradise and take note of any warning signs that your plant may be in distress early so that you can take the best action as soon as possible.