Bird of Paradise Root Rot

The Bird of Paradise is a beautiful and tropical plant that is native to South Africa. Formally known as Strelitzia, this plant is often mistaken for a bird in its natural environment and therefore was given the fitting nickname of the Bird of Paradise.

This plant is also often mistaken for banana plants, and although they are part of the same family, unfortunately, you will not be growing any bananas from your bird of paradise.

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, insufficent drainage, poor soil conditions or lack of sunlight. Any of these elements can cause the roots of your bird of paradise plant to become saturated by water and be prevented from absorbing water.

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

Root rot can be easier to identify than you might think and 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 soil.

How To Identify Root Rot In Your Bird Of Paradise Plant

It is important to know the signs of root rot in order to identify the disease 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 of Bird Of Paradise Root Rot

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 and browning tips

Although yellowing leaves and browning of tips can be a symptom of a number of problems in Bird of Paradise, 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 further investigate the possibility of root rot.

Stunted Growth

If your bird of paradise is suffering from root rot it is very unlikely that your plant will be able to produce any new leaves during this time. This is because the diseased or soggy roots will be unable to absorb and nutirents or oxygen in order for it to function and grow. Any exisiting will lack vitability and health, appear yellow and will seem much smaller than their usual size compared to normal growth rate.

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

Soft and mushy stems

If you begin to notice that the stems of your bird of paradise begin to discolor, turn brown and appear to be soft, swollen, or feel mushy to touch it is a good idea to check your roots as this is a clear sign of root rot. It usually starts at the base of the stem and progresses upwards.

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

Wilting Leaves

If the leaves begin to wilt this is a good sign that you have root rot, this will occur usually on the bottom leaves and foliage to begin with.

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

However, wilting leaves can also be a sign of other issues for your plant such as lack of humidity or warmth, underwatering, or pests. So ensure that you are identifying other issues that coincide with root rot before you assume and treat your plant. 

Brown and soft roots

Of course, the cause of the issue with root rot starts with the roots and spreads upwards, so if you suspect root rot because your plant is displaying some or all of the symptoms above, then you should check for root rot 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 being careful to tease the plant from the pot gradually.

When you lift the plant from the pot you also need to be careful not to pull on the stems as these can become easily damaged too. 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.  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.  Not 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 as this is a sure sign of root rot.  Always use a sterile and sharp knife or pair of scissors to cut away all traces of the diseased roots.

When repotting always 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.

Another distinguishable trait of root rot is an unpleasant smell coming from the roots when you expose them. This is a very clear sign that you have root rot.

How To Avoid Root Rot

Overwatering is a common mistake to make but also a sure way to cause root rot in most house plants. The bird of paradise plant does not need much water, in fact it enjoys the soil to be completely dry in between watering so that the roots have an opportunity to soak up much needed oxygen.

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 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 an active growing season or not.

When watering either use a long-spouted watering can to aim 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 sufficent 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 and this is a very quick way to cause root rot.

Your bird of paradise needs to be in a pot that has sufficient drainage holes in the bottom and 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 shouldnt 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, plus some garden loam. 

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 tto 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 then 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 resanitize after every cut.
  • If necessary, keep your pot 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. of your infected plant and give the roots a thorough wash under some fresh water but make sure you are careful.
  • Start pruning, make sure to 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 provide it with the right care by not overwatering it and planting it in well drained soil and using a plant pot that contains drainage holes.

keep an eye on your bird of paradise and notice any warning signs that your plant may be in distress early so that you can take the best action as soon as possible. It is easy to follow the correct steps to care for your plant but much more difficult to treat it once it has already happened and it can end up being fatal to your plant.