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Recognizing and combating root diseases: root rot & co

06.04.2022  /  Reading time: 4 minutes

Healthy roots are the basis for good development and growth of your crops. Damaged roots can promote diseases such as root rot or verticillium wilt and reduce your harvest. It is therefore important to act quickly if you suspect that your plants have diseased roots. In this article, we give you an overview of the most common root diseases in the garden.

This article contains:

  1. Root rot
  2. Verticillium wilt fungus (V. dahliae & V. albo-atrum)
  3. Root burn

Quick Overview

Common diseases at the roots

Root rot
  • Cause: incorrect care (e.g. unfavorable water supply) or pathogens such as fungi (e.g. Phytophthora) and bacteria (e.g. Erwinia)
  • Symptoms: rotten roots; chlorosis on leaves; plants are not stable in the soil
  • Risk of confusion with water deficiency
Verticillium wilt fungus
  • Cause: Fungus that infects plants via damaged roots
  • Symptoms: chlorosis on leaves; individual shoots wilt; wrinkled bark
  • Risk of confusion with water deficiency
Root blight (also known as root rot)
  • Cause: Fungi that occur in the soil (can also be introduced through purchased soil!)
  • Symptoms: infested seedlings emerge poorly and fall over

Root rot

  • Root rot can have various causes. In addition to fungi such as Phytophthora and bacteria, incorrect care can also be the cause of the symptoms. First rule out care errors before suspecting a plant disease! In our article on recognizing and combating plant diseases, you will find other possible causes and care errors that can also lead to root rot.
  • Possible biotic pathogens that cause root rot: Fungi such as Fusarium, Phytium, Phytophthora (these diseases are called hard rot, black rot or rotting disease) and bacteria such as Erwinia, Rhizomas or Pseudomonas attack plants; if care errors are the cause of damaged, rotten roots, these pathogens have a particularly easy time penetrating the plant; the exact cause of infestation is usually difficult to determine
  • Symptoms: brown and rotten, sometimes muddy roots; this causes the plant to wilt (individual shoots gradually wither until the whole plant is wilted) and dies completely if the rot is severe; chlorosis on the leaves; plants are wobbly in the soil; possibly constrictions on the root neck or stem
  • Danger of confusion: The wilting of individual shoots is often interpreted as a lack of water, but can also indicate an infestation with root rot. Watering even more will only exacerbate the root rot. So before watering wilted parts of the plant, check whether the soil or roots are damp or rotten.
  • Our tip: Healthy roots are whitish to light brown and firm. Dark roots usually indicate root rot. Ferns are an exception: their roots are dark brown even without rot!
  • Susceptible plants: Seedlings (especially root rot and root burn); strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes (Phytophthora); however, the disease can affect almost any plant!
  • Recognizing and combating root rot (the article on this will follow soon!)
Spring onion roots.
Healthy roots are whitish to light brown, with the exception of ferns. Some diseases can cause roots to rot. Picture by Hans on Pixabay.

Verticillium wilt fungus (V. dahliae & V. albo-atrum)

  • Symptoms: yellowed leaves and dried shoots (easy to confuse with drought damage and lack of water!) initially only individual shoots; bark becomes wrinkled
  • Like almost all root diseases, this fungus has a particularly easy time when the roots are already damaged (care errors due to unfavorable water supply?); the fungus penetrates the plant, inhibits water and nutrient uptake and the plants wither as a result
  • Susceptible plants: over 200 host plants for this pathogen; woody plants such as maple, chestnut, lilac, rhododendron; needle trees are not affected; plants such as potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and strawberries are often affected
  • Recognizing and combating Verticillium fungus (article to follow soon!)

Root burn

  • also known as emergence or fall sickness
  • can be caused by various fungi in the soil
  • Symptoms: seedlings have problems emerging; seedlings show damage to roots, root neck and shoot; brown-black discoloration and constrictions; young plants fall over and die; individual plants that survive develop poorly with reduced (root) growth and usually wither in the end (June wilt)
  • susceptible plants: Sugar beet, beet, spinach, chard and wild herbs such as white goosefoot, (soy) beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, barley, strawberries, etc.
  • Recognizing and combating fall sickness (the article on this will follow soon!)
Seedlings emerging.
This is what healthy seedlings look like. If they fall over as soon as they emerge, they could be infected with fall sickness! Image by onehundredseventyfive on Pixabay

Hopefully you have now found the cause of the symptoms of your diseased plants. As it is difficult to combat root diseases, you should use preventative plant protection. You can find tips on preventive plant protection and measures in the article on this topic!

It is important to choose robust varieties in order to grow healthy young plants. You can find a wide selection of organically produced seeds in our Fryd store. After all, diseases can also be introduced into your beds through seeds!

If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at [email protected].

Would you like to receive helpful gardening tips all year round and plan your own beds optimally? Then register here or download the Fryd app for Android or iOS.

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Cover picture by Alexey Hulsov on Pixabay

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Marie studied agricultural science at the University of Hohenheim. Her main focus is on ecological agriculture and permaculture. She writes articles for Fryd to educate people about ecological interrelationships and alternatives to current land use. Our current economic systems, especially in agriculture, have numerous negative effects on nature and destabilize our ecosystems. We need a great diversity in our gardens and beds again to counteract the extinction of species. Every gardener can contribute to creating and maintaining habitats and food for a wide variety of creatures. With her articles, she would like to pass on her experience in dealing with natural systems and give people the opportunity to contribute to a stable ecosystem and thus also to securing our livelihood.

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