Plant First Aid

Most of what it takes to keeps plants healthy is addressed by regular care and maintenance - watering, removing dead plant debris, inspecting regularly.  But sometimes they develop acute and severe problems which must be addressed immediately. 

Pests are categories by themselves, which will be addressed in another page.  But, a far more dangerous problem which requires prompt action is rot. 

Rot to a plant is like an infection is to an animal - a localized growth of micro-organisms that destroys healthy tissue.  Good disinfecting and sterilization  practices when handling plants, and particularly cuttings which are the most vulnerable stage of plants, goes a long way to preventing problems. 

But, sometimes even with the best practices, a plant begin to develop some rot.  This must be addressed immediately and decisively, just as an infection in someone's body has to be. 

The measures to address rot in a plant are very similar to treating and infection in animals.  First the damaged area ("wound") must be cleaned and any diseased tissue removed.  Then the area needs to be kept clean. 

The area of a plant which is most susceptible to rot is the roots.  Roots are by their nature in a moist environment all the time, and when a bacterial infestation takes root, the environment is perfect for bacterial growth and spread.  When an animal is wounded, care basics include keeping the wound clean and dry.  You cannot keep a plant's roots dry - that would kill the plant - so we have to settle for keeping them clean. 

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Here is the root section of a Lucky Bamboo (which is not actually a bamboo, it is a Dracaena sanderiana) which has begun to rot.  This will kill the plant eventually unless it is dealt with.  The rot will begin to creep up the stem, which will become soft.  Unless this is stopped fairly quickly, the plant is a goner. 

Fortunately, treatment is not difficult and is usually effective.  All the rot must be removed promptly, and the stem kept in water which is changed on a regular basis.  Simply rinsing the root mass under running water in the kitchen sink every day for a few days (a week or so) should be enough to clean away all the rot and damaged roots. 

Most public water systems add chlorine to the water as a disinfecting/antibacterial agent.  Sometimes this can cause problems with plants because the chlorine is highly reactive and caustic.  However, it works to our advantage when trying to clean away the bacteria which causes rotting. 

The rot on this plant (brown slimy mass in the center) was caught just in the nick of time.  There is a central mass of rot, but there are also still healthy roots - the green and whitish bits of roots are healthy. 

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