What is root asphyxia

Today, in Gardenprue, we are going to talk about a problem that happens to many “cautious” people who add more water than they drink to last longer without watering, or leaving the plate full of water (which as we told you it is not a good idea to have standing water in contact with the plant). If you are one of those who irrigate with a lot of water and leave the pots flooded, we will show you some things that can happen if the dreaded root suffocation occurs .


What if I took a 2-liter bottle of water and sipped it down? The first thing is that you get more satiated and the second thing is that fortunately our body knows how to expel through urine what it does not need. Well, it raises the same situation in the plants but considering that the plants do not have the ability to eliminate that remaining water. The result is that, once the plant has absorbed enough water for its development, it remains stagnant, in the case of pots, or remains in the ground for several days because you have exceeded the drainage capacity of the soil. of your garden.


Root suffocation is the process by which water displaces oxygen in the soil, limiting the plants’ ability to breathe through the roots. It is caused when there is an excess of water in the soil, regardless of whether it is for a little or a long time. That is, if watering is very copious, so much so that the soil is not able to absorb or drain, even if the soil is flooded for a few hours, damage is already occurring to the plants. Logically, the shorter the root suffocation time, the less damage will be.


Logic can make us think that root asphyxia can occur more easily in winter than in summer, due to several things:

  • It is less hot and therefore less water evaporates
  • As we water less frequently, we prefer to do a copious watering every long time.
  • It rains more, sometimes for a long time.

Well no! , root asphyxia is more frequent in summer than in winter. You know why? In summer it is hotter and the plants have more stress. Like humans, when we are in a situation of great heat or stress, we tend to breathe more quickly, and the same thing happens in plants. The roots demand a much greater amount of oxygen , oxygen that sometimes they cannot find due to the waterlogged soil. In addition, many have the idea that since it is summer, a good watering until it floods is good for the plants to “reactivate” and it is not like that either. As we said in the article on calculating irrigation accurately , plants require, at a minimum, what they have lost. Then, with the growth of these and the development of flowers and fruits, their requirements will increase.

Poorly drained soil


When a flooded land is saturated with water for some time, the following problems, typical of root asphyxia, can occur. A plant with this problem suffers growth arrest, chlorosis, continued defoliation, and flower and fruit drop. Depending on the weather conditions, certain fungi such as Armillaria mellea, Phytophpthora spp, Rosellinia necatrix, etc. may also appear  .

Sometimes that general yellowing or chlorosis of the plant is confused with lack of watering,  just because we make the mistake of checking the first layer of soil or substrate of the pot , that is, what the bark is. We already commented on it a while ago, but that first layer of earth is exposed to inclement weather such as solar radiation, wind, environmental dryness, etc. and that is why there are times when that layer dries up (at first glance it seems that we have to water) when the rest of the substrate, in the deeper layers, still retains enough moisture for several days.

Returning to the topic, in just a few hours of root asphyxia they are already producing the following symptoms in the plant (visual or not):

  • It stimulates the production of Aminocyclopropanecarboxylate (AAC), an enzyme that initiates the production of ethylene in the plant, and therefore the maturation and reduction of the life time of the fruits.
  • Production of indoleacetic acid (IAA), a plant hormone (auxin) that produces various changes in the plant such as inhibiting the development of axial buds, the appearance of superficial or lateral roots, etc.
  • Increased levels of abscisic acid that affect plant growth.

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