How to Deal with Rot Part 3: Containing Container Rot

The Cigar Box Terrarium. Pictured from left to right: Echeveria hookeri, moon cactus, and Ferocactus hystrix.

The plants and decorations from the Cigar Box Terrarium repurposed. Pictured from left to right: Euphorbia lactea compacta, Ferocactus hystrix, Echeveria hookeri, Gymnocalycium gibbosum, and Stenocereus Pruinosus.
So, you’ve learned how to properly water your succulents and cacti, and you’ve probably saved a few from rot too. Now, there’s all of these cool things from your old terrariums and neat looking pots in your closet or shed and you’re looking for a way to reuse them. In the last post, we talked about ways to save your succulents and cacti, and some of the most important things to remember about saving your sick plants as well as your healthy ones are:

  1. to remove the affected plant immediately from its container;
  2. and not to repot it in the old soil or the old container if it has not been cleaned.
  3. If the plant cannot support itself, you can propagate new plants from the healthy parts of the stem or healthy leaves.
  4. If the plant has rot on the base and it is still sturdy, you can give your plant a quick q-tip bath and repotting.

If you’re looking to reuse a container that had a dying or rotting plant in it, you should absolutely wash it so that the infection the sick or dying plant had does not contaminate the next occupant. The same goes for any decorative elements such as rocks, sculptures, and moss that you would like to repurpose in a new terrarium or display.

As I mentioned in my Cigar Box Terrarium tutorial, the test run terrarium rotted because I didn’t use a plastic lining/didn’t seal/didn’t waterproof the wood. This rotted wood not only led to a gross spot on my bookshelf, but it also led to root rot in my moon cactus. Because you can’t leave cacti in a rotting container and you shouldn’t leave sick plants with healthy plants, I needed a fix quick! Although I couldn’t save the moon cactus, I had fun figuring out how to reuse the rocks and moss of the cigar box terrarium. Unfortunately, because the cigar box was wood and the rot had gone through the wood, it could not be saved or reused. All in all, it was an exciting and fun project because not only did I get to be creative, but I also got a new pot and some new plant babies too! I recycled all the decorative parts of the cigar box terrarium and created a new rocky landscape. The white stones that surround the cacti and succulent are white quartz and the larger stones on the right are polished river stones. I also reused the moss on the rocks.

Before I reused these stones in this new composition, I made sure to soak them in warm, soapy water for an hour. I then rinsed them thoroughly to prevent any soap build up, and dried them thoroughly. I let the rocks sit on the counter over night to air dry to make sure there was no moisture left on the rocks. Washing the rocks and ensuring they’re dry is a solid way of preventing further spread of bacteria and mold as well as the perfect to prevent new bacteria or mold from growing. When planting my new succulents, I did not use sand, gravel, or clay pieces at the bottom of the pot. Because this container does not have drainage holes, I do not want there to be an accumulation of water at the bottom. Using sand, gravel, or clay pieces at the bottom ensures moisture retention, and, remember, too much moisture leads to root rot.

Now that you know how to plant healthy succulents and cacti and how to identify root rot, composing your new arrangement should be a piece of cake! For my new plant baby home, I couldn’t be more pleased with the textures, colors, and heights of these babies. They are absolutely stunning! The Gymnocalycium gibbosum (the little fat one on the right) has a couple of buds coming through so I’ll have some cactus flowers to share pretty soon! Next up in this series is all about container gardening bulb plants and how to fight pesky white flies and gnats.

Have any questions about your cacti and succulents? How about your other house plants? Contact The Gardern Generalist on our site or on one of social media platforms: Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. I’d love to hear from you!


One thought on “How to Deal with Rot Part 3: Containing Container Rot

  1. Hi there, So I read your last statement about your new container not having any drainage hole and for that reason you did not use any sand, gravel or clay pieces. Did you use dirt all the way to the bottom? I think I’ve made this mistake – for good luck I use seashells in the bottom of my planters without drain holes b/c I thought it would provide some aeration. Whoops, guess that was a mistake! Guess I should start using dirt to the bottom. Thank you for all of this information, I have root rot in a container that I am cleaning out today b/c of your good advice. I hope your plants do really well! -Amy


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