ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) can brighten any room with their proud foliage. They can tolerate long dry spells, hardly need fertilizer, and do well in less-than-ideal conditions.
That said, the idea of an underwatered ZZ plant may seem far-fetched. After all, this East African native is drought-tolerant, right?
ZZ plants can handle a fair amount of neglect. They’re super low-maintenance that you might occasionally forget about them.
Read on as we tackle underwatering symptoms to watch out for. And check out our tried-and-tested tips to save your houseplant from severe dehydration.
You’re more likely to kill a ZZ plant by too much attention, not the lack of it.
In their native habitat, they live in dry, sandy earth beneath tree canopies. Thanks to their semi-desert adaptations, they can flourish in different indoor settings.
Like succulents and cacti, they conserve water by keeping their leaf pores closed during the day. The waxy coating that makes their leaves oh-so-shiny also helps trap moisture.
On top of that, ZZ plants have underground potato-like organs called rhizomes. Aside from producing roots and shoots, rhizomes can store water and nutrients and release them as needed.
So, what can go wrong?
Well, if you’re here wondering the same thing, odds are your ZZ plant has used up all its water reserves and is slowly dying of thirst.
Here are the telltale signs that you’re underwatering your ZZ plant:
- The soil is cracked, bone-dry, and separating from the pot’s inside walls.
- The pot feels light when you lift it.
- The leaves develop browned edges or tips.
- When you squeeze the leaf between your fingers, it feels crispy or brittle rather than firm and supple.
- The leaves droop but perk up immediately after watering.
- The plant sheds some leaves to conserve its depleting resources.
- The stem is starting to shrivel.
Some of the symptoms here mimic those caused by overwatering. However, the state of the soil is always a dead giveaway that you’re giving your plant too much (moist) or too little water (dry).
The good news is that a lack of water is less damaging to a ZZ plant than an overabundance of it. As long as your plant shows signs of life, fixing the issue should be a breeze.
Here’s the lowdown on reviving and nurturing your ZZ plant back to its perky self:
- Water your plant until you see the excess draining from the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the entire root system receives the hydration it craves.
- ZZ plants hate sitting in waterlogged soil. Empty out the saucer or catchment tray of any standing water.
- Keep your plant out of harsh sunlight to avoid further stress.
- Trim off damaged leaves with clean pruning shears. Make clean cuts close to the base of the leaf stem to encourage new growth.
It’s tempting to overwater your plant to get it to bounce back quickly. But remember that too much moisture comes with a whole other problem and a notorious plant killer: root rot.
Slow and steady wins the race, so allow your ZZ plant to dry before watering again.
The frequency of watering your ZZ plant depends on its size, the potting soil used, and weather conditions.
As a general guideline, watering your ZZ plant every two weeks should be sufficient. If you can’t keep up with a regular schedule, use the finger test instead.
Here’s what you should do: stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. A wooden skewer driven all the way to the bottom of the pot will work, too.
If your finger or stick comes out dry, water your plant immediately. Another alternative is using a moisture meter to read the soil’s water content accurately.
During sweltering summer days, track your ZZ plant’s moisture activity and rehydrate as necessary. Meanwhile, limit your watering to once a month during cold months.
An expert tip you’ll want to try is bottom watering. Instead of dumping water into the soil, you allow the plant to absorb moisture from the bottom up through the pot’s drainage holes.
This method takes the guesswork of how much water to give your houseplants. In essence, you’re letting your plant decide for itself.
That means no more overwatering or underwatering your green companions. Yes, say goodbye to rookie mistakes!
First, do the finger test or use a moisture reader to check if your plant needs watering. Once you’ve determined it’s time for refreshments, follow these steps to bottom water your ZZ plants:
- Grab a tray or container wide enough to hold your potted ZZ plant and deep enough for a few inches of water.
- Place the pot into the container.
- Fill the container with 1–2 inches of water.
- Leave the plant soaking up all the H2O it needs for 15–20 minutes. Smaller pots should sit on the plant bath for a shorter period, while larger planters would need more time.
- Check the soil’s surface. If it’s not moist to the touch, add more water and recheck after a while.
- Once the topsoil is completely moist, remove any remaining water from the container.
- Allow the plant to drain all excess liquid before returning it to its saucer or cache pot.
Note: Don’t let your plant sit on standing water for too long, as it defeats the purpose of bottom watering.
This technique works for small and medium-sized houseplants, not just your ZZs. However, if you have an extensive plant collection with some heavy planters, you’re better off with the watering can.
Consider these tips to avoid underwatering your ZZ plants:
- Regularly monitor the soil’s moisture level to check if your plant needs watering.
- Temperature, humidity, and airflow affect how quickly the soil dries out. Pay attention to these conditions and adjust your watering frequency accordingly.
- While a fast-draining potting mix is effective against overwatering, excessively sandy soil will have trouble retaining moisture. Choose a well-balanced potting medium for your ZZ plant.
- A ZZ plant may outgrow its pot and become rootbound, causing it to struggle to get adequate water. Repot your plant if you notice roots poking out of holes and spilling over the pot’s edges.
ZZ plants aren’t fussy and can thrive on neglect; you don’t need a green thumb to keep them alive. Yet, these low-maintenance house greens still require care and attention.
If you have an underwatered ZZ plant, the leaves will always be the first to tell you what’s up. A thirsty plant will have wilted or browning leaves to show distress.
Fortunately, it’s a common condition with the easiest fix: give your thirsty plant a drink, and be more attentive to it in the future.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.