The Zamioculcas zamiifolia, better known as the ZZ plant, is a popular household plant grown worldwide.
One of the characteristics that make it well-known is its low-maintenance care requirements. It behaves like a succulent, so it doesn’t need a lot of watering and can be left alone for most of its life.
If you’re looking forward to growing ZZ plants in your home, this ultimate guide will show you the basic care requirements, any potential issues to look for, and how to fix them.
Physical Description and Characteristics
ZZ plants are native to East Africa, particularly from Kenya and South Africa. It got its name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, due to its physical similarities with a member of the cycad species—the Zamia palm.
The ZZ plant is a member of the Araceae family, which is often characterized by having rhizomes.
This popular houseplant has glossy, leather-like, dark green leaves that can grow up to 6 inches. Moreover, they grow in an alternate pattern along the stem.
The ZZ plant can reach 2–4 feet in height and grow up to 4 feet in width. It rarely flowers when grown as a houseplant. However, if the conditions are right, it’ll sprout cone-like flowers that are either cream, green, or white.
Although the ZZ plant is widely grown as a houseplant, it can be mildly toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. If ingested, the ZZ plant can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and inflammation of mucous membranes.
If a family member or pet has accidentally chewed or swallowed the plant and is showing signs of swollen lips or tongue, seek immediate medical attention.
ZZ plants are easy to care for and can survive with minimal maintenance. However, this doesn’t mean they should be neglected.
Let’s look into the various care requirements of this hardy plant:
ZZ plants prefer low-light conditions, so they do best in areas with indirect sunlight. Putting them directly under sunlight will scorch the plant, causing it to be sunburnt.
If you’re placing your ZZ plant indoors, there are a few measures you can take to ensure they’re not exposed to too much light.
You can place it a few feet away from your window. If you put it in a south-facing window, there will be indirect light throughout the day. Otherwise, if you place it in an east or west-facing window, it’ll receive direct sunlight at certain times of the day.
To protect your plant further, you can place a sheer curtain or blinds on the window. Alternatively, you can put it in a window with a tree outside to provide additional shade to the ZZ plant.
However, if you’re placing your ZZ plant outdoors, place it on a shaded patio or a porch. Or, you can put it in an area shaded by the canopy of a few trees.
The ideal temperature for ZZ plants ranges from 65°F to 85°F (18°C to 30°C). It’s best to keep them out of temperatures below 45°F.
These plants survive best in average temperatures and they do well in low temperatures. If the temperature drops to 60°F, bring your outdoor ZZ plants inside.
Additionally, ZZ plants survive in an environment with average humidity. Place your plant near a humidifier during the colder months when the air is dryer.
ZZ plants need well-draining soil because the rhizomes store water. Note that a packed soil mix won’t have proper drainage leading to root rot.
To make your potting mix, combine the following:
- Three gallons of peat moss
- One gallon of perlite
- One gallon of vermiculite
- Two gallons of coarse sand
- Two tablespoons lime
If you need less than this amount, adjust the proportions because it’s best to use the mix as quickly as possible.
However, if you have some potting mix left over, you can put it in plastic bags and keep them in a cool dry place.
ZZ plants have rhizomes that help hold and store water that’s why they can do well with drought. However, don’t let your ZZ plant go on without water for too long.
Before watering, ensure that the soil is completely dry. You can do this by sticking your finger at the top inch of the soil. If it feels dry, it’s time to water your plant.
In most growing conditions, you can water your plants every couple of weeks.
However, during the winter, they can be watered just once a month. Although in the hotter months, you may need to water them twice a month.
Further, it’s essential to use clean water for your plants. If it’s available to you, you can use purified or distilled water.
Otherwise, you can use clean tap water by letting it sit in a container for at least 24 hours before using it. This will allow for the chemicals or chlorine present in the water to dissipate.
Since ZZ plants are hardy, they rarely need any fertilizer to grow. However, if you wish to boost the growth of your plant, you can use a liquid fertilizer diluted in equal parts water during the growing season.
The growing season for most plants is usually in the spring–around April to August.
Although pruning your ZZ plant is unnecessary, giving it an occasional trim can help it along the way. Here are some tips to ensure that your ZZ plant looks its best at all times:
- If you notice any leaflets turning yellow near the base of the stem, cut them away.
- Remove any dead or dried leaves, and cut off stems that are browning at the tip.
- If your ZZ plant is starting to become leggy, trim these stems and make sure they’re of equal height.
If you already have a healthy ZZ plant, you can start propagating it. There are three ways to propagate ZZ plants.
The most common method is by division, where you separate the rhizomes of the plant and repot them in separate containers. Propagating by division gives you the best chance to succeed since you’re already starting from an established parent plant.
The second way is through stem cuttings. You can do this by taking a healthy stem from the parent plant, letting it develop a tissue scar, and putting it in soil or water.
The third way is through leaf cuttings, which takes the longest time of all. Like the stem cuttings, you can also use a soil mix or dip it in water to propagate.
Since leaf cuttings are fragile, you’ll need to monitor them regularly to ensure they grow properly.
If you choose to propagate your ZZ plant through stem or leaf cuttings, keep them in a draft-free area to prevent the cuttings from tipping over. Remember that it may take up to two months or longer for a developed root system to grow.
Troubleshooting Common Health Issues
While ZZ plants have minimal care requirements, neglecting or overdoing them can also cause issues for your plant. Let’s go over the common problems you can experience with your ZZ plant and how to fix them:
This is one of the most common problems when taking care of ZZ plants. It could happen for two reasons.
The first reason is if your plant is waterlogged. If you water your ZZ plant more often than necessary, excess water will limit the supply of oxygen to the roots, drowning the plant in the process.
The second reason is a compact soil mixture. Poorly-draining soil can also store unneeded moisture, preventing oxygen from aerating within the soil mixture and the plant’s root system.
This puts the root system in distress and leads to root rot, which can eventually affect the stems of your ZZ plant.
If you suspect that your ZZ plant is experiencing root rot, some signs to look for are yellowing leaves, brown tips on new leaf growth, and stems starting to droop.
In addition to this, you may also notice an unpleasant smell coming from the roots.
To fix this:
Remove the plant from its pot and inspect the roots and rhizomes. If they’re brown or mushy, remove any affected areas with a sterile knife.
Rinse the roots of your ZZ plant to get rid of any affected soil. Then, ensure that you’re using a well-draining soil mix and repot the plant in fresh soil.
Once you’re done, place the plant in an area with indirect sunlight, and make sure to water when the top inch of the soil is completely dry.
Monitor the plant over a few months for any signs of new growth.
Every time you water your ZZ plant, a tiny bit of the soil is washed away and the top part of the rhizomes may become exposed. While this isn’t a sign of an unhealthy ZZ plant, it’s important to address it as early as possible.
Aside from the rhizomes, you may also notice part of the roots showing. This can be an indication that your plant has become rootbound.
Once you see a rhizome or root bulb showing, you can gently remove your plant from its pot and transfer it to a bigger pot. Cover it with enough soil just until the rhizomes are no longer in view.
Be careful not to cover the stem with too much soil as this may lead to stem rot.
If you see brown tips, especially on new growth, this can be caused by a few factors:
- Overwatering: If the tips are soft and limp, stop further watering until the soil becomes completely dry. Additionally, check that there are enough drainage holes where excess water can escape.
- Low humidity: ZZ plants prefer average humidity. If there’s low humidity inside your home, try using a humidifier or occasionally misting your ZZ plant.
- Underwatering: While overwatering causes soft and limp tips, underwatering can lead to crisp and dry leaves. Regularly monitor the dryness of the soil, and water when necessary.
- Too hot or too cold temperatures: If your ZZ plant is placed near drafty windows or any appliances, they can also cause the plant to turn brown. You can use a digital thermometer to check that the plant is placed in an area with ideal temperatures.
- Direct sunlight: ZZ plants easily experience extreme water loss when placed under direct sunlight. To fix this, place the plant in a bright but shaded area.
If your indoor ZZ plant isn’t showing any new growth, the most probable cause is it isn’t getting sufficient light. Try to move it near a window where it can receive indirect light.
If it’s not still sprouting new leaves, there could be other problems causing it.
First, rootbound plants will refuse to produce new leaves. Therefore, inspect if the roots are already showing on the drainage hole. If this happens, replant your ZZ plant in a larger pot or container. Then, make sure that there are no pests that are feeding on its foliage.
Aside from this, you can also ensure that the plant is properly fertilized during the growing season. Note that overfertilizing can prevent new growth too.
Finally, if you’ve just replanted or purchased your ZZ plant, don’t worry. It’ll take new plants 4-6 weeks to acclimate to their environment before they can show signs of new growth.
Yellowing leaves on ZZ plants can be caused by overwatering. They don’t need that much water to survive.
To prevent this from happening, only water your ZZ plant as needed. If they retain “wet feet”, it can cause root rot and the eventual death of your plant.
However, consider other potential causes of the yellowing, such as underwatering or irregular fertilizing.
If the soil looks parched, it’s best to start slowly watering it, but do this step sparingly. Once the soil becomes dry, water it like normal.
Then, keep in mind that your ZZ plant needs to be fertilized to encourage growth. They absorb nutrients from the fertilizers best during the growing season.
Although it rarely happens, there can still be pests that could affect your ZZ plant. Some of these pests are aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects.
These insects suck on the foliage which leads to leaf curling, yellowing, and stunted growth. Once the insects have affected a large area of the plant, they’ll produce honeydew which will then attract ants and will speed up fungus growth.
First, aphid infestations usually happen to outdoor ZZ plants. They’re green, yellow, or black insects with oval-shaped bodies, with long legs and antennae.
Mealybugs, on the other hand, are insects covered by cotton-like fibers. These are usually found in stems, undersides of the leaves, or root systems of your ZZ plant.
Lastly, scale insects are oval-shaped pests that harden into a brown shell-like covering when they mature. Before you treat the plant, you have to pick these off of the foliage.
To treat your ZZ plants from pests, spray the foliage with a neem oil solution or an insecticidal soap. After which, regularly monitor your plants for any recurrence.
To maintain your foliage, it’s recommended to wipe the leaves and stems with a damp cloth regularly. Not only will it keep pests at bay, but it’ll also maintain the leaves’ shine.
Taking care of a ZZ plant is straightforward. It needs very little attention once its growing conditions are met.
Always remember to place it in low-light areas, water it once the soil is completely dry, and fertilize it monthly when the growing season begins.
By doing these steps and monitoring it for any health issues, you can ensure that your ZZ plant will grow happily inside your home or outdoors.
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.