ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are famous for being easy to care for as they thrive in conditions other plant species won’t tolerate. In addition, they have vibrant green leaves that can brighten any indoor space, making them attractive houseplants. By providing your ZZ plant adequate care, you can have a happy, healthy plant in your home for many years.
The basic care requirements a ZZ plant should have are adequate sunlight and a proper watering routine. Regular fertilization also sets the plant up for success, giving it the vital nutrients it needs. Also, dividing an overgrown plant or treating pest problems can improve its overall health.
As your ZZ plant adapts to your home and begins to grow, it is essential to know when it needs to be repotted or divided. You should know the indications of stress in your ZZ plant, what they mean, and how to treat them. All of this and more will be discussed in detail in this article.
1. Give Your ZZ Plant the Right Amount of Light
ZZ plants are trendy houseplants because they aren’t fussy. Tough and adaptable by nature, there are very few conditions that a ZZ plant can’t tolerate. Having said that, there are some conditions that this plant prefers.
This plant thrives best under low light conditions. They can grow in bright spaces as long as they receive adequate shade from intense sunlight. Replicating these conditions in the home environment can help improve the plant’s growing conditions.
Natural vs. Artificial Light Sources
You can grow a ZZ plant in a bright room but keep it at a suitable distance from glass doors or windows. You can place the plant on the center table in the living room or on the kitchen counter.
I have one of mine put on a table across the room from a window that receives bright morning sunlight year-round.
If you have a north-facing window or an east-facing window with adequate shade or curtains, you can place your potted ZZ plant next to it.
Alternatively, you can use artificial light sources. For instance, if the plant is in an office setting with bright fluorescent lights on all day, you don’t need to place it close to a window.
How Will You Know if the Light Is Right?
You’ll know when your plant isn’t getting enough sunlight when it starts leaning toward the light source. With this in mind, rotating the plant by 90° every 2-3 days will help ensure the foliage on all sides receives enough light.
Forgetting to turn your pot for a few weeks won’t immediately cause the plant to begin to point in the direction of the light source. This is due to the ZZ plant’s slow-growing nature. You can still rotate the plant at that time.
If your ZZ plant maintains its bright green color, that is the best indication that the light is adequate. However, when the plant begins to display yellowing leaves, this could indicate too little or too much sunlight.
Evaluate the actual cause carefully. The subtle differences between too much and too little light can be seen if you look closely. For example, if you see yellowing leaves coupled with dry brown tips or spots, that can signify sunburn from too much bright light.
In contrast, yellow leaves that appear wrinkly may be a sign that your plant needs more sunlight.
2. Give Your ZZ Plant the Best Watering Regimen
ZZ plants are a favorite among home gardeners because they’re relatively low-maintenance from a watering standpoint. The plant is far more tolerant of dry roots than wet roots, so if you are going to err on one side, it’s best to err on the side of underwatering.
Depending on the humidity levels in your home, ZZ plants only require watering every 2-3 weeks on average. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and you should still make adjustments based on the weather changes in your area and the condition of the soil in the pot.
You can inspect the soil for moisture using your fingers or a soil moisture meter. The plant is likely ready for additional water if the soil is dry at least 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) down.
The frequency will change as seasons change. When heat or air conditioning is running and the air is drier, you’ll find that the plant needs to be watered a bit more frequently. However, in the off-season, when days are shorter, the plant enters a period of dormancy.
When the plant is dormant, it is storing energy in the roots and doesn’t necessarily want to be stimulated for growth. During this time of year, only water as much and as frequently as necessary and no more.
Interestingly, this season coincides with the heat running more often, which creates a more dry environment than usual. In most places, this additional drying results in a similar watering regimen during the time of year when the plant is active.
As is the case with checking by hand to see that your plant is ready for more water, check a bit deeper during the dormant period to ensure the soil and roots have thoroughly dried out between waterings.
You can use a chopstick to gently probe the earth. Avoid applying additional pressure when it meets resistance because it’s often a sign that there are roots just below that area.
You can carefully stick the wooden chopstick 3 inches (7.5 cm) away from the base of the plant and see if it comes out dry. If it does, it’s about time to water your plant.
You can also set an alarm to remind yourself to check the soil every ten days after watering and adjust it accordingly depending on the wetness of the soil.
3. Use the Right Pot for Your ZZ Plant
Another critical step to ensuring your plant is getting the correct amount of water is ensuring it is in the appropriate type of pot. There are so many options now that it’s easy to get caught up in choosing a pot for aesthetics, but picking the correct pot should be the foremost consideration.
Plants either come in a thin, plastic disposable pot used at the greenhouse or a solid-bottomed pot that is decorative. Both types of pots aren’t suitable for ZZ plants, especially as long-term growing containers.
ZZ plants are not flood tolerant, so they should be grown in fast-draining soil. They live in an environment where water drains through their root systems and out of their soil quickly. This is to say that they like water but don’t like to sit in wet, soggy soil. Otherwise, they might suffer from root rot and other fungal or pest problems.
Here are some pots often used for growing houseplants:
A solid-bottomed pot is often made of ceramic, which isn’t porous. The absence of drainage holes at the bottom prevents the soil from quickly draining water away from the root system. Leaving your ZZ plant in such a container for a long period of time will eventually lead to plant death.
Aesthetically, ceramic pots without drainage holes are popular among experienced gardeners who have the skills and dedication necessary to monitor and maintain plant health. Solid-bottomed ceramic pots also don’t require messy plant saucers and won’t leave stains on your tabletops.
That said, you can plant a ZZ Plant in a solid-bottomed pot, but it is not recommended for a novice gardener. The plant is just a bit too unforgiving when it comes to overwatering. If you dedicate yourself to a watering schedule and commit to manually checking the soil moisture before every watering, you can grow a ZZ Plant in this pot.
Thin Plastic Pots
ZZ plants are often sold in their greenhouse pots, which are thin, recycled plastic pots with plenty of drainage holes at the bottom. However, while these pots should drain water freely, the soil can sometimes become compacted, and water can take a bit to percolate down to the roots.
Still, in dry climates or when forced air systems are running, the soil is more prone to quick drying in this type of pot. Plastic, particularly thin plastic, does nothing to aid the plant in retaining moisture.
While the thin plastic pot won’t retain water, it could lead to more frequent watering and other problems in the plant. These types of pots are often undersized, too. Therefore, it’s always best to repot your store-bought ZZ plant into an appropriate pot with fresh soil a few days after purchase.
Terracotta Pot With Drip Tray
Terracotta pots are a classic and are so readily available for good reason. They’re cost-effective, sturdy, and handsome. The material is also ideal for many plant species and can be an excellent choice for a ZZ plant if the conditions are right.
Unglazed terracotta is made from clay, a semi-porous material that allows water to escape through the pot. This can be really helpful in keeping ZZ plant roots a bit on the dry side since they don’t like their roots to stay wet for very long.
Moving a ZZ plant from another type of pot to a terracotta pot can result in changes to the plant’s watering needs because of the porosity of the pot itself. As is best practice anyway, be sure to check the soil manually and regularly between waterings to ensure you aren’t over or underwatering the plant.
Ceramic or Glazed Pot With Drip Tray
Most gardening centers sell a plethora of ceramic or glazed pots on fixed or separate drip trays, but you have to look carefully to be sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom. Some ceramic pots have an affixed drip tray that is aesthetic only, not functional.
Ceramic or glazed pots have the thickness to help slow down the drying process in the root system combined with the benefits of a drainage hole to keep water from soaking around the roots.
The glaze prevents water loss through the pot, holding moisture longer than unglazed terracotta.
Many people prefer solid-bottomed pots because they can be placed on any surface without fear of causing water damage. The same is true for a glazed pot with a drip tray, as long as you are careful not to overwater the plant.
One way to prevent water from spilling out of the drip tray due to overwatering is to water the plant in a sink or a tub. You can water and soak the plant thoroughly, holding the plant up to allow the water to drain freely from the bottom drain holes.
After you have watered the plant and allowed the water to drain freely out the bottom, you can set the pot in the sink or tub to dry a bit more before setting it back in its drip tray. This keeps water from accumulating in the drip tray and helps to keep the surface underneath from getting water damage.
This sink or tub method is the most effective and natural way to water a ZZ plant. It also ensures the plant isn’t sitting in standing water around the roots. It’s a great way to water all plants and can be a new process to integrate into your houseplant watering regimen.
Self-watering pots have become a popular item in the last decade or so. They’re so easy to use and for the most forgiving plants, these pots make it nearly impossible to mess up your watering routine.
Having said that, the plants must be the suitable species with the proper water tolerance to thrive in a self-watering pot.
These pots have a large water reservoir at the bottom. You can water the plant by generally watering from the top, allowing the excess to pool, or filling the water reservoir, allowing the plant to suck up water from the root system.
These types of pots are great for plants that don’t mind wet feet or damp soil around their root systems. They are also suitable for plants that can’t or shouldn’t be watered from the top, such as African violets.
For plants that don’t like wet feet, like the ZZ plant, this type of pot can do more damage than good. It is designed to keep the soil around the roots damp for long periods, which is highly detrimental to the ZZ plant.
Unless you plan to empty the drip reservoir after you water, I recommend you skip the self-watering pot for ZZ plants. Save it for other plant species that require higher humidity and like the soil to stay damp between waterings.
4. Fertilize Your ZZ Plant Regularly
Another commonly skipped step in ZZ plant care and maintenance is regular fertilization. It’s easy to get into a routine of watering your plants and forget that there is more than that.
ZZ plants generally don’t require much maintenance besides placing them in an area with adequate light and watering them every two to three weeks. These plants can thrive despite occasional neglect, making them ideal for novice gardeners.
Therefore, you might not realize your ZZ plant is hungry for nutrients until it starts showing symptoms. Remember that fertilization should be a part of preventative maintenance, not an act that is done as corrective maintenance.
People often use fertilizer as a way to perk up a plant that is under stress. These plant owners need to realize that occasional fertilization can be a way to prevent the pressure on the plant in the first place.
A regular schedule for fertilizing your ZZ plant is an essential step in the care routine.
How Often To Fertilize ZZ Plants
Many will tell you that fertilizing monthly is critical, but I’m more of a “less is more” plant parent. With all things, I do less rather than overdo it because the damage to the plant is more brutal to undo once you have overdone it.
I apply this principle to light, water, fertilizer, and repotting. I only do things when necessary and try to do slightly less than recommended.
ZZ plants can thrive for years under a fertilization regimen of twice per growing season. The only exception is if you have to divide or repot the plant. At that time, you must also fertilize the plant to give it the nutrient boost and set the root system up for success.
When To Fertilize ZZ Plants
Choosing the correct time of year to fertilize your ZZ plant is just as important as fertilizing it enough with the right fertilizer and at the right concentration. Remember that you want to avoid fertilizing the plant during its period of dormancy.
When the plant is dormant, it’s not putting energy into creating new roots or leaves. It stores nutrients for the upcoming growing season. If you fertilize during that period of dormancy, it is a signal for the plant to wake up and start producing new roots and shoots.
If done too early, it can set the plant up for stress towards the end of the growing season or cause the roots or new growth to fail if there isn’t adequate light to photosynthesize properly. This is why waiting for the time when days start to get noticeably longer and slightly warmer is best for the plant.
You should fertilize your ZZ plant right at the start of each growing season. This gives the plant a boost as it starts to become more productive. It can also signal your plant to begin the growth cycle if it’s still lagging in that dormancy period.
The second fertilization comes about midway through the growing season. It’s just adding a bit more nutrients to get the plant through the remainder of the growing season without additional stress and strain on all of the plant’s systems.
It is vital to avoid fertilizing your ZZ plant after the end of the growing season. Doing so could signal the plant that you want it to continue to grow and produce new growth. It can be counterproductive since your plant should focus on storing energy instead of expending it on growth.
Best Fertilizer for ZZ Plant
Fertilizing plants is a very natural process. In nature, organic matter breaks down above ground and adds vital nutrients to the soil, which in turn feeds plants when it rains. Fertilizer is intended to replicate this process.
Knowing this, it’s best to find an organic fertilizer that replicates this process as closely as possible with the best ingredients for the plant. Chemical fertilizers are okay but can have adverse consequences for the plant long-term.
There are plenty of options on the market, but you can find a cost-effective, safe, natural organic fertilizer that works wonders on houseplants and can also be used in the garden with excellent results.
5. Divide, Repot, or Propagate Your ZZ Plant
One essential function of keeping a healthy ZZ plant is knowing when and how to divide and repot your plant. I will go into some of the basics in this section, but for a more in-depth explanation, check out my other article on the topic: How to Know When a ZZ Plant Needs Repotting
When You Should Divide or Repot Your Plant
One of the critical features of ZZ plants that you should remember is that the plant prefers to be somewhat snug in its pot. They don’t like to be rootbound, but they won’t thrive in an oversized pot with too much space around the root system.
Once you see that your ZZ plant has overgrown its pot and doesn’t seem to be creating any new growth, that’s a good sign that it’s time to divide or repot it into a larger container. Another sign to look out for is if the roots start to appear on the soil’s surface, indicating they have nowhere else to move in the pot. Your ZZ plant can even fail to stand up because its bulbs get exposed, and the stems get too heavy.
If you are simply repotting the plant, choose a pot that is just one size up from the current pot. Again, they only like a little free space, so buying a larger pot, thinking you’ll save yourself from having to repot again in the future, is likely to cause more problems later on.
If you decide to divide, begin by buying a second pot the same size as the original. If the pot seems oversized for half of the plant, you can get two smaller pots than the original.
Pro-tip: Choose a pot that provides 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of space around the base of the plant from the lip of the pot. It’s also best to use a pot with a wider mouth to make it easier to take out your plant whenever you need to repot it.
How To Divide and Repot ZZ Plants
When dividing or repotting a plant, choose a day in the growing season when the plant has been watered in the last week but not in the previous 48 hours. You want the roots and soil to be partly dry. Avoid repotting a ZZ plant if the soil is completely saturated or totally dried out.
- Dig around the edges of the pot carefully to avoid damaging or breaking the fragile roots.
- Loosen the soil and place your palm on it (facing down).
- Secure the plant’s stem between your fingers.
- Flip the pot over and catch the rootball on your palm.
- Shake away the soil from the rootball gently.
- Fill the lower third of the new pot with fresh soil.
- Place the entire plant inside.
- Fill in around the sides with fresh soil and add enough soil to the top to bring it within ½ to 1 inch (1.25-2.5 cm) below the top of the pot.
- Water the soil lightly and add fertilizer when necessary.
If the potting mix lacks essential nutrients, you can dilute the fertilizer in water before feeding the plant. This will give the plant a boost of nutrients, telling it that it’s time to produce more growth, which the plant can now do in its slightly larger environment.
Like when repotting, remove the plant from its pot by tipping it upside down, supporting the plant with the palm of your hand, and allowing it to slide out into your hand. Be sure to avoid pulling the plant out of the pot.
Gently pull dirt away from the plant, allowing it to drop away from the roots and bulbs. You want to gently remove as much of the soil as possible before dividing the plants.
Once you have removed enough soil to see the bulbs and roots clearly, you can follow the steps below:
- Use your fingers to gently pry even pieces of the plant, one into each hand. You can use your thumbs to help gently disentangle the roots from each other. Go slowly, taking care not to break roots or tear pieces of the plant away from the other parts. This occasionally goes quickly, but most often is a slow, painstaking process. Take your time and do this gently to save the plant from shock and possible mortality after you replant it.
- Prepare the new pot and fresh soil. Once you have gently separated the plant into two distinct and evenly-sized plants, you are ready to place them in their new pots. Place a few inches of soil in the bottom of each new pot. Set the new plants on top of the soil, filling new soil in on all sides and more on top.
- Don’t press the dirt down firmly. You want the soil loose now to give the roots enough space to grow and encourage air circulation.
- Water both divisions with a mix of water and organic fertilizer. This will help compact the soil on top of the plant.
If needed, add more soil to the top of the pot, again taking care not to press it down. You want the soil to be loose and only to get compacted through watering.
Propagating New ZZ Plants
You can propagate new ZZ plants easily. You can either divide off a single stalk and bulb along with its root system to start a new plant or create a new start from a cutting.
To propagate a new ZZ plant from a cutting, follow the steps below:
- Cut a plant stalk just above the soil line, perpendicular to the soil. If you’re going to use a shorter cutting, cut portions of the base of the stalk after removing it from the plant.
- Place the cutting in the water. Alternatively, you can dip it in a rooting compound before placing it in water. The rooting compound isn’t required, but some gardeners believe it helps the cuttings establish roots more quickly.
- Move the setup to a place with bright but indirect sunlight. ZZ Plants don’t like direct sunlight, and the cuttings are no different. They do need some indirect light in order to photosynthesize and generate roots, so keep them close to a light source without being directly hit by the light.
From here, all you need is patience. It can take several months before you see root growth on your cutting. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure your ZZ plant survives propagation:
- Ensure that the bottom few inches of the cutting are in the water.
- Replace the water every three days.
- Observe the cutting and make sure it doesn’t turn black.
Once you begin to see roots, it can be exhilarating, and you may want to plant the cutting immediately. Resist this urge and give the cutting more time to establish a more robust root system.
If your ZZ plant has several roots that are more than one inch (2.5 cm) in length, you are ready to put your cutting in the soil.
- Place the cutting in a prepared pot and be sure the roots are covered with at least one to two inches (2.5-5 cm) of soil.
- Water lightly with water and organic fertilizer to help the roots establish.
- Keep the soil moist around the cutting for at least two to four weeks, which helps reduce the shock of the cutting going from water to dry soil.
7. Troubleshoot Problems With Your ZZ Plant
Occasionally, you’ll see problems with your ZZ Plant that you need clarification on the cause and treatment. It’s helpful to inspect your plants regularly to see what’s happening with them and what changes have occurred so you can pinpoint an issue when it starts.
The vast majority of problems people have with ZZ plants are around watering regimens, with the most frequent issue being overwatering. The next most common complication with ZZ plants deals with light. I’ll talk about those problems and more in this section.
Poor watering practices can result in discolored leaves among ZZ plants. Remember that ZZ plants are priced for their verdant foliage, so having yellow or brown leaves and even leaves with holes can be alarming for home gardeners.
This is why you should check your plant manually every time before watering it. This means pushing your finger several inches below the soil surface to gauge the moisture levels rather than just touching the surface. If you follow this advice, you’re far less likely to over or underwater your ZZ Plant.
ZZ plant leaves naturally have bright to deep shades of green. If your plant starts to take on more of a pale shade, it likely needs to get more light. On the other hand, the plant probably gets too much light if they have dry brown spots.
You should always avoid placing your ZZ plant in direct sunlight. Doing so will scorch the leaves and cause damage to the plant, which is difficult, if not entirely impossible, to reverse. ZZ plants can’t endure even the briefest bit of direct sunlight at any time of the day.
Placing your pot near or adjacent to a curtained window is ideal for your ZZ plant and will often be adequate for the plant to thrive.
Over time, plants can start to grow in one direction, often toward their light source. If you see your ZZ plant starting to “reach” for a window, it’s time to start turning your plant. Turning your plant is a simple way to keep growth in balance.
To keep things simple, turn your plant by a quarter every few days. If you forget about it, just give it a one-quarter turn the next time you remember to do so. You want to balance the plant gradually, not shocking or stressing the plant by making significant changes to its light or location.
No New Growth
At certain times, you may see stunted growth in your ZZ plant. This is to be expected while the plant is dormant and towards the very end of the growing season. Even during the growing season, ZZ plants are naturally slow growers.
But what if your plant stops growing altogether?
This is most frequently a sign that the plant needs to be divided or repotted. If the plant looks pretty crowded in its pot, it’s time to move it to a pot one size bigger or divide the plant into two smaller or equal-sized pots.
Sometimes, although the plant still appears snug in its pot, the soil might have become compacted. One sign is if it takes longer to dry out. Leaving your plant in such a condition can deprive it of nutrients and put it at risk of root rot.
You can try amending the soil with compost to add nutrients and improve the texture. Depending on the condition of the soil, the plant may need new potting soil to give it the necessary nutrients.
When this happens, repotting is the best course of correction for the plant.
Bugs and Pests
Sometimes, you may see tiny pests walking or buzzing around your houseplants. These are common and often come with a plant from the store or the greenhouse. Fortunately, they are easy to treat and prevent.
Frequently, bug infestations correlate with overwatering, so keeping your plant to a solid watering schedule and only watering when it is truly dry is the best prevention.
You can easily find sticky traps for plant bugs at gardening stores. These are a great way to address the bugs, but they don’t deal with the underlying issue of overwatering and don’t treat any larvae that may be in the soil, waiting to hatch.
Beneficial nematodes are an excellent organic solution that can keep your plants happy and healthy for years. Nematodes are most frequently used in lawns to treat pest species. I use them to control my yard’s fleas, ticks, and grubs. They are an excellent treatment that can be used on houseplants as an effective tool to deal with bugs and pests on your ZZ plant.
With any issue seen in your ZZ plant, the best action is often small tweaks or adjustments. Significant shifts or adjustments can cause additional plant stress. This is especially true if you are still determining the cause of the problem in the first place.
ZZ plants are beautiful, bright, and easy houseplants to have. They add so much beauty, color, and texture to a room. Also, houseplants help clean your air, and many find the presence of nature in the home calming.
With just a little time and dedication to a good routine, you could have your ZZ plant for many years. You can even propagate more ZZ plants to be used as gifts for others, spreading the joy of gardening and keeping houseplants far beyond the walls of your own home.