I have two happy ZZ plants, and wow, I completely understand why the ZZ plant is so popular! It’s graceful and always healthy looking, with its shiny, waxy leaves and upright posture. It’s one of the plants that’s proven to remove toxins from indoor air. And it’s so easy to please! Like any plant, of course, Zamioculcas zamiifolia (that explains the ZZ) has its preferences. But really, you can grow this houseplant whether or not you have a green thumb. Here’s all you need to know about ZZ plant care:
The ZZ plant comes from Eastern Africa (it’s also known as Zanzibar Gem), where it’s hot, but it will do fine in most indoor settings. Don’t let it get below 45 degrees F, though — by leaving it outside on a cold spring night, for example.
The best light for your ZZ is bright, indirect light. But it’s not picky. It’ll do fine in low light, too — or even under fluorescent lighting, making it a popular choice for offices. Just don’t place it in full, direct sun, or you might give the leaves a sunburn.
Experts say it’s a slow grower, but the ZZs I brought home six months ago have grown quite a bit in our bright dining room. (They can reach 3 feet or more as indoor plants, and these are well on their way.) The plant may also bloom if given bright light, though the flowers are pretty unspectacular. (They are spadix-like, at the base, encased in the leaf.) Still, it’s always rewarding to see a flower of any kind on a houseplant, I think!
Okay, now — about the only way you can really do-in a ZZ is to overwater it! The ZZ is a semi-succulent. It stores water in the rhizomes under the soil. Too much water can cause the rhizomes and the stems to rot. Experts say the ZZ can go months without water. (I’ve not tested this and don’t recommend it, but it may be reassuring when you’re on a little vacation.)
While I water most of my plants weekly, I water the ZZs every other week. How often yours will need a drink will depend on how much light it’s getting and how dry the air is in your home. So the dry-soil test is the best way to go: Simply let the soil dry about three inches down between waterings.
ZZs do okay without much humidity, too. Although the plant is tropical, it does fine in the humidity of the average home unless it’s very dry — say in the winter, with the heat on. If you find that the air in your home is especially dry, you may want to mist your ZZ occasionally, or set it on a tray of pebbles that you keep water in.
The ZZ doesn’t need much fertilizing (no surprise, right?), but you can give it a balanced houseplant fertilizer in the spring, if you like. Don’t fertilize it year round. At the very most, feed it once a month during the summer.
Think of the ZZ stem as one big leaf. If you cut it off in the middle, it’s finished; it won’t grow from that spot. So if you need to prune your plant back (to cut off dead or damaged leaves, for example), prune the stem all the way to the soil line. New leaves grow from the rhizomes up through the soil.
Use clean scissors to cut your plant, and don’t trim off more than about 20 percent of the leaves at once, or you may shock the plant.
Repotting and Propagation
When repotting your ZZ, use a pot that’s just a little bigger than the previous pot. The pot shouldn’t be more than 1/3 wider than the root system.
ZZs can be propagated with leaf cuttings, but it takes a while. On the other hand, it’s easy to divide a ZZ plant into two (or more) plants. Simply divide up the rhizomes and plant them separately in well-draining potting soil. Make sure each pot has at least one good-sized rhizome to get started.
If your ZZ has brown leaves or many yellow lower leaves, you are probably overwatering it. A few lower leaves turning yellow is okay, though. Sometimes brown leaves are a sign of not enough water, which is hard to do with ZZ, but not impossible. Let the soil be your guide.
If only the tips of the leaves are brown, the plant may need more humidity. Another possibility is that the water you’re using to water it has too much chlorine. Let your tap water sit out overnight to help the minerals dissipate, or use filtered (not distilled) water.
If the leaves are curling or leaning away from the light source, the plant may be getting too much light. Too much light can also cause scalding or yellowing of leaves.
Caution: The ZZ plant is toxic. Make sure your pets and kids don’t get into it. Some people suffer skin irritation from the leaves, too. (I’m pretty sensitive to skin irritation and have never had any trouble handling ZZs, but maybe wear gloves when handling it — or at least wash your hands afterwards — to be cautious.)
The ZZ first appeared on the market as a houseplant about 15 years ago, when Dutch nurseries started commercially propagating it. Today, it’s one of the most popular house (and office) plants. Well done — and well deserved — ZZ.
Do you have a ZZ plant? How’s it doing?
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