What is proper ZZ plant care? How much light is enough, and how long can a ZZ plant go without water? Are you wondering what are ZZ plant temperature needs and how to propagate it? In this ZZ plant care guide, we covered all of this and much more – including when to fertilize and how to repot your plant.
Botanical Name/Latin Name: Zamioculcas Zamiifolia
Common name: ZZ plant
What Light Requirements Does a ZZ Plant Have
Minimal amount of light: 50 Lux (5 FC)
Optimal amount of light: 750+ lux (75+ FC)
Direct sunlight tolerance: 3-4 hours
Light category: Low light tolerant (prefers bright indirect light)
ZZ Plant is adaptable to different light levels, ranging from 50 lux (5 foot candles), which is very low indirect light, to 25,000 lux (2,500 foot candles), and can even endure a couple of hours of direct sunlight. Bright indirect light over 3,000 lux (300 foot candles) is ideal for this houseplant (the more, the better). At the same time, ZZ Plant can tolerate very low light. So, as you can see, it’s a very non-fussy plant when it comes to light requirements.
A close-up of a ZZ Plant in my former place of employment, Little Leaf plant shop in Washington DC
Although this indoor plant is tolerant of very low indirect light, you cannot expect much more from it in such conditions than bare survival and very little growth. If you cannot provide your ZZ Plant with optimal light conditions (bright indirect light), expose it to grow lights. Use this Grow Light Finder to find the perfect grow light for your ZZ Plant.
More ZZ Plants at Little Leaf
How to Water ZZ Plants
ZZ plants are well-known for their remarkable ability to survive long periods of time without any water, up to 4 months, in low light conditions! How is this possible?
ZZ plants store water in their potato-like tubers, leaves, and petioles, which enables them to survive long periods without water. However, like all living beings, they do need water once in a while.
Treat this indoor plant as a succulent in terms of watering. Water when the soil dries out fully all the way to the bottom of the pot. Don’t have a strict watering schedule. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the soil gets completely dry and then saturate the soil fully. Since ZZ plants store water in their leaves and stems, be careful to not overwater them, or the roots will rot. However, if you are providing ZZ plants with a lot of light, roots will be able to use the moisture from the soil, so overwatering, in this case, is less of an issue.
Often times the soil gets compacted over time and when you water it, the water just runs through the soil and around the edges of the pot. In that case, let the ZZ plant sit in water for a while, so the soil can absorb it and the soil saturates fully.
ZZ Plant by Uljana Maljutina, Unsplash
If your ZZ Plant spent a lot of time without any water and you find the soil is very dry and compacted, it may be hard to water it properly and the plant will inevitably begin to suffer. This happened to a ZZ Plant that was brought to me and I managed to recover it. The water would just make the top half-inch of the soil wet and would just run down the sides of the pot. The water would only reach a few of the rhizomes and as a result, the remaining rhizomes and stems started to get shriveled and the leaves started to yellow.
There are two possible solutions for a situation like this:
- Aerate the soil by taking a chopstick and poking the soil in different spots, making the soil less compacted.
- Let the plant sit in water for up to a few hours, so the soil fully saturates.
- Or do both
If there are any yellow leaves, let them turn brown and fall off so the plant can take mobile nutrients from them. If the plant is lush and has plenty of leaves left, it’s ok to even cut off these yellow leaves. The small amount of nutrients they will lose is nothing compared to the amount stored in the rest of the plant. Repot the plant in a terracotta pot, and thoroughly soak the soil. In this case, I let the plant sit in a tray full of water for about 30 minutes.
ZZ Plant Soil
I use a mix of peat moss-based potting mix, perlite, and bark for my ZZ Plant. I use 50% potting mix, and the remaining 50% are perlite and bark. As a quick and easy solution, you can use this Succulent & Cacti Mix straight out of the bag. This mix is already well-draining, so there is no need to add any other ingredients.
How to Fertilize Your Zamioculcas Zamiifolia
If you repot your Zamioculcas zamiifolia every year, there won’t be any need to fertilize it additionally, because all the needed nutrients it will get from the fresh soil. If you do want to fertilize, you can do it during the growing season, and for that purpose, you can use a succulent fertilizer.
How to Repot a ZZ Plant
Here’s how to repot a ZZ Plant.
- Make a potting mix of peat moss, perlite, and bark.
- Select an appropriate pot by getting the next pot size. If your plant is in a 4” pot, get a 6” one.
- Use the flat side of the root rake or another similar tool to separate the soil from the pot around Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, then take it out of its pot and lightly loosen the rootball, untangle and trim the roots if needed. Remember to only prune roots if they are dead, rotting, or diseased (soft, mushy, smelly). Otherwise, never prune healthy roots as you would just be removing storage of plant food, ie. sugars. If you want to keep the plant in the same pot size, then you can prune healthy roots when repotting, but you would need to keep in mind the consequences – the plant will be stressed and oftentimes this will slow or stop growing for a certain period of time until it recovers from the stress and regrows some of the roots.
- Fill ⅓ of the new pot with the potting mix you made, put the plant in, and fill the remaining space with the mix.
- Press the soil around the houseplant firmly and water thoroughly, so the soil can settle down and get in contact with the roots.
However, have in mind that peat moss is hydrophobic, meaning that once it gets dry, it repels water, and it’s difficult to get it wet again. After watering, even though you thoroughly watered and the water drained through the hole, when you check the soil, it will probably be dry underneath the surface.
What to do in a situation like this?
First, mist the topsoil. If you don’t do this, it will be very hard to get the topsoil moist. As you water, those dry particles will keep running away. But if you mist the topsoil and then put the plant under a stream of running water, everything will be fine. Fill up the pot, give it 10 to 20 seconds for the water to drain out, and then repeat multiple times, until all of the soil is well saturated. You can use a chopstick to check if the soil beneath the surface got wet.
You can see in the video below on how I repotted a ZZ Plant.
If you would like to learn more about how to repot a houseplant and the difference between potting up and a full report, I have a detailed article on the topic.
How to Propagate a ZZ Plant
ZZ Plants are super easy to propagate. Even in commercial production, no rooting hormone is used. Usually, they are propagated vegetatively, through rhizome division or leaf or stem cuttings.
These leaves started propagating after about a month and a half; you can see small tubers forming at the bottom of the leaves.
Wondering how to propagate ZZ Plant?
Here are 4 methods and detailed instructions for each.
Leaf Cuttings in Soil Propagation Method
- There is no need to wait for the leaves to callus, start propagating right away.⠀⠀
- Insert a leaf in the soil. You can pot 4 leaves in one 4-inch diameter pot. Cover the pot with a transparent plastic bag to keep humidity high. If you decide not to use a bag, keep the soil moist at all times. You want to reach humidity levels between 50% and 95%.⠀⠀
- For best results, the temperature should be between 24C and 32C (75.F to 89.6F) and light between 5,000 and 10,000 lux. In about 4 weeks you should see a small rhizome forming at the end of the leaf.⠀
Leaf Cuttings in Water Propagation Method⠀⠀
- Put the leaf in water
- Replace water once a week or as soon as it gets dirty
- Light and temperature should be the same as for the soil propagation method.
After a few weeks of water propagation, ZZ plants will start growing a rhizome at the end of the stem, which will after a while start producing new stems.⠀⠀
Stem Cuttings in Soil Propagation Method
- You can pot 3 to 5 stems in one 4-6-inch pot.⠀⠀
- The guidance on temperature, humidity, and light is the same as for the two propagation methods above.
- However, stem cuttings offer no advantage over leaf cuttings, because they actually take more time to grow rhizomes. This is because rhizomes will start forming only after the whole cut surface has been covered by callus tissue, which depends on the diameter of the stem and can take more than a month.⠀⠀
Stem Cuttings in Water Propagation Method
- After you put the stem cutting in water, everything is the same as in Leaf Water Propagation Method explained above.
Have in mind that a ZZ Plant is a slow grower, even in perfect conditions, and the larger the rhizome, the more shoots will be produced. Generally, a houseplant for sale can be produced in 8 to 12 months from the moment you pot rhizomes.
You can also see my ZZ propagation video below.
How to Plant Water Propagated ZZ Leaves
Nine months after I propagated these ZZ leaves in water, they developed some roots and tiny tubers, so I potted them in a well-draining mix of peat moss and perlite in a terracotta pot, so the mix can dry out faster.
Here’s how I did it.
You can pot the leaves in the soil as soon as they grow 1 to 2 inches of roots. You can put only the roots and the newly formed tuber under the soil or you can even plant the leaves halfway into the soil. I would recommend that you plant the leaves halfway into the soil so they can stand more firmly and it will be less likely for them to move when you water them.
When potting young leaves, make sure to press the soil firmly around the leaves, as the roots need to be in contact with the soil. As soon as you pot the leaves, water the soil thoroughly. If needed, do it a couple of times, as you want to make sure the soil is soaked and there are no air pockets.
Give them plenty of bright light (over 3,000 lux, but the more the better. If you can provide 10,000 lux, that will be great) and water regularly. The roots and the tuber are still tiny, they still can’t hold a lot of water, so you will have to water more often than an adult ZZ Plant. But bear in mind that the plant is succulent, so at this stage, you should wait for the soil to fully dry out before watering.
Just know that ZZ is a slow grower. Generally, you should expect up to a year for leaves to produce new shoots. Light and warmth are important, but patience is the key. :) And always remember that not every cutting will propagate successfully. If you have a 50% rate, that’s great.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia photo by Kadarius Seegars, Unsplash
Zanzibar Gem Temperature Needs
Zanzibar Gem (ZZ plants) best enjoy temperature ranges between 65F (18C) to 80F (27C).
Zamioculcas Zamiifolia Humidity Requirements
Preferred humidity levels for Zamioculcas zamiifolia are between 50% and 95%, but don’t worry too much about humidity. This indoor plant adapts well to low humidity and will grow just fine even in homes with low humidity.
FAQ About How to Grow ZZ Plants
How often should I water my ZZ Plant?
This depends on a lot of factors – the amount of light (low light, medium light, bright light), potting mix (tropical or succulent mix, percentage of perlite and other amendments in the mix…), type of pot you are using (terracota vs. plastic or ceramic), humidity, size of your ZZ plants and many other factors. This makes it impossible to give an answer that applies to everyone. Each person’s home and environment is different. One person will water their ZZ plants every two weeks, while another person might water those same plants every 4 days. If the first person tried to do that, the plants would rot and die.
Instead of having a strict watering schedule, make sure the soil is fully dry before watering your ZZ plants again.
How can I tell if I am overwatering my ZZ Plant?
Soft and mushy stems can mean that you’re overwatering your ZZ Plant. However, any symptoms your ZZ Plant shows need to be analyzed and the plant should be properly diagnosed so you can take the right steps toward the plant’s recovery. To rule out the issues with watering, make sure you don’t water your ZZ Plant until its soil is completely dry (and then a bit more). What always helps to avoid overwatering is increasing the amount of light (more light means more photosynthesis and plant using up water from the soil faster) and having a well-draining potting mix (a well-draining mix will contain a lot of macropores with oxygen, which is crucial for roots to be able to breathe, and will retain less water, so the roots will spend less time in a wet environment, reducing chances of root rot).
How can I tell if I am underwatering my ZZ Plant?
Underwatered ZZ Plant will show wrinkly stems and yellowing leaves, as well as overall droopiness. If the plant has spent a really long time without water, likely several months, it might even drop some of the leaves. This is what ZZ plants do in their natural environment during long periods of droughts. You may also find that the soil is very dry and compacted, and you may have trouble watering your ZZ Plant thoroughly, meaning the water cannot reach all the parts of the soil. In that case, use the solutions I proposed at the beginning of the article.
Can my ZZ tolerate really low indirect light?
ZZs can tolerate very low indirect light, as low as 50 lux (5 foot candles) but like all plants, the more light they get, the happier they will be and the faster they will grow. They can even tolerate a few hours of direct light. In low light, the stems will become droopy and the plant will not look as good as the ones in bright light (over 3,000 lux or 300 foot candles), or the ones that get a few hours of direct light (direct sunlight).
How often should I fertilize my ZZ?
If you repot your ZZ plants once a year, there will be no need to fertilize them, because they will receive all the nutrients they need from the soil. But if you don’t, feel free to fertilize it as long as the house plant is in active growth mode.
How often does my Zamioculcas Zamiifolia need to be repotted?
All house plants should be repotted once a year, which is suggested for ZZ plants as well. That way you are removing compacted, nutrient poor soil and providing fresh, non-compacted, nutrient-rich soil. Roots coming out through the drainage holes and curling up at the soil surface are also signs that your ZZ plants need to be repotted. But note that ZZ plants don’t mind being root bound. Even if root bound, ZZ plants will continue to grow until they break the pot.
Is ZZ Plant poisonous?
ZZ Plant belongs to the Aracaeae family, which means it contains calcium oxalate, toxic to pets if ingested. It can cause diarrhea and possibly vomiting but it shouldn’t be fatal.
Have More Questions about ZZ Plant Care?
If you’re having doubts or more questions regarding ZZ Plant care, please let me know in the comments below this article. You can also schedule a virtual one-on-one consultation with me and get the help you need.
Always happy to help!