How to Propagate a ZZ plant

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ZZ plants get a bit of an unfair rep for being hard to propagate. They’re lumped in with the slow coaches, like snake plants, that CAN be propagated, so long as you don’t mind waiting a cool half year for it to root.

Let me tell you, that was NOT my experience. My boy rooted FAST.

I love my ZZ plant. He came bursting into my life one Saturday. I got home from work around 11 pm and he was sat on the kitchen table.

My boyfriend had found him in Sainsbury’s, literally bursting out of his pot. I had to cut it off him, he was so wedged in.

ZZ roots are big and strong, and made short work of the plastic pot. Mine is currently in terracotta, and I haven’t checked the roots in months – I really should, since I don’t want him to burst out the pot when I’m mid-shower, two feet away from him.

My ZZ plant is big and has a growth pattern best described as ‘I grow how I damn like’ so i wasn’t really in the market to grow another. Still, in the interests of the blog, I thought I’d give it a go. The results were…surprising.

What’s the fastest way to propagate a ZZ plant?

The fastest way to propagate a ZZ plants is TECHNICALLY by division, since all the things like roots are already present, it’s just a case of splitting the plant in two.

I will go further in depth about dividing ZZ plants later on, but that’s not the method I want to cover here.

Sure, propagating by division is quick, but it’s only useful if you have a plant big enough to divide.

So I suppose this is how to ROOT a ZZ plant quickest.

And the answer is to do it in an Aerogarden (this is the one I have), which is like propagating in a glass of water, with the added benefits of having a pump (to keep the water aerated) and a light.

There’s a lot of contention about the amount of light that’s needed for propagation. I like to keep the leaves well lit and the roots in the dark, so if you’re using glass containers, you might want to wrap them in paper.

Aerogarden pods have little covers on them to keep the light out, or you can use foil.

I’m not encouraging you to rush out and get an Aerogarden if you’re a casual propagator, but they’re a lot of fun to use, get great results, and you can grow herbs in them (I mean, you can grow anything in them, but having an Aerogarden full of herbs really makes one feel like they have their life together).

So yeah, snip a two-inch cutting from your ZZ plant (the top of any stem will do), preferably with sterilised scissors (something I almost never do because I’m a terrible example of a plant blogger), remove any leaves that would be under the water, and stick in an empty pod.

Then wait a couple of months until you have something like this:

ZZ plant propagation in aerogarden

I mean, have you ever seen anything as terrifying as that before? Gross. But also pretty cool. He’s grown his own rhizome, all on his own.

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Can you grow a ZZ plant from a cutting?

Yes, in fact it’s the way I’d recommend doing it.

ZZ plants are often kept in lower light areas, because they crop up frequently on those ‘top 10 plants you can keep in a dungeon’ type posts.

To be fair, I agree. ZZ plants grow pretty well in lower light – certainly better than snake plants and Monstera that also tend to be volunteered as tribute on those lists.

But.

If grown in lower light, ZZ plants grow a bit spindly and tend to flop a bit. Tbh honest, I think they suit that look, though I get that it’s a bit of a pain if you don’t have a lot of room.

So pruning your ZZ plant is a great solution to keeping it looking more aesthetically pleasing, and then you can use your prunings (is that a word?) to make more ZZs.

If you have a suuuuper long ZZ you can cut the cutting into multiple pieces, though I recommend 2 inch plus pieces. And make sure you keep a note of which way up the cutting is. If you can’t remember, propagate it horizontally on some damp soil.

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Can I propagate a ZZ plant in water?

Yes, and in my experience, this is the fastest way to do so.

Speed isn’t everything though – whilst propagating in water is quicker, you risk losing them when you’re transitioning them back into soil.

As an underwaterer, the transfer from water to soil is usually when I’m going to lose plants. The soil needs to be kept moist enough so the props roots can absorb oxygen from water, until they’ve grown some soil roots can get oxygen from the air (they should be called air roots, I suppose, but they’re a whole different kind of root).

Once you’ve got your stem (or leaf) cutting, just…pop it in a glass of water.

There’s no need to use filtered or distilled water – plants like ZZ plants that come with built-in water storage (ZZs can store water in their rhizomes) typically aren’t too bothered about water quality (within reason obvs, but if it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for them).

That being said, it’s important that you change the water often.

I’m not great at this, but I do know that it really makes a difference to how quickly your ZZ plant will root. Old, stagnant water might not kill your propagation (though it certainly could) but fresh, oxgenated water will definitely root it faster.

If you’d rather throw money at the problem, though not the couple of hundred quid required for an Aergarden, you could invest in a cheap air pump like this one, and let that oxygenate your water.

A word to the wise re. air pumps – they are NEVER silent. Even the ones that seem quiet at first start getting noisy over time. The only difference is you don’t realise until you turn it off.

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How long does it take a ZZ plant to root in water?

Well, that really depends.

If you just leave your cutting in a grim glass of water, it could take around six months to even SEE roots.

Also, remember that how long plants take to root varies a LOT – I have a whole article on the various factors that influence how long it takes propagations to root.

As I mentioned, an Aerogarden really speeds up the process, so if you were looking to propagate ZZ plants in a commercial capacity, some kind of giant aerogarden type system would be the way to go*

* Some ZZ plants, like the Raven ZZ is patented, so you’re not allowed to propagate it and sell the cuttings. I’m not in the commercial plant space, so I have no idea how strongly this is enforced, but I encourage you to research propagating and selling plants before sinking your life savings into a big ass hydroponic system.

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How do you propagate ZZ plant leaves in water?

As well as stem cuttings, you can propagate ZZ plant leaves in water.

The caveat is that it take a freaking AGE because you’re growing a whole new plant from one leaf.

It’s a great option if you don’t want to disturb the mother plant though, or if you see a leaf on the floor of a garden centre (always ask – let’s not upset garden centre owners).

To take a leaf cutting, ideally you should cut as close to the stem as possible, but you can grow roots from only three quarters of a leaf.

The problem with growing leaf cuttings in water is keeping them upright. They just….fall over. I’ve found that the combination of a small glass and a lot of leaves works well OR you can tape some string over the glass and hold the leave in place by clipping it to the string with a clothes peg. Pegs comes in very handy in propagating.

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How to propagate a ZZ plant by division

Propagating by division is one of those things that’s simple to explain but a bit of a pain in the bum to do.

Essentially, you’re simply separating two separate plants. You should be able to gently ease them apart. But in reality, especially when the plant has VERY tuberous roots, it’s more a case of yanking them apart and saying sorry a lot. Or taking a bread knife to the root ball.

Yes, this is sacrilege. But also it’s sometimes the easiest to do it. ZZ plants are tough, they’ll recover.

Sometimes, a little pup will turn up at the edge of the pot, and will slide out of the main root ball quite easily (same with snake plants). You run the risk of the pup not developing properly (especailly ZZ plants that take forever to unfurl) but if the roots are string it’ll regrow over time.

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When to propagate a ZZ plant

  • Any time you’ve removed the soil from the roots

Especially if you’re cleaning the roots to move it into a different substrate.

If you’re looking to propagate by division, this is the time to do it. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be easier. You can see all the roots and might be able to make a better job than if the roots were obscured and held together with soil.

  • When it’s looking a bit leggy

ZZ plants are pretty chill about being pruned, so you don’t need to be a skilled pruner to attempt it – just hack it into a shape you like with some scissors and put the clippings in a glass of water.

  • When it’s got root rot

I think ZZ plants are incredibly easy to care for BUT I’m a notorious underwaterer. In fact, they die quite quickly from being overwatered. If you notice your ZZ looking (or smelling) a bit sad and er, rotten, take some cuttings as insurance for if you do end up killing it.

And then take a look at the roots, dry out the soil (blow dryer for the win if you don’t have fresh soil/don’t want to repot) and hope.

  • When you want another one

I guess this should have been first…

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When to replant ZZ plant cuttings in water

Don’t rush this process in ZZ plants.

In my experience, ZZ plants take a while to produce their first set of roots, but then they progress quite quickly.

I didn’t really have an option but to pot my plant up, because the roots and rhizomes were nearing a size that would put them at risk to lodging in the Aerogarden, probably forever.

Whilst I don’t think it’s necessary to wait until your cutting has a rhizome to pot it up, there is an advantage – if the propagation has a rhizome the plat has an extra source of water, so it won’t be AS fussy about drying out.

Remember that it’s still important to keep the soil moister than normal when putting water propagations in soil. My ZZ plant grows very well in a mix of coir, perlite, and orchid bark, with some worm castings and charcoal tossed in for nutrition and fungicide.

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Can you grow ZZ plants in leca?

You can! Mine is growing really well, though it’s only a baby – I’ll be sure to update this if there are any changes.

This is a propagation, so I can’t share my experiences of switching a ZZ plant to semi-hydro. I have read a LOT of reports of people doing so though, and the results are…mixed as they so often are for plants that really don’t like to be overwatered.

If I was transitioning a ZZ plant to leca, I’d keep a low reservoir (I don’t trust myself to do the shower method – I explain why in this video) and plat the plant high in the pot so there’s no risk of the roots touching the plant. And then just keep a really close eye on it.

It’s probably a good idea to wash the leca as normal, and then let it dry out before planting the ZZ plant.

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Quick guide to ZZ plants

Light requirements – decidedly unfussy.

Mine gets bright indirect light, but actually grew better in lower light. Bear in mind that this is a correlation rather than causation though – there’s often too many factors at play when moving plants from one place to another to accurately judge why one spot is better than another.

Humidity – see light.

Currently living in the bathroom, so it gets ‘misted’ a couple of times a day, but it’s lived in rooms with much lower humidity.

Temperature – again, doesn’t care much.

Whilst ZZ plants are tropical plants, so I wouldn’t advocate keeping them outside in winter, I do keep mine year-round in my bathroom.

I have to leave the window open, even in winter, to reduce moisture, and the ZZ plant is only a few feet from the window.

It doesn’t grow in winter, but it doesn’t deteriorate either.

Pests – not particularly prone

Seems to be able to shake of thrips and spider mites without and issues (probably due to the thickness and waxiness of the leaves), thought mealy bugs do seem to like them.

Luckily, ZZ plants don’t have the crevices that mealybugs typically use, so a few showers and a couple of sprays with a bug killer (some diluted dish soap should work) will see them off.

i can only speak from my experience, but pests haven’t been an issue for me at all.

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Are ZZ plants toxic?

Yes, so keep pets and kids away from them.

ZZ plants are aroids, and as such have calcium oxalates in the leaves. However, the amount of calcium oxalates varies, so some aroids are more toxic than others. Dieffenbachia, for example, have high levels, so not should you not ingest the leaves, but you should really be wearing gloves when you touch it.

ZZ plants are a solid medium on the toxicity list. You’d have to eat a heck of a lot to do any lasting damage, but wearing gloves near them, especially when taking cuttings for propagating or pruning, isn’t a bad idea.

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Why is a ZZ plant called a ZZ plant

It’s an abbreviation of Zamioculus zamiifolia, and is an aroid native to eastern Africa. They can last four months without water due to the water storing properties of their rhizomes, stems, and leaves. Impressive stuff.

ZZ plants just have the one species within the genus. So they’re from the same family as the genus Philodendron, but whereas there are dozens of different species of philodendrons, there’s just…ZZ plants. Maybe one day another will be discovered.

There are varietions of ZZ plants though, they’re just all the same plant with different colouring – you can get variegated ZZs, black ZZs, and…that’s about it. I’m sure soon there’ll be a variegated raven ZZ with a heart-stopping price tag.

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