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ZZ plants are one of the most maligned plants in the house plant hobby because they’re one that’s relegated to living in the darkest spots in the house.
I think it’s funny that people class them as slow growing when actually they grow pretty quickly when given a decent chance.
A lot of people are under the impression that ZZ plants aren’t closely related to other house plants, because they’re the only plant in their genus, but they’re aroids, like Monstera, peace lilies, Philodendron, and Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma.
Light requirements for ZZ plants
ZZ plants have pretty thick, dark, waxy leaves, which suggests that they occupy a spot on the rainforest floor (which they do).
However, they come from Tanzania and Zanzibar which experience some drought, so below their thick, glossy foliage they have big tubers that they use to store water.
There are myths that you can keep ZZ plants in the dark, or in windowless bathrooms, but no plant can survive that for long. After a while, they get very long and leggy, and can’t support their own weight.
If you’re condemning your ZZ plant to a dark corner, at least give it a grow bulb.
One of the main things that can impede light getting to plants (besides putting it somewhere where there isn’t any) is dust. And ZZ plants are DUSTY.
I spend a weird amount of my time explaining to people that plants don’t really like getting wet, so showering them regularly isn’t a great idea BUT I make an exception for ZZ plants because they have little leaves that take an AGE to clean. So the occasional shower is better than never dusting them.
Oh, and they’re not particularly prone to pests, but mealybugs can be partial to them, so showering them down can be a good way to deter mealies and ensure there aren’t any hiding in the crevices.
Humidity requirements for ZZ plants?
ZZ plants are very tolerant of low humidity, which isn’t surprising due to the thickness of the leaves – the only plant I can think of that like high humidity and have thick leaves are Hoya.
However, I’ve noticed that if you keep them in higher humidity they grow faster and the new growth unfurls faster.
Water requirements for ZZ plants
ZZ plants like to be watered deeply but infrequently. Their tubers store water so you can leave the soil to get bone dry.
ZZ plants are quite easy to overwater – not because they have delicate roots, but because we usually keep them in dark rooms so the water doesn’t get the chance to evaporate. Make sure the soil is dry before watering – I like to use a moisture meter.
As for water quality, they’re not that fussed. Plants that have evolved to deal with drought don’t tend to be, simply because the ones that can utilise any water available to them will be more likely to survive and pass on their genes.
I keep one of my ZZ plants in a self-watering pot and it’s thrived, and I had one in terracotta that was fine but refused to grow until I moved it. There’s a bit of a room that ZZ plants are one of those plants that thrive on neglect, but I haven’t found that to be the case. They won’t die if you ignore them, but they won’t grow either.
Temperature requirements for ZZ plants
ZZ plants are from the tropics so they do best in warm temperatures, preferably above 15oC/60oF. I have kept mine in a cold bathroom over winter before, and it was totally fine, so they can definitely tolerate lower temperatures BUT any sniff of frost will kill them.
Their tubers are quite delicate and frost will damage them quickly.
Which soil is best for ZZ plants?
They are really, really not fussy.
I know this because I was once having a repotting session and I ran out of soil. I’d already divided my ZZ plant so there was no going back, so I grabbed some soil from my outdoor raised bed.
It wasn’t bad soil – there was plenty of perlite in it – but it also wasn’t the best.
The ZZ wasn’t bothered AT ALL. In fact, the only issue I had was that nasturtium seedlings kept popping up in it.
Ideally, ZZ plants would like a well-draining soil mix. Like a lot of plants that store water, they like to be watered deeply (so a lot of water at once) but to dry out quickly.
That being said, if you’re a bit of an underwaterer, a denser soil mix that dries out more slowly might be a better idea.
How to fertilise ZZ plants
ZZ plants aren’t particularly hungry plants, especially if you’re keeping them in a dark spot and therefore can’t grow very quickly. They also don’t really show root burn on their leaves like other plants so it’s important not to overfertilise them.
Adding worm castings to their soil is a great natural option, or you can add a diluted fertiliser to their water every couple of months
How to propagate ZZ plants
I have an in-depth article on propagating ZZ plants here. It’s a pretty straightforward process.
I like to propagate them by division, like peace lilies. You just take them out of the soil, and gently ease the two plants apart. Often when you buy a full plant, it’ll be several plantlets that have grown together.
Their thick roots and tubers make them quite easy to separate, but if you have a particularly big clupm, you can slice it with a clean knife.
You can also take stem cuttings and propagate them in water.
You can also propagate ZZ plants from leaf cuttings, but it can take them a while to develop roots and a rhizome.
Are ZZ plants toxic?
Yes, like most (if not all) aroids their leaves contain oxalate crystals, which cause numbness in the mouth and a stomach upset if ingested.
Do ZZ plants bloom?
Yes, ZZ plants produce a spathe and spadix inflorescence, but they’re very unlikely to bloom when kept as a house plant.
Can ZZ plants live in low light?
They absolutely can, and they can even grow (slowly).
However, just because they CAN live in low light doesn’t mean that that’s what’s best for them.
They grow weak and spindly over time and can end up collapsing under their own weight.
Yes – my ZZ plant did really well in my bathroom. However, bathrooms tend to be cold, so I wouldn’t advise keeping your ZZ plant in the bathroom if it’s windowless AND cold.
Cold is ok as long as it’s fairly bright, windowless isn’t a great idea but MAY work.
Dark and cold is a recipe for a sick plant.
Usually when people ask me why their plant is drooping it’s because it’s thirsty, but 9 out of 10 times ZZ plants are drooping because they’re not getting enough light.
As they grow, they try to grow towards the light, so their stems get etiolated (stretched). Over time, the stems can no longer support themselves and they droop.
ZZ plants can live indefinitely because as they grow, plantlets grow around them. The original plant might die, but its babies will take its place.
Yes, definitely, but the rhizomes are quite prone to rot so you need to keep the water level below the rhizome – you can suspend the roots in it, so it’s more like aeroponics than hydroponics.
If you do submerge the rhizome you’ll need to keep a close eye out for rot and keep the water very well oxygenated.
Yes, they grow really well in leca. A lot of people use the shower method, but I prefer to keep a water reservoir. As long a the water is below the rhizome it shouldn’t rot.
Whenever a tropical plant isn’t growing, I first check the roots. If the roots are ok, I increase the light, warmth, and humidity – this usually kickstarts growth.
ZZ plants have very thick tuberous roots, so it could also be root bound. To get it to produce more growth you may need to move it to a larger pot.
Yes. ZZ plants are pretty hardy, but they’ll succumb to root rot pretty quickly if they don’t have adequate drainage.
At the very least they’ll need drainage holes in the pot to allow excess water to drain away. A zz plant sat in wet soil will rot quickly.
If you tend to overwater, adding perlite and/or orchid bark to your potting mix can make the soil drain faster and dry out quicker.
If you don’t divide and remove plantlets, then they can spread out horizontally until you stop them! As for height, they usually end up between two and four feet tall.
Don’t mist your ZZ plant for humidity, but you can mist it to knock dust off the leaves. ZZ plants seem to attract dust – and they’re even more likely to if they’re in a dark corner.
After you’ve sprayed it down, wipe the leaves with a cloth – I like those makeup eraser ones; they’re really good for getting dust off plants and they leave the leaves shiny without needing any product.
1. Remove the soil
2. Remove any mushy or rotten roots and rhizomes
3. Wash the roots – 1tbsp hydrogen peroxide to 250ml of water
4. Repot in fresh soil with plenty of aeration
5. Put it in a bright spot and only water it when the soil is dry
If the roots have rotted away, you might need to propagate the stems.
ZZ plants are awesome plants – easy to care for, big enough to be cool decor, but not so big you can’t move them. And yet we treat them so badly!
Try moving yours to a brighter spot and see how much faster it grows. It’s honestly incredible. Oh, and remember to dust it every so often.