This beautiful plant is scientifically named Zamioculas zamiifolia, understandably called “ZZ” for short. It is simple to master ZZ plant care since this aroid is exceptionally hardy, low-maintenance, and doesn’t demand tons of light. Therefore, it makes an excellent indoor plant.
ZZ Plant Origins
Unlike many other common tropical plants we keep indoors, the ZZ does not come from a habitat that stays moist year-round. Instead, it is native to dry grasslands and forests in East Africa.
These areas experience frequent drought with occasional heavy rain. Therefore, the ZZ is notorious for growing best when it can completely dry out between waterings.
ZZ Varieties and Availability
ZZ plants are available in several varieties, which are quite accessible in their distribution and price. The common dark green ZZ is widely available.
Secondly, the Raven ZZ made its debut in 2019, distributed by Costa Farms. The Raven is very striking since it is completely black except for new growth shoots that come in green. It has now become almost as common as the dark green variety and can be found at many big box stores in the U.S.
Newer to the scene is ZZ Chameleon, which is green with neon variegation and distinctive dark green veining. The Chameleon ZZ has been showing up at big box stores in 2023, grown by Costa Farms. It is a fascinating variety that can brighten up your space.
Additionally, there is ZZ Zenzi which is shorter, more compact versions of the standard green variety. They seemed more common a few years ago, but you don’t see them often anymore. The Zenzi is often described as a “cute little ZZ,” but many of us still don’t have one.
Lastly, there are rarer and more expensive varieties with chunky white or yellow variegation. These variegated ZZ plants can be found online or in specialty shops.
Fortunately, ZZ plant care is similar for each variety.
How To Care For ZZ Plants
Soil Mix for ZZs
The ZZ grows best in a loamy, well-draining soil mixture with amendments for aeration. When choosing an all-purpose potting soil for your mixture, using one with a slow-release fertilizer is OK. Just hold off fertilizing again for six months in that case.
- 2 parts all-purpose potting soil
- 2 parts orchid bark
- 2 parts perlite or pumice
- 1-part horticultural sand
- 1-part cactus or succulent mix (Miracle Gro Cactus mix works fine since you’ll be adding other amendments for drainage.)
ZZ Water Requirements
The ZZ only needs watering once the soil is completely dry from top to bottom. I water my ZZ like I water the succulents in my care.
If you’ve ever looked at the root system of a ZZ, you’ve probably noticed unusual potato-looking bulb structures. These are the plant’s rhizomes, which are part of the plant’s natural adaptation to survive droughts.
The rhizomes store water for long periods to sustain the plant through droughts. Therefore, this plant should not be watered early. Otherwise, the ZZ can easily get root rot from overwatering.
How Often Do You Water a ZZ Plant?
While the watering frequency will depend on the light it receives, you shouldn’t need to water this houseplant often. Since mine does not receive bright light, I only need to water it once every 5-6 weeks for most of the year!
A good rule of thumb is to feel the soil at the top and through the drainage holes at the bottom to see if it is dry. Also, the pot will become lighter in weight when it reaches this level of dryness.
Should the ZZ be Top or Bottom-Watered?
It’s best to combine both methods, as this provides multiple benefits.
- I place my ZZ pot over a large bowl and run mildly cool water through the plant thoroughly until the water is steadily coming out of the bottom drainage holes (into the bowl).
- Then, I set the plant down in the bowl and run water through it again until it begins to deepen the drainage water.
- Next, I let it sit there for 20 minutes in the drainage water before pulling it out to drain completely.
I give my ZZ about 6-8 hours to drain before placing it back in the cover pot.
Using this combination method, my ZZ gets the benefits of both top and bottom-watering.
- By top watering, my ZZ isn’t trying to absorb all of its water from the bottom up, which can overly drench the soil in the bottom of the pot. This helps prevent any rot in its sensitive roots.
- By also bottom-watering as I let it sit in the drainage water for 20 minutes, the ZZ retains some of its soil nutrients rather than being completely flushed each watering.
This method has worked perfectly for my ZZ over the years I have had it. Furthermore, this combination method replicates the ZZ’s natural environment when it rains.
Does the ZZ Need Filtered Water?
The ZZ does well with tap water. Even in locations with hard water, like mine, it doesn’t have any issues. Feel free to use tap water since it is not high maintenance in the least.
Light for the ZZ
For the best growth, give your ZZ plant medium to bright indirect light.
Because of its low demand for light, ZZ plant care is more straightforward than most other houseplant care.
It usually has no health complications in low light. However, the ZZ grows very slowly in low light and may stop growing for a while until it receives better light.
Also, if you only give low light, be careful not to water too frequently since this increases the chance of root rot.
Can you give your ZZ direct light?
Only give gentle morning direct light if providing any direct sunlight. ZZs do well in east windows (in the western hemisphere). Receiving a couple of hours of gentle morning light may even help your ZZ grow faster.
Still, the plant cannot tolerate direct sun in the afternoon unless it is slowly conditioned to this. The afternoon light is usually too harsh for the ZZ’s leaves and will cause them to burn.
Temperature & Humidity for the ZZ
Keep your ZZ in a temperature range of 60°F to 85°F (15°C to 30°C).
The ZZ does not require humidity to remain healthy. However, adding humidity to your ZZ plant care regimen during propagation is beneficial.
While it is not required, the ZZ can grow faster in a moderately humid environment (50-60%).
Will High Humidity Harm the ZZ Plant?
If there is slightly higher humidity due to sharing a space with tropical plants, I have found that the ZZ shows no signs of stress. With that said, I wouldn’t keep my ZZ in a greenhouse where the humidity is very high (85% and above). This can increase the likelihood of root or stem rot.
My ZZ has done just fine in my plant room, with humidity from 55-75%. If you have low humidity, it would also do well in your environment.
Fertilization & Growth for ZZs
ZZs are light feeders. Fertilize once every 5-6 weeks in the summer with half-strength liquid fertilizer. During winter, reduce feeding to once every 10 weeks.
Regardless of the ZZ variety you have, this plant’s growth is always fun to see. Instead of having one new leaf unfurl at a time like most plants, the ZZ is unique. It unfurls an entirely new stalk with leaves.
Choosing a Pot for a ZZ
The ZZ can grow in many different types of pots but must have drainage holes to dry out between waterings. Many growers find that plastic nursery pots work best because the pot will bend as the ZZ’s root system grows. Seeing the bulging pot helps indicate when it is time to repot.
It can be more challenging to pull your ZZ from ceramic and terracotta pots and tell when it’s ready to be repotted.
In addition, you might see ZZs sold at big box stores in self-watering pots. While the ZZ does not need a self-watering pot, there is a safe method for keeping it in this pot if you’d rather not change the container.
Simply watch for all the water to be used in the reservoir, but don’t refill it just yet. Watch your ZZ’s soil and allow the plant to dry out completely. Once the ZZ is dried out, you can then refill the water reservoir for it to drink as needed.
Self-watering is a different watering method than most growers prefer for the ZZ. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the ZZ’s roots are not sitting in water. Most of the “wick and grow” systems will come with the plant’s nursery pot elevated and use a rope wick for the plant to drink water from the reservoir underneath.
Repotting a ZZ Plant
ZZs must be kept in a snug pot and do not like having lots of room in their pots. This is due to the plant’s susceptibility to root rot. In its native habitat, the ZZ grows in well-draining soil and typically dries out before the next rainfall. Therefore, the plant can’t tolerate wet soil around its roots, or as we plant people call it, “wet feet.”
Only go up one pot size when repotting your ZZ plant to encourage its roots to absorb all the moisture at the bottom. You’ll only need to repot your ZZ once it becomes rootbound with rhizomes pushing against the pot. Depending on your growing conditions, repotting is usually needed once every 1-2 years.
While the ZZ is easy to cut for propagation, it is very slow to root. Therefore, propagating it takes time and patience. You can speed up the process by providing warmth, extra indirect light, and humidity (50-70%).
There are three methods to propagate the ZZ plant:
Propagation by division
As the simplest way to propagate, you can divide the rhizomes into separate pots. This method is for well-established plants.
To propagate by division:
- Remove your ZZ from its pot.
- Remove the soil and rinse off the excess soil with lukewarm water under the sink.
- Carefully divide the sections of the ZZ by separating them each by their rhizome and root systems. Ensure that each section has an adequate root system.
- Plant each ZZ into its own snug pot with drainage holes and a proper soil mix.
Simply cut off a stalk at the base of your plant with sanitized sheers and place the cutting in water. Provide bright indirect light, and change the water once weekly.
Move this cutting to the soil once you have at least one inch of roots and a rhizome. A stem cutting usually takes 3-4 months to develop roots.
Cut off a leaf where it grows from the stem, edging your scissors to take a small chunk of the stem with it. Place the leaf-cutting into shallow soil, 1-2 cm deep, and water it.
Continue watering the cutting whenever the soil dries out, and give it bright indirect light. In 2-3 months, the leaf will develop a small rhizome. In approximately 5 – 6 months, the cutting will develop a root system.
Pests Pressures for the ZZ Plant
Fortunately, ZZ plants are not prone to most pests, and their glossy leaves tend not to attract pests. Additionally, pest infestations are less likely when your ZZ is healthy and thriving. Therefore, you should check your plant regularly as part of your ZZ plant care routine.
If you notice any pests, treat your plant with insecticidal soap followed by a pesticide such as neem oil. Due to the hardiness of ZZ leaves, it handles most pesticide applications without any problems.
Why You Need a ZZ Plant
Regardless of how accessible ZZs are, they remain favorites among many of us with large plant collections. Their lack of fussiness when it comes to light and watering needs makes ZZ plant care easy. They are great plants to have in your home or office to add a bit of greenery to your space.