ZZ plant, a graphic plant for top-notch designer homes

A ZZ plant with a half-dozen fronds in a diamond-patterned white pot.

The ZZ plant is a plant with tall, leafy fronds that are a perfect fit for striking interior designs. Caring for it is such an easy feat it’s even been called the plant of steel or cast-iron plant!

ZZ plant facts list

NameZamioculcas zamiifolia

Type – indoor plant, succulent
Height – 1 ½ to 3 ft (0.5 to 1 m) indoors
Exposure – well-lit, indirect

Soil – soil mix
Foliage – evergreen
Propagation – cuttings, crown division

With a few minutes of care every now and then, your ZZ plant will keep sending up shoots like a set of natural fireworks!

How to plant the ZZ plant

Repotting your ZZ plant

Repot a ZZ plant that has just been purchased to a pot that is slightly larger in size, 1 inch wider across than the previous (2.5 cm).

Here is what you should take note of:

  • Proper drainage – this plant dies if roots wallow in water. Check that the new pot has a hole at the bottom. Add a drainage layer at the bottom of the pot.
  • Soil mix should have nutrients – enrich it with one-fourth compost and one-fourth sand to keep drainage high.
  • Upon repotting, you can break the clump into several parts if you want to grow or offer a new ZZ to a friend.

Planting the ZZ plant outdoors

This is only possible in areas with very mild winters. A ZZ plant will survive outdoors if temperatures never drop below 40°F (5°C). Freezing will kill the plant.

  • If temperatures in your area drop to the 40°F (5°C) threshold, you can protect ZZ plant from the cold and it may survive.
  • However, since the ZZ plant is a slow grower, leaves and fronds that have died off may take years to grow back.

The ZZ plant will thrive in shade and part shade outdoors. Proper drainage is again important. If the soil in your garden is heavy, read up on how to make clay soil lighter.

Water needs and schedule for the ZZ plant

The ZZ plant evolved in a cyclic environment: extended drought followed by flash floods.

Watering an outdoor ZZ plant

Once your ZZ plant is well established, you’ll only need to water once a month if there isn’t any rain.

  • Since it grows best in the shade it shouldn’t dry out too fast and the tuber-roots are good at retaining water.
  • Water more often in summer to spur growth.
  • No need to water in winter (dormant period).
  • If in the colder areas (below 40-50°F or 5-8°C), do your best to keep water out. Cold isn’t the first winter enemy: cold water is.

Watering an indoor ZZ plant

While still ensuring perfect drainage, water whenever the pot is dry over at least the first inch of topsoil. It’s better to forget watering once than to water twice.

  • In summer, water your ZZ plant every week. Add fertilizer once or twice a month.
  • In winter, water your ZZ plant every month. Stop adding fertilizer.
  • Always prefer soft water or rainwater. If using water from the tap, follow the usual precautions when watering plants with tap water.

ZZ plant misting and moisture

Hailing from a tropical region, the ZZ plant loves soaking moisture in from the air as much as it does through its roots.

  • Mist the plant as often as you feel like it. Use exclusively soft or distilled water. Rainwater is ideal. Indeed, tap water for plants like the ZZ result in crystal and mineral deposits. These clog up pores on leaves.
  • You can replicate flash floods by dunking the ZZ plant, pot and all, in a barrel, or showering it thoroughly. To compensate washing out soil nutrients, either add decomposing plant materials to the dunking barrel or fertilize your ZZ with natural fermented tea (such as fermented nettle).

Creating moisture in the air around the ZZ plant will help it thrive.

Exposure for ZZ plant

Three ZZ plants in colorful pots in a fashionable living room.Growth of your ZZ plant is directly related to exposure. A lot of indirect light will let the plant send up new shoots every month or two. On the other hand, a ZZ plant without much light will more or less stay put. But it will survive!

  • Indirect light – set the plant off the side of a window instead of directly in front of it. Perhaps a light-colored wall gets a lot of reflected light, which is perfect for the ZZ plant.
  • Low light – ZZ plant will still grow, but very slowly.
  • Avoid heat sources – radiators and sunny windows make the air around them very dry. A ZZ plant prefers moisture.

Where to put a ZZ plant in the house

A good option for the ZZ plant is to rotate it from room to room. Summer in a warm, moist, well-lit lean-in or veranda, time in the living room near the couch or TV set. Winter in the office or kitchen and bathroom. Moving your ZZ plant all around the house will enhance growing and maximize your pleasure in seeing it in different places!

ZZ plant propagation

There are many ways to multiply your ZZ plant, and they all have one thing in common: the need for patience!

You can prepare cuttings from both leaf or stem. You can practice crown division when repotting.

Like a succulent, the ZZ plant can sprout new tubers and leaves from any part of the plant.

Here’s a video on how to divide the ZZ plant upon repotting:

Pets, pests and diseases on ZZ plant

The ZZ plant is seldom seen to suffer from pests or disease. The occasional scale insect may be caught wandering around, but you’ll never have a serious invasion.

Is the ZZ plant poisonous?

Small crystals in the sap may cause rashes on skin where touched. Sensitive persons should wear gloves when performing tasks like repotting, transplanting, and dividing ZZ plants.

As a chemical, calcium oxalate crystals aren’t toxic but merely irritating. Ingesting small amounts (say, a leaf) will only result in discomfort but isn’t dangerous for cats, dogs… and children!

  • Pets will have a little digestive trouble but it won’t be fatal.

ZZ plant leaves falling over

More often than not, ZZ plant fronds start drooping down. ZZ stems fall over. The long petioles which carry the leaflets don’t stand upright anymore and fan out.

  • The major cause of ZZ plant bending down is lack of light. When a ZZ plant grows in the wild, it grows best in shade and forest underbrush. It sends fronds and leaves in every direction to harvest what little light filters down to the ground.
  • This is a natural and normal.
  • When sold in flower shops, they usually stand up tall. This is because they’re lit from above and grown in a crowded growing table. As for trees in a forest, these crowded conditions force the ZZ plant to grow straight up.

What can you do to make your ZZ plant grow straight again?

  • Rotate the plant to a spot that gets lots of light from above in the house for at least part of the year.
  • Put other plants that grow thick and straight near it, like Sansevieria, Spathiphyllum or colorful Croton (among other indoor plants).
  • Alternatively, you can simply find a nice-looking stake (like a piece of bamboo) and loosely tether your ZZ leaves to it.
  • Another possible cause is that the pot is too small. Repot into a larger pot.

ZZ plant turning yellow

It’s normal for older stems or fronds to turn yellow and die, having served their time and been replaced.

  • Best is to let them be (the process of yellowing and drying up lets the plant recover nutrients).
  • It’s also fine to remove them to make your ZZ plant look peppy.

If the entire ZZ plant is yellow, it may be due to:

  • Root rot – due to overwatering and insufficient drainage. Water only when the soil is dry. Check that the pot has a draining hole. Throw out water that collects in the saucer under the ZZ plant. Repot with one-third river sand added to the mix.
  • Lacking nutrients – Add fertilizer for leaf plants once a fortnight during the growing season.
  • Rootbound – the pot is too small and roots circle around the inside. The plant is strangling itself. Pull out from the pot, untangle the roots, cut the longest ones. The clump shouldn’t have any roots extending out more than an inch (3 cm). Repot to a slightly larger pot.

The last possibility is when a new frond or leaf starts growing that is yellow, white or variegated. This is rare. It is a kind of mutation that occurs naturally.

Usually these are considered very interesting and you will surely find amateurs! Try to propagate it when it has grown a bit more.

ZZ plant has drops of sap on leaves

This is normal, it’s the sign of a happy, well-watered specimen. It’s called guttation or weeping leaves.

Types of ZZ plant and varieties

For the first two decades of being sold, only the normal ZZ plant was found. Nowadays, new ZZ plant varieties exist that are intriguing and wonderful. The two most famous are the Raven ZZ plant and the Zenzi.

Learn more about the ZZ plant

ZZ plant is perfect for growing even in a simple tin pot.All in all, the ZZ plant makes for a great plant in urban jungle homes where it complements designer furniture. Although too large for centertops on tables, it is perfect to highlight beautiful architecture by drawing the eyes to verticality.

New leaves are bright green, even for black varieties.

Conference centers, offices, hotels and public building love the ZZ plant for the hype it shares, its resilience, and ease of care.

The only plant within its genus (the Araceae family), the ZZ plant was slow in becoming a commercial success. Slow growth was the main drawback and nurseries needed to set up ZZ plant propagation stations that took years before producing a large enough plant.

The ZZ plant, an air-purifying houseplant

Scientists discovered that the ZZ plant removes pollutants from air. It filters and stocks toxins in its roots, stems and leaves:

  • benzene
  • xylene
  • toluene
  • ethylbenzene

>> Learn more about air-purifying houseplants

Smart tip about the ZZ plant

If ever leaves fall off because of water stress, don’t throw them out!

Simply prick all leaflets in soil one by one with the stem down, and you’ll be growing new ZZ from scratch!

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Image credits (edits: Gaspard Lorthiois):the joy of plants, Sherri Barras © CC BY 2.0