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How to Care for the ZZ Plant

This will teach you all about how to care for the ZZ plant, including how often to water a ZZ plant, how much light it needs, growth rate and repotting, how to propagate a ZZ plant, whether the ZZ plant is toxic, and more. Including some tips on why your ZZ plant might have yellowing leaves. 

How to Care for the ZZ Plant

Hey guys! Today I’m talking about one of the hardiest of the hardy houseplants: the ZZ plants! Its full name is Zamioculcas zamiifolia, and you might also hear it called a Zanzibar gem. Native the eastern African, this tropical perennial has beautiful glossy leaves.

The base of each stem is thick and upright, thinning as you move up toward the tip. Each thick, shiny leaf grows directly from the stem. Honestly, they are so pretty and shiny that these plants often look fake! It’s also super easy to care for.

This plant was actually one of the earlier houseplants I got years ago—back when I had no idea how to care for houseplants and either way overwatered (like every day) or way underwatered (like forgot for weeks on end).

zz plant

How large can the ZZ plant grow?

ZZ plants can grow up to about 2 feet tall and emerge from rhizomes under the soil (much like snake plants, though the rhizomes look pretty different). However, they are very slow growers. In the 5 or so years I’ve had mine, I’ve repotted it twice: once when I got it, and again a few months ago!

I remember the first time I repotted my first ZZ plant years ago. I was weirded out to discover these hard rock-looking things in the plant’s soil. I told my mom, “I think this plant came with large rocks in its soil,” and my mom was like, “no, I think you’re an idiot.” But she said it in a much nicer way.

zz plant

How often to water a ZZ plant

They are really drought tolerant (i.e., you can forget to water them) because their rhizomes—which look a lot like small potatoes—can store water. Their leaves and stems also have a really high water content, further helping them along during periods of underwatering. 

The ZZ plant will be happiest with you if it is watered once a week or so during the spring, summer, and fall. And by that I mean when the top 2 inches of its soil are dry. You don’t want to end up with root and tuber/rhizome rot by overwatering.

In fact, overwatering is the worst thing you can do to this plant. Most people think that forgetting to water is a plant’s death sentence. This is SUCH a common misconception that it often leads people to overwater their houseplant babies and literally drown them. So sad. 

A ZZ plant with leaves that are yellowing could mean it is getting too much water. Remember: less water is best, but the perfect watering schedule will help your plant grow faster. Check that soil before busting out the watering can!

zz plant leaves up close
zz plant root ball
tubers on a zz plant

What about soil and fertilizer?

Speaking of soil, make sure you’re using a well-draining potting soil and providing enough drainage. If you’re planting in a pot without drainage, see how I build drainage in to pots without holes.

When you water your ZZ plants, you can give them a bit of whatever run-of-the-mill houseplant fertilizer you are using. Fertilize in the summer, and don’t fertilize every time you water. Monitor the plant for how it reacts. (You don’t have the fertilize this plant.)

Black raven ZZ plant
Black Raven ZZ plant
Black raven ZZ plant
Black Raven ZZ plant

Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of monstera plantshow to take care of pothos plantshow to take care of rubber plants, caring for peperomia plants, and how to care for philodendron.

Light, Temperature, & Humidity

It you’re wondering how to care for the ZZ plant and don’t have great light in your home, you’re in luck! ZZ plants can survive with very little light. I mean VERY little. Like just the minimal fluorescent light in a cubicle with no windows or an interior bathroom. In fact, if you have trouble finding really sunny spots in your home for plants, the ZZ plant is a fab choice.

That’s because it actually hates direct light. It can scald the leaves. If leaves begin to yellow and turn away from the light, it can be a sign that the plant is crying for help (and looking for shade—someone get this guy a sunbrella). The perfect spot for this plant is in medium-to-bright indirect light. It will grow the best.

Below 60 degrees, the ZZ plant will be unhappy outdoors. It tolerates a variety of household temperatures from 65 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit. So it will do well in a variety of household settings. I’ve never moved my ZZ plants outdoors for the summer since they are such flexible and great houseplants in lower light.

Most household plants do enjoy at least a bit of humidity, but the ZZ plant tolerates low humidity quite well. It wouldn’t hurt to mist it every so often with a spray bottle. This could also help keep its leaves looking clean and glossy.

plants on a bar cart
New ZZ Plant Growth Sprouting
New ZZ Plant Growth Sprouting
New ZZ Plant Growth Sprouting
New ZZ Plant Growth Sprouting

Want to read more about plant propagation? Check out my guides on propagating pothos plantssnake plantspeperomiastring of pearlssucculentsmonstera deliciosa, and prickly pear cactus pads.

Does it purify the air?

Another reason ZZ plants make great houseplants is that they have air purifying qualities. A University of Copenhagen study showed that ZZ plants removed volatile organic compounds (you might have heard these referred to as “VOCs,” especially on cans of paint). Specifically toluene, xylene, and benzene. Whatever those are.  So yay for that.

zz plant
raven black zz plant on a table with other plants

Is the ZZ Plant poisonous? 

However, although it purifies the air, every lil bit of it is poisonous. Just don’t eat it or have it within reach of nosy kids and pets and you’ll be fine. For me, the benefits of the plant outweigh this fact—which is pretty much how I feel about all of my houseplants. Be smart.

Oh, and you might have heard rumors that the ZZ plant causes cancer. Does the ZZ plant cause cancer? No! Don’t believe everything you read on the internet or hear on local news.

zz plant glossy leaves
Variegated ZZ plant

How to Prune, Divide, or Propagate a ZZ Plant

The ZZ plant is very slow growing, so it really doesn’t need a lot of pruning. If your plant’s stems ever start to get wacky or grow into spaces you don’t want them to be in, you can easily prune the plant by snipping the stems off. 

Snipped stems are one way you can propagate a ZZ plant. Pop them in some water and let them root. I’m currently propagating a few ZZ plant cuttings in my test tube propagation station, so I’ll update this post when they start rooting. It’s been about 2 weeks and no roots so far.

This is normal for any plant, but since this is a slow grower, it’s definitely normal for this one. Once they have some good roots established, I will plant them in well-draining potting soil and keep watered as normal as it develops. (Read more about more easy plants to propagate.)

propagating a zz plant
large ZZ plant

You can also snip off individual leaves and stick them into soil, keeping them in high humidity and keeping them moist as they root and grow new structures. Then you can plant. This is similar to the process for propagating snake plants by cuttings…and it takes forever for ZZ plants! Upwards of a year. Not planning to do this one.

Finally, if you have a large ZZ plant, you can divide it at the rhizomes. I’ve done this, and it is pretty easy. You don’t really have to cut the rhizomes like you would when you divide a snake plant; you can break the rhizomes apart gently and replant.

how to divide a zz plant at its rhizomes
how to divide a zz plant at its rhizomes
how to divide a zz plant at its rhizomes
how to divide a zz plant at its rhizomes

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image collage of how to care for a ZZ plant with text How to keep your ZZ plant alive

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