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ZZ Plant Care

Learn about caring for the ultra-hardy ZZ plant.

All about the ultra-hardy ZZ plant care

Hey all! Today I’m talking about one of the hardiest of the hardy houseplants: the ZZ plants! This was one of the very first houseplants I added to my collection many, many years ago before I knew much about ZZ plant care (or houseplant care in generally, for that matter).

I picked it up from an Ikea garden center without even knowing what it was. And I basically ignored it. Luckily for me, ZZ plants are incredibly tolerant of neglect. There are just a few things to keep in mind when caring for this plant. I’ll share those in this guide, plus some extra tips if you want your ZZ plant to thrive!

zz plant leaves up close

ZZ plant care overview

  • ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are native to eastern Africa.
  • Hardy plants with thick, glossy; excellent choice for beginners
  • Thrive in bright, indirect light but can survive in low-light conditions; watch for legginess in lower light, and consider adding a grow light.
  • Use a well-draining potting mix.
  • Allow the soil to dry out almost completely between waterings; rhizomes store water, aiding in drought tolerance.
  • Overwatering can lead to yellowing leaves and root rot.
  • Various varieties exist, including the Raven ZZ, Variegated ZZ, and Chameleon ZZ.
  • Can grow up to about 2 feet tall and are slow growers.
  • Propagate through stem or leaf cuttings, or by dividing the rhizomes.
printable graphic including a care overview of the tips outlined in this post

ZZ plant background & varieties

The full name of the ZZ plant is Zamioculcas zamiifolia, So it’s obvious why people shorten that to “ZZ plant.” You might also hear it called a “Zanzibar gem.” The plant is native to eastern Africa, and it’s a tropical perennial with 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!

When I first wrote this article many years ago, I had only a regular all-green ZZ plant. I knew variegated ZZ plants existed, but I hadn’t seen one in person. Now there are quite a few varieties you can add to your collection. Here are a few of the most common types (pics of these below):

  • Raven ZZ: The raven ZZ plant is a gorgeous variety that has the same shape and size as the regular ZZ plant. However, the foliage emerges a bright green and slowly deepens to jet black. One of my favorites—see my Raven ZZ Plant Care & Propagation guide for more.
  • Variegated ZZ: A harder-to-find variety that tends to be on the pricier side. A true variegated ZZ has yellow and green variegation on each individual leaf.
  • Chameleon ZZ: A newer variety that has a mix of bright yellow and deep green foliage. The individual leaves aren’t variegated, but the plant overall does have a somewhat variegated appearance due to the multiple colors. Learn more about this type with my ZZ Chameleon Care Guide.
raven ZZ plant
Raven ZZ plant
variegated ZZ plant
Variegated ZZ plant
hand holding a zz chameleon plant against a black wall
Chameleon ZZ plant

What is the best light?

ZZ plants will thrive in bright, indirect light. And they’ll likely grow beautifully in medium light levels, too. They don’t like direct light, though. Too much direct sun can scorch the leaves, which is not reversible.

Shoot for placing your plant near a sunny window but not right next to it. Remember to rotate the plant every few weeks if you notice it is growing unevenly toward the light.

A ZZ plant can also survive in a dark room. But that doesn’t mean it will thrive in a dark room. If you have a ZZ plant in a room with no light at all, you may notice the plant begin to suffer. It will start stretching, meaning the stems will get thinner and there will be more space between your leaves. This is known as a “leggy” look and is often a result of a plant searching for more light.

To help keep a ZZ plant in a dark room happy, provide some artificial light. This can be a grow light. However, ZZ plants famously do well under fluorescent lights, making them a great choice for offices.

large ZZ plant

How often do I water it?

One thing that makes ZZ plant care such a breeze is that they are very drought tolerant. Their rhizomes—which look a lot like small potatoes under the soil’s surface—can store water. Their leaves and stems also have a really high water content, further helping them along during periods of underwatering. 

I personally like to let my ZZ plant’s soil dry out completely before watering it again. However, I don’t like to let the soil sit completely dry for too long. Maybe a day or so. That generally means I water my ZZ plants once every 10-14 days in the spring and summer—even less in the fall and winter.

The frequency with which you water your babies depends heavily on your growing conditions, though. Remember that the more light you’re giving your plant, the more water it will need. Similarly, if you have your plant in lower temperatures, it will probably take longer for the soil to dry out.

brittany merth holding a raven ZZ plant

You may be watering too much if…

A ZZ plant with leaves that are yellowing could mean it is getting too much water. However, because yellowing leaves can be a sign of many problems, you’ll want to make sure it is coupled with consistently wet soil.

An overwatered ZZ plant may also begin to develop mushy stems that flop over. A healthy ZZ plant will have thick, firm, upright stems that may have a bit of an arch. If the stems are browning and mushy, that is probably a good sign that your plant is headed for root rot.

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.

If you suspect root rot from overwatering, take your plant out of the soil and inspect the roots. They should be white and firm like the photo below. If they are gray, brown, or mushy, that’s a sign of rot. Cut the mush away and repot the plant with fresh soil to see if you can save it.

zz plant

You may be watering too little if…

Despite this plant needing much less water than some other houseplants you might have, you don’t want to completely neglect it. A dehydrated ZZ plant will likely have some browning and yellowing on some of the leave tips—alongside dry soil.

Compacted, caked soil that is shrinking away from the side of the pot can also be a sign that you’ve gone too far between watering sessions. Break up the soil and give the plant a deep drink, letting all of the excess water drain from the plant’s drainage holes.

Pick off any damaged or dead leaves. Your plant will perk back up quickly. ZZ plants will tolerate even extreme neglect, bouncing back easily after being underwatered.

Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of monstera deliciosapothos plant care, and how to care for the hardy snake plant!

What kind of soil is best?

Make sure you’re using a well-draining potting soil designed for indoor plants or houseplants. You can also use a succulent soil. If the soil is too dense (like garden soil) it will lead to overwatering and root rot.

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. If you don’t feel like using a fertilizer, that’s fine.

chameleon ZZ plant foliage

Temperature & humidity

ZZ plants tolerate a variety of normal household temperatures very well. You don’t really need to overthink temperature for this one. Just keep in mind that this is not a cold- or frost-tolerant plant.

If you choose to take your ZZ plant outdoors for the spring and summer, make sure to take it indoors when temperatures begin dropping consistently into the 50s at night. It will do fine with a few cold snaps down into the 50s.

Another think that makes ZZ plant care easy is its tolerance to low humidity. Most household plants do enjoy at least a bit of humidity, but the ZZ plant tolerates low humidity very well.

plants on a bar cart

How large can it grow?

ZZ plants can grow up to about 2 feet tall. However, they are very slow growers. In the 7 or so years I’ve had mine, I’ve repotted it twice: once when I got it and then again a few years later.

The first time I repotted my first ZZ plant many years ago, I was weirded out to discover these hard potato-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 that’s just the plant.” I felt like an idiot. 🙂

The potato-rock-looking things are actually rhizomes, and they are how the plant grows. You can see in the photo below that the roots and stems sprout from the rhizomes, and there are often clusters of rhizomes in one potted plant.

zz plant glossy leaves
tubers on a zz plant

When should I repot my ZZ plant?

I recommend repotting your ZZ plant only when the roots begin growing out of the pot’s drainage holes. These plants do not mind being a bit potbound…another thing that makes ZZ plant care easy!

If it’s been a few years and you still think the pot size is okay, you can refresh the soil. Take the plant out, brush off the excess soil, and repot in the same pot with some fresh well-draining soil. This will replenish the nutrients and help encourage continued healthy growth.

Cleaning the leaves

You should make sure to clean the leaves every so often. They are real dust magnets. Wiping can be a bit tedious, though. So instead of wiping the leaves on your plant, I recommend cleaning them off when you water the plant.

You can do this by watering the plant in a sink or shower and just rinsing the plant’s foliage off as you water it. This is also a great pest-prevention best practice, too.

raven black zz plant on a table with other plants

Pruning & propagation

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, and it takes a very long time for the plant to root.

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.

propagating a zz plant
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

Toxicity concerns

ZZ plants are toxic. According to the Australian government, if chewed or swallowed, symptoms can cause immediate pain or a burning sensation and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat. Contact dermatitis may also occur in sensitive individuals.

Because of this, I recommend keeping your ZZ plants away from children and pets who may be more prone to stealing a little nibble. I also recommend wearing gardening gloves when repotting, pruning, or propagating the plant.

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. The ZZ plant is perfect safe to have in your home—you just don’t want to ingest it.

zz plant

In conclusion…

ZZ plants are hardy and low-maintenance, ideal for anyone looking to add greenery to their space without much fuss. They can adapt to various light conditions and require watering only when the soil dries out. 

While they’re pretty resilient, overwatering is something to look out for. There’s a variety of ZZ plants available, so you can choose one that fits your aesthetic. Got questions or want to share your experience with ZZs? Drop a comment below. Happy planting!

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collage of plants that says how to care for the hardy zz plant!

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