How to Care for a ZZ Plant

Weren't gifted with a green thumb? Then this houseplant is for you. ZZ plants provide high-impact looks with little maintenance.

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You say you can’t grow anything. You don't have a green thumb and you kill every houseplant that dares to enter your house. Have you tried bringing home a ZZ plant?

ZZ — shorthand for the plant’s tongue-tangling botanical name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia — may be the solution for anyone who wishes they could grow something — anything — without much attention and hassle, and better still if it can thrive on neglect. While a ZZ left completely on its own in a dark closet will eventually falter and fail, it is much less fussy and more tolerant of poor treatment than most other houseplants.

Some background information: As a houseplant, ZZ is relatively new. It is native to East Africa and Tanzania, where it thrives in heat and drought, but has only been widely distributed as a houseplant since the mid-1990s. It grows from a bulbous rhizome, which is where it stores the water it needs to survive its harsh environment.

Caring for ZZ Plants

As a houseplant, ZZ has become popular because of these survival traits. It’s a slow-growing plant, bearing waxy, oval, dark green leaves on graceful stems that can reach two to three feet in height. It’s attractive in any room setting, but it tolerates a lot of less-than-perfect conditions. It does well in low-light areas, isn’t bothered by low humidity and can survive a forgetful owner’s sporadic watering habits.

To provide optimal growing conditions, plant ZZ in well-drained soil, place it where it gets a bit of natural light (it also grows well under fluorescent lights) and water it when the top couple of inches of soil dries out. In fact, too much water can cause the leaves to begin to turn yellow, which may indicate that the rhizome is rotting. Feed ZZ with a regular houseplant fertilizer a couple of times a year.

Varieties of ZZ Plants

Most ZZ plants have glossy green leaves, but Raven ZZ plant, Z. Zamiifolia ‘Dowon,’ is a newer variety grown in North America by Costa Farms with dark purple foliage that looks almost black. There is also a dwarf variety, ‘Zamicro,’ which is a bit smaller than the regular variety.

In a decorative setting with other houseplants, ZZ of any size or shade pairs well with tall, strappy snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue), another high-impact, low-maintenance favorite.

Propagation: Dig and Divide

When ZZ outgrows its pot or is large enough to divide, it’s an easy task. Lift the plant out of its pot, carefully separate the rhizomes and replant into clean pots with new potting mix. You can also grow new ZZs from cuttings. Plant stem cuttings with two leaves in a well-drained potting mix, water lightly and place the cuttings in a warm area where they will receive bright light during the day. Water them occasionally and be patient. ZZ grows slowly, and it may take several months before the new plant shows any sign of rooting.

Zamioculcas (ZZ Plant)

Zamioculcas (ZZ Plant)

Problem: Lower leaves turn yellow and drop. Solution: Several issues can cause foliage to turn yellow and fall off. First, be sure you’re not overwatering or underwatering. To check for signs of overwatering, gently ease the plant out of its pot and look for rotting or blackened roots. Leaf drop can also result from insufficient light, so try moving your plant to a brighter spot. Finally, make sure you’re using the right fertilizer for your plant, and feed as directed on the label. This Zamioculcas, or ZZ plant, seldom has these kinds of problems. It's tough enough to tolerate low light and little water.

Photo by: Costa Farms

Costa Farms

Like many other houseplants, ZZ has been known to reduce indoor air pollution and removes several organic chemicals — toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and others — from the air.

There is also one note of caution about Z. zamiifolia: All parts of the plant are poisonous, so be sure to keep it out of reach of children and pets who might nibble on it. Some sources advise handwashing after handling ZZ plant to avoid skin irritation.

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