How to Care for (and Propagate) Your ZZ Plant

All the tips and tricks you need to grow this lush, easygoing houseplant.

Updated 10/03/19

 

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If there’s one houseplant that can thrive with neglect, it’s the ZZ plant. This lush tropical perennial—also known as aroid palm or by its mouthful of a botanical name, Zamioculcas zamiifolia—is adaptable to infrequent waterings and all kinds of light conditions. That means you can incorporate ZZ plants’ shiny, deep green leaves into many different spaces, from fluorescent-lit offices to a spacious open-plan living room with lots of light. 

While ZZ plants may be slow growers, they more than make up for that by being so highly adaptable and low-maintenance. At maturity, these plants will grow two to four feet tall and wide, with long, spreading compound leaves composed of small leaflets on a central shoot growing directly from the soil.

Because they're so adaptable to different conditions and borderline indestructible, ZZ plants make a great houseplant for beginning gardeners or for spaces like offices, waiting rooms, restaurants, and rental houses where ideal care might not be possible. As a bonus, ZZ plants have been shown to improve air quality and filter out volatile organic compounds in indoor spaces.

Best Growing Conditions for ZZ Plants

ZZ plants can withstand low-light spaces and can adapt to conditions from full to partial shade, although they do best when grown in bright indirect light. An east-facing window that gets only morning light or a north-facing window are good options for ZZ plants. Too much sunlight can create brown spots on your plant’s leaves. 

Plant your ZZ in a well-drained, all-purpose potting mix or a growing medium that’s three parts all-purpose mix and one part succulent soil mix. These tropicals need temperatures no lower than around 65 degrees at night. While their natural habitat is humid, ZZs can also adapt to lower-humidity indoor spaces as well.

How to Care for Your ZZ Plant

It’s important to allow your ZZ plant’s soil to dry out fully between waterings. Its rhizomes store up water beneath the soil, giving it the ability to tolerate periods of drought. Because of this, too much rather than too little water is typically an issue with ZZ plants. If you notice leaflets yellowing or dropping, try cutting back on water, as soil that’s overly moist can lead to your plant’s fleshy rhizomes to rot. 

Choose a spot out of reach of pets or small children to display your ZZ plant, as the leaves are toxic to humans, dogs, and cats if ingested. 

Check the soil moisture frequently when you first bring your plant home and water accordingly going forward. While ZZ plants have been able to grow well with as much as four months between waterings, they should be watered regularly to avoid dormancy. 

Repot your ZZ plant when you see signs that it’s root-bound, such as browning leaves, roots growing out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, and soil that drains and dries out very quickly (a sign that the plant is too root-bound for water to penetrate). Carefully remove the plant from the pot, loosen the root ball with your fingers, prune back any black or rotten roots, then replant with fresh potting soil in a container one size larger than the one your plant outgrew.  

While ZZ plants are grown mostly for their foliage, mature specimens will produce a tiny flowers on a white or pale yellow spadix surrounded by a pale green spathe. Flowers grow low amidst the base of the leaves and appear in midsummer or early fall. 

How to Propagate Your ZZ Plant

The quickest way to propagate a large, full ZZ plant specimen is by division—simply separating or cutting the plant’s roots into two clumps and replanting them. However, it’s also possible to propagate ZZ plants by rooting leaf cuttings or leaflets. These methods take a little longer, but they're the best option for propagating smaller specimens.

Another technique for propagating ZZ plants is through rooting the leaflets, which grow along the “stem” of the plant’s compound leaves. An easy way to do this and fill out your existing plant is simply to collect any healthy leaves that might break off your plant and bury them halfway with the petiole end (the part that connects to the leaf) in the soil of the mother plant. 

How to Propagate Your ZZ Plant Via Leaf Cuttings

Step 1: Prepare a clean glass or jar and fill it about halfway with clean water. To reduce the risk of rot, you can use a small container of well-draining moist soil instead.

Step 2: With a clean, sharp blade, cut through the leaf as close to the base as possible. Remove any leaflets growing on the bottom six to eight inches of this leaf (these can be propagated separately). 

Step 3: Place the leaf in the glass of water or plant it in the container of moist soil. Depending on the conditions in your space, you should see new rhizomes growing from the base of the cutting within anywhere from two months to a year.

How to Propagate Your ZZ Plant Via Leaflets

Step 1: Prepare a shallow container that a clear lid with a one- to two-inch layer of potting soil (plastic takeout containers work well for this). Spritz the soil with water so it is moist.

Step 2: Using a clean, sharp blade, remove a leaflet by cutting as close to the central shoot of the leaf as possible. 

Step 3: Plant the leaflet in the tray of soil at a 45-degree angle so that the petiole end (the part connecting the leaflet to the central shoot) is beneath the soil. You can propagate several leaflets in the same container at once this way. Cover and close the container. 

Step 4: Check the container periodically to monitor growth and spritz the soil lightly if it has dried out. While it may take several months, the buried leaflet ends should grow small, potato-like tubers even as the original leaflets wither away. These can be planted in moist soil and will eventually produce a new plant. 

ZZ plant with green leaves and light green stems in terra cotta colored plastic pot against white background
The Sill ZZ Plant $25
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How to Propagate Your ZZ Plant by Division

If your ZZ plant is large and healthy, the best way to propagate it may be division, which will result in two, three, or more smaller plants depending on the size of the mother plant and how many new plants you’d like to make. Keep in mind that this method should only be used every few years, as dividing a plant that’s too small or immature risks damage to the plant.

Step 1: Prepare two or three smaller pots with fresh potting mix.

Step 2: Carefully remove the mother plant from its current pot by placing the container on its side and gently grasping the base of the leaves and pulling the pot away from the roots. If the pot is stuck, loosen the soil around the edge of the pot with a digging knife, trowel, or utility knife. 

Step 3: Grasping the plant by the base of the leaves with one hand, use your other hand to gently loosen the root ball and remove excess soil. Use pruners or a utility knife to cut away any rotten or shriveled roots. 

Step 4: Inspect the root ball for natural points of division—where you will have to make the fewest number of cuts to separate the roots of the new plants. Using your utility knife, carefully saw through the root ball and rhizomes as cleanly as possible at the separation points you identified. 

Step 5: Pot each section of plant into an appropriately sized container with fresh soil, then water until soil is moist and care for as usual. 

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