Zamioculcas Zamifolia (ZZ Plant)

The Z(ee) Z(ee) Plant

Zamioculcas Zamifolia or the ZZ plant (say Zee-Zee) is quite an exciting house plant. This is because at the time of writing, the ZZ plant is the newest house plant to enter our homes. It only started to be grown in mass by ZZ Plant on a window ledgeDutch nurseries (which is where the majority of the western worlds house plants come from) in the late 1990's and has gradually become more and more popular.

The advantages of this fresh introduction to the world of house plants is that it's currently in vogue, blending perfectly well both within a contemporary and traditional setting. The ZZ Plant is stylish, attractive and easy to take care of, with an easy and straight forward propagation method. It can take a reasonable amount of neglect without adverse effects and appears impervious to the majority of pests which can afflict other plants. What's not to love about it?

The disadvantages are that you will currently only be able to find one cultivar, which is the all green variety, it can also be difficult to find and consequently may attract a high premium by way of its selling price. In addition it has an annoying tenancy to not do anything. At all. It doesn't grow, it doesn't die. It just sits there. For some people this wont matter in the slightest, but a lot of keen gardeners and indoor plant owners like feedback from their plants. When things are right they grow and flourish, when conditions aren't so good the plant lets you know about it through its sickly appearance Very glossy Zamioculcas leaves on a strong stem and in that respect the ZZ plant can be a difficult and frustrating enigma.

On balance however, the Our House Plants.com team love it. Although all parts of Zamioculcas are toxic, it's a versatile and stunning plant with a lot going on, from its starchy potato like rhizomes at the base of each stem to the oval shaped glossy leaves which are arranged along its contrasting colored stem in a herringbone fashion. It's also ridiculously simple to propagate more plants!


Plant Care and the Secrets to Success

Light

The ZZ plant will accommodate a broad spectrum of light conditions, however it doesn't like harsh direct sunlight found in South facing windows. Early morning, or late afternoon sun is acceptable, therefore try to aim for a North, East or West facing window. Deep shade must also be avoided if you want it to grow.

Watering

You must take care here, the number one cause of plant death is overwatering. The ZZ plant is adapted to surviving droughts, therefore heavy constant watering without allowing the soil to dry out inbetween, will turn the leaves yellow before rotting the tubers away. On the other hand for productive and fast growth the soil needs to be moist for the majority of the time between late Spring to early Autumn / Fall.

As a basic guide, in good light and warm temperate conditions, aim for a heavy watering once a week or so and slightly less in poor light conditions and over Winter. Adapt accordingly based on how the soil feels, obviously if it's still very moist when you come back a week later don't water.

Humidity

Not important.

Feeding

If the plant isn't growing, i.e. if it's in one of its "moods" (see introduction above and problem section below) or in Winter don't bother feeding. Even when it's growing, a weak feed once a month is more than adequate.

Temperature

To survive the plant needs an average spot, 13 °C - 26 °C / 55°F - 79 °F. Warmer temperatures in the upper range however will give an increase in growth output.

Repotting

Repot if needed in Spring / Summer.

Propagation

It's really easy to propagate more ZZ plants through leaf cuttings, but it will be a while before you'll see results. You could be waiting up to a year before anything happens above ground. If you have the patience though go ahead.

It's really easy to propagate, but you could be waiting up to a year before you have a new plant

All you need to do is gently pull off a leaf from the stem, allow the raw edge to dry slightly (few hours to a day) and then pot it up in a free draining compost mix with the raw edge going in first. Most of the leaf needs to be above the ground which prevents rotting, and allows for photosynthesis to take place which in turn creates the new growth. Only a few centimeters of the leaf needs to actually be in the soil, just enough to hold it in place. Keep warm and water very occasionally.

If you want a visual guide to this propagation method we found the one below on YouTube which is pretty good (avoid the type of biodegradable carton she is using though as it may have decomposed before you get results!).

After you've done this one of three things will eventually happen;

  • A new stem will emerge by the side of the leaf you planted (always leave the leaf where it is, as it is fueling this new growth). Congratulations you have a new plant on the way!
  • The leaf will suddenly die. If you gently pull it out of the soil you may notice small tubers at the raw edge. This is basically the plant's energy store, put everything back into the soil and the tubers will hopefully push up new growth.
  • The leaf dies and when you pull it out there is nothing to see. Regrettably the attempt has failed, it's easy to feel disappointed when this happens especially if you have been caring for this sole leaf for a long time, but it's just how it goes sometimes. Don't take it personally and just try again.

Speed of Growth

New ZZ Plant stem complete with leavesSlow to moderate. Warmer temperatures tend to result in more growth overall. The new stems emerge out of the soil and quickly get taller before opening up, just like a cocoon. Inside are all the new glossy leaves this shoot will produce which will gradually emerge and fan out.

Height / Spread

The stems can grow to 60cm / 24. It's spread however is limited only by the size of the container it's in, very wide containers will result in a bushy plant (after many years).

Flowers

Yes, but they are basic and not really of interest (see gallery for pictures).

Anything else?

The leaves may become dusty, popping it in a tepid shower will help wash all the leaves quickly. Do not use leaf shine products, this can be harmful and the leaves are very glossy naturally anyway.


Help! My ZZ plant is Dying

No growth

This is the ZZ plant's most annoying trait. Some people have stated their plant hasn't grown at all since they brought it... 6 months ago. The key here is to focus on three important variables, light, temperature and watering, forget everything else. Ensure the plant is put in a well lit location, not too dark, or too sunny. Growth only tends to occur if the temperature is above 18°C / 64 °F. Finally the compost should be moist most of the time, rather than constantly bone dry or completely saturated.

Even when you get this balance spot on you might not see any change for weeks or even months, so consequently the final piece of this puzzle comes down to patience.

Plant is too small

Close up of three propagated Zamioculcas Zamifolia leavesIf you take a look at our picture on the right you can see three leaves sticking out of the soil. This is because when the plant was propagated, rather than just using one leaf a few were put quite close together to create several new plants all at once. This speeds things up massively and helps make a wider and more pleasing plant to look at (although technically of course it's several plants all in one pot). See Propagation method.

Sudden leaf drop on my ZZ Plant

This is usually a survival mechanism to drastic underwatering. The plant is naturally adapted to lack of water, but if it's prolonged it will take more radical action by shedding leaves to reduce the rate of water loss through leaf surface area.

If you are sure a drought hasn't or isn't taking place, then it's probably caused by overwatering and the tubers are rotting away, parts of the plant are about to suffer a complete collapse so prepare for the worst. Consider propagating some of the leaves that are still attached to the dying stem(s).

Uneven growth / Very long and heavy stems

Zamioculcas will grow towards light sources, so rotate its pot every once in a while to encourage an evenly spread plant.

If light conditions are poor, like most plants, the stems become somewhat spindly or stretched and longer than normal. Although it's harder to see spindly growth in the ZZ plant because the stems are so thick, so instead look for them becoming very long and top heavy instead. If you see this, consider moving to a brighter location.

Leaves turning yellow / dropping off

Unlike a lot of plants it's unusual for the ZZ plant to drop its lower leaves as it ages. It does happen though, particularly as things get colder and Winter arrives, although your first port of call should be to check your watering routine. Yellow leaves, especially on mass, is a symptom of overwatering. The plant is sensitive to this, so go careful, when in doubt dry compost over wet is best.

Aphids

Aphids are annoying with any house plant, and the chances of getting them are increased greatly if you Summer them outdoors. Unfortunately Aphids love the chance to suck sap from the ZZ plant if given half a chance. They can be a pain to get rid of and over time can spread viruses and diseases. ZZ Plant under attach by sap sucking AphidsThe picture on the right shows an infestation along with the consequences, diseased leaves.

If your ZZ plant leaves ever show random yellow patterns including spots, or mosaic patterns (again see photo). Thoroughly check the plant for Aphids, they are well camouflaged so you may have to look closely.

If the plant is outdoors then its possible natural predators such as Ladybirds will help you out and finish them off, however this is unlikely if the plant is indoors. You can either rub them off with your fingers, or mix up a spray with one part washing up liquid or liquid soap to about 19 parts water. It only needs to be a weak solution, then spray. After a short time wash all the soapy water off the plant leaves. Remove disease infested leaves to reduce spread to the rest of the plant.



(Gallery) Photo credit of the ZZ Plant on a wooden floor to Andreas Hammerschmidt


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