How To Keep ZZ Plants Alive (Don't Worry—It's Super Easy)
As a New Yorker with no pets and no kids, my most serious relationship is the one I have with my houseplants.
I check in on them every day, inspect them for any signs of distress, and worry about them when I go on vacation. In exchange, they make my apartment look great, clean up my air a bit, and help me forget that I live surrounded by concrete.
So, understandably, when a houseplant dies, a mourning period follows. If I can't save its scorched leaves or oversaturated soil, I am annoyed, then sad, then angry at myself for being the world's worst plant parent. I know I'm not alone.
One way we can all save ourselves the heartache of dead greenery is by choosing different plants in the first place. In search of the ultimate hardy houseplant, I reached out to Joyce Mast, a longtime florist and designated Plant Mom at direct-to-consumer plant company Bloomscape.
She was quick to tell me that the most resilient of all plants is the almighty ZZ. Here's everything you need to know to keep ZZ plants alive (which, thankfully, isn't that much!)
- Sunlight needs: Bright, indirect light
- When to water: Every 2-3 weeks (though it can last without water for longer)
- Pros: Low-maintenance
- Cons: Toxic to pets
- Where to put them: In a bright spot, out of direct sunlight
- Pet friendly? Toxic to cats and dogs
- Size: Medium, some varieties can grow up to 2-3 feet tall
Native to the dry grasslands of East Africa, ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are super popular houseplants prized for their deep green, drought-resistant leaves.
Like all greenery, the ZZ plant needs sunlight to grow. However, spending too much time in direct sun can scorch its leaves, making them appear yellow or brown. Place your ZZ near a window that gets less than three hours of direct sun exposure a day and it'll be happy.
The ZZ plant's unique root system produces round rhizomes that store water underground. This allows it to last longer between waterings than most houseplants, even succulents.
In fact, Mast says you can get away with watering your ZZ plant as little as every 3-4 weeks, or 4-6 weeks during the winter.
Wait until its soil dries out completely between waterings: You'll know it's time by sticking your fingers a couple of inches (to the second knuckle) into the plant's soil.
"If the soil feels wet at this level, then hold off watering and check again in a couple of days," says Mast. "If the soil feels dry, take your plant to the sink and water it until the water begins to trickle out of the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Once it does, allow a bit of time for all the water to be expelled from the pot and then put it back on the saucer."
How to pot it:
The one thing you do need to do to ensure your ZZ lives a long, happy life is to give it a good home from the get-go. Choose a pot that has a drainage hole at the bottom, keeping your ZZ in the plastic container it came in until you find one.
This is important because if there's no place for water to drain from, this drought-tolerant plant will suffer from root rot—one of the most notorious plant killers.
ZZ plant common problems:
- Yellow leaves: Mast says lots of yellow leaves can be a sign that you're overwatering your plant. Remember to test out its soil for moisture between waterings.
- Leaves that are brown around the edges: "It usually is a lack of humidity or water quality [issue]," Mast says of browning leaves. "I suggest getting a plant mister and giving your plants a spritz every day." Watering your ZZ using hard, mineral-rich water can also cause this issue. Mast suggests switching over to distilled/ rainwater or filling a pitcher with tap water and allowing it to sit uncovered overnight so the minerals can evaporate.
- Leaves that are falling off: If the leaves start to fall off altogether, the plant is thirsty and ready for water.
The bottom line:
As long as you give your ZZ plants a little sun, a pot with a drainage hole, and some water every once in a while, you're almost guaranteed success, making this a great houseplant for beginner green thumbs and frequent travelers.
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.