Looking for a perfect indoor plant that is easy to care for? Then the ZZ plant might be your best option!
Also known as Zamioculcas zamiifolia, this amazing houseplant boasts glossy, dark green foliage that makes most growers fall in love. It is also said that ZZs are natural air purifiers that can keep your indoor air quality cleaner and fresher. No wonder they have been among the most popular houseplants for decades!
ZZs are considered tough plants because of their ability to tolerate low light conditions and neglect. However, they do still need to have their basic needs met, otherwise they will start to show signs of stress. A ZZ plant falling over is a pretty clear sign that something has gone wrong – and nobody wants a droopy or sad-looking plant!
This guide will tell you all the possible reasons your ZZ plant is falling over, as well as how to fix the problem.
Common causes of ZZ plant falling over
1. Insufficient or too much watering
One common mistake that many newbie plant owners make is overwatering. The ZZ plant is one of those hardy indoor plants that do not require frequent watering – although it is not a succulent, it is drought tolerant. Hence, it will not die easily if you forget to water it for a couple of days. However, because it does not look like a succulent, it is easy to assume that it needs the same water as any other houseplant, so novice growers might water them a bit too frequently.
If you overwater your ZZ, you can eventually drown it. And, if it starts to fall over, your first reaction might be to give it more water on the assumption that it is thirsty, but this may actually make the problem worse.
Oversaturating the soil will kill the roots and they will turn dark and mushy. This condition is called root rot, and is one of the prime reasons that ZZ plants become weak and vulnerable to diseases. Overwatered plants fall over because they are no longer receiving nutrients from the soil, because the damaged roots cannot absorb them properly. Without prompt action, your beautiful plant could die.
So, what about skipping water for long periods? Is that healthier for ZZ plants?
As mentioned, ZZ plants can survive without being watered for fairly long periods compared with other houseplants. That is why a lot of forgetful growers love this plant! But it does not mean that watering your ZZ plant too sparingly will not cause some problems.
Underwatering is less serious than overwatering because it is easier to revive a dehydrated plant than to save one with dead roots. However, a dehydrated ZZ plant does not look good – its leaves become pale or crispy brown and the plant will start to droop and lean over as it dries out more. Additionally, if you leave your plant dehydrated for too long, it will eventually perish.
2. Exposure to full sunlight
Plants need sunlight in order to perform photosynthesis. This process helps them maintain their vibrant foliage and grow properly. Without the sunlight, it is impossible for plants to survive.
You might be wondering, then, why your ZZ plant is falling over despite being under the full sunlight.
Contrary to what you might think, exposure to full sunlight can be harmful to many houseplants, including your ZZ. That is because the sun’s heat can cause excessive transpiration, which leads to water loss. Water is essential to maintain a plant’s turgor pressure so they can stand firmly and their leaves do not droop or curl. With full exposure to sunlight, your ZZ plant may lose too much moisture too fast, resulting in burnt leaves and leaning over.
3. Poor lighting conditions
If too much sunlight is bad for ZZ plants, then what about placing them under lower light levels?
Unfortunately, ZZ plants can also suffer in poor low conditions. These conditions will make it impossible for your plant to carry out processes like photosynthesis, and you will know this when it starts falling over.
4. Too much fertilizer
Applying too much fertilizer is harmful for your plants! Excess fertilizer will not help your plant grow better, but instead accumulates in the soil in the form of salts. If the salt content in the soil is too high, the moisture content will be pulled away from the plant’s roots. This process is called reverse osmosis.
Salt buildup causes root burn, and without healthy roots, your ZZ plant will not be able to absorb sufficient water and nutrients to keep it upright. Hence, overfertilization can lead to dehydration, making your plant look sad and, eventually, fall over.
Other visible signs of too much fertilizer are:
- Vulnerability to plant diseases
- Stunted growth
- Presence of crusty substances on top of the soil
- Wilting and yellowing of the lower leaves
- Browning of the leaf tips and edges
- Blackened or browned roots
5. Stress from extreme temperatures
ZZ plants thrive in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything outside this range can make your plant look sickly. One way to tell that your plant is struggling from temperature stress is if it starts to fall over and the leaves start curling up.
If the temperature drops below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, it can disrupt your plant’s nutrient uptake. Cold temperatures can freeze the water in the leaves and damage the plant’s cells. If you do not intervene quickly, the damage can spread to the roots and kill your plant.
Temperatures higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, on the other hand, can be too hot for your ZZ plant. Similar to full sunlight exposure, the extreme heat can increase the plant’s transpiration rate and make it limp as it loses its moisture content.
6. Transplant shock from repotting
Plants are not designed to be moved from one area to another. So, when you repot your ZZ plant, it is bound to experience stress or shock. It might show signs such as wilting, branches dying, or falling over.
This is why repotting should only be done once every two to three years, in order to minimize this stress. It is also recommended to transplant your ZZ during its growing season, rather than during winter.
However, there are times when repotting is the only option to save your plant. For example, an overwatered or overfertilized ZZ plant can be revived by planting it in new, fresh soil. Plants that have struggled with fungal diseases might also be revived by changing their soil and container altogether.
Just keep in mind that plants’ roots are very sensitive to injury. Hence, great care must be taken while transplanting them, to prevent any possible root damage.
If your ZZ plant is falling over after being repotted, despite your careful efforts, it could just be adjusting to its new container. Be patient and give it the proper care it needs, and it should bounce back to health in a few days.
7. Stem trauma or injuries
Mechanical injuries caused by accidents or deliberate physical actions can sometimes be the culprit if your ZZ plant is falling over. Some of its parts might be damaged or punctured after falling from a windowsill or shelf, or perhaps you have pets or children at home that accidentally pushed your plant and caused some damage.
Unfortunately, damaged leaves and stems cannot be recovered. The best way to fix the situation is to trim off the damaged parts using sterilized shears or scissors. If the pot is cracked or damaged, you might also need to repot it in a new container.
How to fix a ZZ plant falling over
We all want our plants to thrive and maintain their beautiful aesthetic. And, although they are tough, ZZ plants still require a degree of care and attention to stay healthy.
So, if you notice your plant falling over, follow these simple tips to revive it as soon as possible:
1. Establish a proper watering routine
Unfortunately, there is no golden rule as to how often you need to water your ZZ plants. Environmental temperatures and humidity levels can vary, and these factors can affect your plant’s moisture needs.
However, there is a simple method that can help you determine the best time to water your plant. This is the soil finger test. All you have to do is to feel whether the soil is wet or dry by pushing your finger into the soil up to about an inch deep. If the soil feels moist, there is no need to water your plant. If it feels dry, then it is time to give your ZZ plant a drink.
Another method is to use a soil moisture meter like the XLUX. This low-cost sensor allows you to monitor the water content around your plant’s root zone accurately, enabling informed watering decisions and reducing water stress.
2. Maintain appropriate lighting conditions
As mentioned before, ZZ plants thrive in areas where they can receive indirect sunlight. If you want to keep your plant’s attractive foliage looking its best, you need to make sure it receives enough sunlight without burning it.
Exposing your plant to light shade will help maintain its vital cellular functions without it getting burned by excess heat. If you can, place it near a window that does not face south, or hang a curtain over the window to diffuse the intensity of the light. If you cannot expose the plant to indirect sunlight, there is also the option of an artificial grow light.
3. Keep your fertilizer applications in check
Unlike in their natural habitat where there is a constant flow of nutrients, indoor ZZ plants will need the occasional boost to top up their essential nutrients. Fertilizer contains the macro and micro ingredients needed to maintain your plant’s healthy stems, leaves, and roots.
However, as mentioned before, too much fertilizer can damage your plant, so before you get too keen with your applications, make sure you know the appropriate N-P-K ratio for your ZZ plant. You have probably seen these letters before, on the labels of fertilizer packaging – they stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. So, for example, if you see the numbers 10-10-10, it simply means 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium.
In the case of ZZ plants, it is best to use a diluted fertilizer with a 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 ratio. Feed your plant once a month or once every two months during its growing seasons, but be aware that most houseplants go dormant during winter, so they will not absorb nutrients at a very rapid rate during that time. Thus, avoid fertilizing during the winter season or risk root burn in your ZZ.
4. Protect your plant from extreme temperatures
Keeping your ZZ plant within its temperature comfort zone is important for its growth. If you keep it near a window with very bright sunlight, consider hanging a sheer curtain to prevent heat stress, or move it slightly to avoid the direct sunlight.
It is also recommended to water your plant early in the morning so that it has enough time for its leaves and soil to dry before the cold night temperatures set it. Watering in the morning, especially during the summer, will also make sure that the roots are amply hydrated, thus preventing heat stress. Do not water your plant at night; this will leave the leaves wet for too long, and damp leaves can make your plant vulnerable to fungal diseases.
Other useful tricks to protect your plants from extreme temperatures include:
- Adding mulch to insulate the roots from extreme heat and cold
- Using a shade cloth or frost blankets
- Keeping the right humidity levels in your growing space
- Placing your plants near a shade structure or other tall plants
5. Make sure the roots are healthy
Roots are the lifeline of your ZZ plant – they absorb the nutrients, water, and oxygen necessary to keep the plant alive and healthy. They also keep it upright and prevent it from going limp or falling over. Hence, it is extremely important to keep your plant’s root system healthy.
Aside from ensuring the right soil conditions, make sure to monitor the roots if your plant shows any signs of weakness such as wilting or falling over. Carefully lift the plant from its pot and check the color of the roots. If they are firm and white, they are healthy. If they are dark, mushy, and smell bad, this is a sign of dead and rotting roots.
To save your ZZ if it has root rot, first carefully trim off the decomposed roots using sterilized pruning shears. Then, repot your plant in fresh, well-draining soil, making sure that the new container has drainage holes to prevent the accumulation of excess water. After repotting the plant, water it so that the soil is damp but not too wet. Wait for the soil to dry out before the next watering.
Wrapping it up
A ZZ plant falling over is a clear sign of a problem! As its keeper, it is up to you to determine the cause of the problem and address it right away to save your beloved plant. All of the most common causes are discussed in this guide, so if you follow the advice mentioned above, you should be able to revive your ZZ plant and prevent any future problems!
Image: istockphoto.com / Maya23K