ZZ plants, or Zamiifolia zamioculcas, have a reputation for being tough – they can take almost any form of neglect and still survive. These hardy plants are loved for their glossy, dark green leaves that add vibrance to any interiorscape.
However, even the toughest plants have some basic growing requirements, and if your ZZ plant is becoming leggy, this is an indication that some of those requirements are not being met. Legginess, droopiness, and leaf discolorations are all signs that the plant is no longer able to tolerate its environmental conditions.
None of us wants a houseplant that looks sad and sickly, and the most frustrating part is that it can be challenging to determine exactly why your ZZ plant has become leggy. But fear not – if you are looking for answers and solutions, this guide is for you!
Why is my ZZ plant leggy?
1. Lack of sunlight
The most common cause of a leggy ZZ plant is poor light conditions. Like most houseplants, ZZs need enough filtered light from the sun to carry out photosynthesis in order to stay healthy. If your plant is not getting enough sunlight, it will start to stretch in the direction of the closest available light source – this is called etiolation and is the plant’s survival tactic! Over time, its stems will grow longer and softer – or leggy – making them look rather unattractive.
Aside from the long and skinny stems, you will also notice the leaves turning pale or yellow. There will probably also be wider gaps between the leaves.
2. Watering issues
We are all probably aware of the damaging effects of overwatering our plants! Too much water can seriously damage the roots, and without the healthy roots, your plant cannot absorb enough nutrients to keep itself upright, causing it to develop a leggy or droopy appearance.
Underwatering can have negative effects, too. Even though ZZs are naturally tough plants that can survive periods of neglect, they certainly will not maintain their lush leaves and firm stems if left to dry out. The lack of water discourages new growth, and may cause your plant to look leggy and bare with fewer leaves.
3. Too much fertilizer
Overfertilization can damage a plant’s root system and prevent new growth. Just like overwatering, root problems caused by too much fertilizer can lead to nutrient uptake issues. This can eventually weaken the plant’s stems and make them look droopy. Additionally, ZZ plants that do not have access to macro- and micronutrients will be more vulnerable to certain diseases.
4. Root damage after repotting
If your houseplant suddenly starts leaning after repotting it, it may be due to root damage. Transplant shock is common in houseplants, which is why it is important to limit the frequency of repotting your plants to prevent this issue. However, there are times when repotting is necessary, so the best thing you can do is protect the roots from possible damage during the process.
Repotted ZZs also need a few days to adjust to their new containers and soil. But do not worry – they are very adaptable and forgiving. Give your plant the love and care it deserves and it will bounce back on its own.
5. Temperature stress
ZZ plants need a temperature between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit for steady growth. Any temperature outside that comfort zone can lead to problems like yellowed leaves and a droopy appearance.
If the temperature is too cold, the leaves can become frozen and incur irreversible damage. If the temperature is too hot, your plant’s transpiration rate will increase and cause the leaves to dry or burn.
Even cold drafts can be problematic for your ZZ plant. If you keep it near an air conditioning vent, a heating device, or an open window, it will likely struggle from the temperature fluctuations. Keep in mind that most houseplants are sensitive to temperature changes, and exposure to undesirable conditions will likely cause damaged foliage and stunted growth.
How to fix your leggy ZZ plant
The first step in fixing a leggy ZZ plant is to correct your care regimen. Although they are known for being notoriously tolerant of neglect, it does not mean your ZZ plant is indestructible. So, if you want to maintain your plant’s glossy leaves and upright posture, follow the tips listed below:
1. Allow more light
We are already aware that low light conditions can cause irregular growth and leginess in ZZ plants. That said, too much sunlight can burn your plant’s leaves, causing severe damage. Both these situations are undesirable, so this is what you need to do:
Place your ZZ plant in a spot with access to indirect sunlight, such as near a windowsill. You might also need to move or rotate your plant from time to time so that all sides of it get some time in the light. Keep in mind that ZZs naturally bend or stretch their stems in the direction of the nearest light source, so if you do not rotate the plant, you will see unbalanced growth of the stems – one side might look longer and leggy while the other side has regular growth.
Your last resort would be to use artificial grow lights if you cannot find a perfect spot with filtered sunlight for your plant. The advantage of artificial light is that you have control over the light’s intensity and you can place it anywhere you like. Your plant will also be less dependent on the weather, especially during winter when there are fewer daylight hours.
2. Keep a proper watering schedule
Most ZZ plants do well when watered once or twice a week. However, their moisture needs will vary depending on the season and local humidity levels.
ZZ plants are excellent at regulating their water needs – you can safely assume that your plant does not need watering unless the top two inches of its soil have dried out. To check this, carefully insert your finger into the first two inches of soil to determine the moisture level. If it feels wet, wait for the soil to completely dry before watering your plant again.
It is also important to consider the type of soil and the container to use for your ZZ. Opt for airy soil, as dense or compacted soil tends to hold more water for longer periods. Pots or containers should also have drainage holes at the bottom to let the excess water flow out freely. This will ensure that the water saturates all of the soil without drowning the roots.
3. Do not forget to fertilize
ZZ plants require a bit of fertilizer for faster growth and stronger stems and leaves. Keep in mind that they are slow growers, so they should be perfectly fine with the minimum dosage.
It is recommended to use a fertilizer with a 5-5-5 ratio, or a diluted one with a 10-10-10 ratio. Feed your plants at the start of the growing season, followed by another dose after two months. Avoid fertilizing your ZZs during their dormant seasons, as this can cause root damage.
Liquid fertilizers typically work best for indoor plants like ZZs. You might also try the slow-release versions, but make sure to apply these only once a year. However, it is not good to use solid fertilizers for indoor plants.
Lastly, never over-fertilize your plants! As mentioned before, too much fertilizer can have ill effects on the roots and result in a droopy or sick-looking plant.
4. Repot, split, or prune when needed
Repotting, splitting, or pruning your ZZ is sometimes necessary if you notice irreversible damage to some parts of the plant.
If your ZZ plant is growing stems with little leaves, trim off these stems to encourage new growth and stronger stems. Additionally, branches and stems that have been damaged and leggy for long periods are less likely to recover, so it is best to remove them to improve your plant’s appearance. Make sure to use sterilized pruning shears or scissors when you do this.
If overwatering is the cause of your plant’s leggy appearance, then repotting it in a fresh, high-quality soil mix can help to correct the problem. If it has more than five stems, you can split the plant and transfer each division to a new pot. Individual rhizomes can grow their own stems and be split to produce new plants.
5. Be mindful of drafts and temperature fluctuations
It is important that you keep your ZZ plant in an environment where the temperature and humidity are optimal for healthy growth. Although there is nothing much you can do about temperature fluctuations, there are some tips you can follow to protect your plant from temperature stress.
First, make sure to place your plants away from an open exterior window or door during the winter season to prevent cold drafts from damaging it. You should also keep it away from air conditioning vents, fireplaces, heating vents, radiators, burning stoves, and large appliances.
Barriers like blinds or curtains work well to protect your plant from hot or cold drafts. Additionally, investing in a humidifier will ensure consistent humidity and a comfortable environment for your ZZ plant. You will find this device very helpful during the cold seasons when the air tends to be drier than in the spring and summer.
6. Choose the right pot
Pots with drainage holes are a basic requirement for growing houseplants like ZZs. Avoid containers that do not have adequate drainage, as they will retain too much water in the soil and this can cause root rot.
The size of the pot matters, too. If the container is too small, it will not allow enough space for new roots to grow. Being constrained in a small space can hinder plant growth and cause your ZZ to look limp. If the pot is too big, on the other hand, you risk your plant developing root rot and fungal diseases since it will take longer for that volume of soil to dry out after watering.
To avoid such problems, it is recommended that you use a small-sized pot (four to six inches) for smaller ZZ plants, and transfer them to a medium-sized pot (seven to 10 inches) after a couple of years of growth. If your plant is big and does not fit a small or medium pot, then consider a bigger pot size (above 10 inches).
Worried about your ZZ plant becoming leggy? You probably just need to correct the amount of light it is receiving. ZZ plants do not do well in low light conditions.
While the prime cause of legginess is a lack of sunlight, your plant might take on a similar, leaning or droopy appearance if you overwatered it, which can cause irreversible damage to the roots. Root rot is a serious problem and a common plant killer, and requires immediate action.
Other possible factors might also cause your plant to appear sick or droopy, ranging from inappropriate fertilizer application to temperature and transplant shock. Whatever the reason, it is extremely important to understand these issues so that you know how to address them promptly. Once you have identified the problem, you can apply the appropriate solution to regain your plant’s vibrant appearance.
Image: istockphoto.com / ribeiroantonio