I was having a tough time getting any plants to grow in a certain deeply shaded spot a couple of years ago. One of my former staff members suggested getting a ZZ plant.
I said: “A Zee Zee? What is that?” Well, it turns out that the ZZ is a newer “old plant” that is very easy to grow—indoors or out!
Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a member of the aroid family, and was originally grown in Africa. It is a tropical plant with a tuberous root and shiny leaves, a tolerance for low light, a resistance to pests, and the ability to thrive on water—or survive without watering for weeks. In other words, it may be the world’s first foolproof houseplant.
The “ZZ” can grow to 18 to 36 inches—and I have seen ZZ plants just as wide. The “ZZ” is a bit more expensive than other house plants; you can find it at some of the local nurseries and the chains like The Home Depot, in various sizes (and prices).
“ZZ” plants will adapt to nearly any light condition—except total darkness. I have placed them near a bright window, under a lamp and in dark corners. The foliage grows from a bulb or tuber that stores water. Let the soil dry out completely between watering: A “ZZ” plant prefers to be on the dry side. If it starts dropping leaves, it probably is too dry. The stems may also get “wrinkly.” Your plant will send out new growth when regularly watered—but give it too much water, and you’ll not only have leaves turning yellow; the tuber will begin to rot. In fact, about the only way to kill this plant is to over-water it.
Feed bi-monthly, and you can propagate by dividing the tubers. Mature branches tend to droop or fall as they get heavy with water in their thick stems. If unsightly, you can always cut those branches out. New shoots will arise from the interior of the plant.
Be warned: The sap of the plant is toxic, and no part of the plant should be eaten. Keep it away from children and pets, and wash your hands or wear gloves when you are pruning it.
As is the case for many houseplants, the “ZZ” plant does fine outdoors as well, especially in a mostly shady spot—but don’t take it out until spring temperatures are consistently in the upper 50s, and make sure you bring it back in when fall temperatures are around the same mark, unless it’s in a well-protected area.
If you only have 20 minutes in your desert potted garden this week: Deadhead your flowers this week, and if you still have summer vinca, trim them back to new growth.
Marylee is the founder and former owner of The Contained Gardener in Tucson, Ariz. She has become known as the Desert’s Potted Garden Expert. Email her with comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow the Potted Desert on Facebook.