ZZ plants, or Zamioculcas zamiifolia, are stunning houseplant favourites that I’ve been personally growing for years. However, as you might expect, they will need a little TLC occasionally! With that in mind, do you know how to prune a ZZ plant for the best?
Pruning ZZ plants for the first time can be daunting. There are several options if you have had your ZZ for a long time and/or haven’t pruned one before. In this guide, I’ll help you decide which option may be best for you and your ZZ.
Who knows – you may even want to give your ZZ cuttings away as gifts! Before you break out the wrapping paper, let’s dive into the pruning essentials.
When should I prune my ZZ plant?
The ideal time to prune ZZ plants is as they wake up after their annual dormant period, spring through to early summer.
As natives of Africa, they welcome the warmth of summer in their natural habitat – and, when indoors in warm homes in winter, they will enter into a dormant phase. It’s best to continue with their natural rhythm unless you have an emergency!
You’ll probably need to prune your ZZ plant if any of the following apply:
Your ZZ has dead leaves
Your ZZ is always going to lose leaves, and pruning the plant simply helps to keep it looking healthy and tidy.
Trimming and pruning ZZ plants with dead leaves is also a great idea if you want to avoid rot – a little more on this below.
Your plant needs tidying up
Yes – you may simply want to prune your ZZ plant back simply to give it a little bit more visual balance! If your stems start overgrowing and leave your plant crooked, it makes sense to try and cut back a bit if you can.
Symmetry is key to keeping ZZ plants looking gorgeous. What’s more, you’ll balance out the plant’s energy and keep nutrients balanced across multiple stalks and leaves.
Your plant’s getting leggy
ZZ plant stems can grow leggy over time, which means they’re going to need a little more light, or at least, better light conditions.
As such, it’s reasonable to prune away the leggy bits and to reposition the plant somewhere more appropriate.
If you find this process tough to bear, remember that leggy stems rarely grow into anything worthwhile!
Your plant’s suffering from rot
Root rot is a major killer of ZZ plants, and it typically occurs when you overwater it. If your stems and/or leaves are looking mushy, it’s time to trim.
Try and look closely towards the stalk-and-rhizome junctions of the plant. You’ll typically find rot starting to present here. Remove stalks completely if rot’s in play, as it will only spread.
If, during routine checks, you discover leaves rotting, it may be time to clean up the plant completely. Failure to address ZZ rot may mean you lose the whole plant, not just a few leaves or stems!
If your ZZ plant has an odd leaf rotting, has it been touching a cold window? Is it possible you have overwatered the plant? Is the stem as well as leaf or ‘leaflets’ rotting?
It’s always best to examine your ZZ in full before you decide to start pruning. Check if your plant has been damaged above the surface with only a single leaf or stem affected.
If there is any doubt, I recommend you check the roots before beginning to prune. This can be time-consuming, but may save the rest of the plant!
ZZ plant root checks – in brief
Prepare a clean surface onto which you can tip the plant. Depending on the size of the ZZ, the floor may be the best place!
Simply use an unfolded dustbin bag or some newspaper and lay the ZZ container on its side. Use a clean, broad-bladed knife to skim the inner surface of the container and loosen the grip of compacted compost.
As ZZ can grow tall (some reach four feet or taller), ensure you will have space to lay the ZZ down. The aim is to tease the whole plant out of the container and then slowly roll it to loosen compost. As you gradually loosen the plant, inner roots towards the central stem should be revealed.
Your ZZ’s roots should be firm, pale and not squishy. Dark brown or black, smelly roots, may fall away and or crumble into the compost. Young plants, which you may have rooted, may have succumbed to a disease in the compost – alternatively, they may have attracted pests.
Check for any unwanted visitors clinging to leaves, stems and roots! It may be advisable to rinse the roots before repotting in a fresh growth medium.
Check rhizomes carefully for signs of rot – if they’re really badly damaged, you will need to remove them outright.
It’s also worth remembering that older ZZ plants won’t always be receptive to root surgery. That’s why – providing there are still healthy roots in play – you should get straight into pruning. That said, if the roots are too far rotted, it may be time to say goodbye to your ZZ plant altogether.
How to prune your ZZ plant
Ideally, you will need a pair of sharp and cleaned clippers or scissors built for pruning for this task. What’s more, always wear protective gloves when pruning ZZ plants. These beauties, while they may look gorgeous, are highly toxic.
Specifically, their sap causes the most irritation, but the whole plant has some degree of toxicity. When discarding pruned material, including leaves and sections of stems, ensure you dispose of waste material carefully.
I further recommend you position any of your ZZs out of the reach of children and pets. Alternatively, for extra protection, cover the pruned sections temporarily with thin, plastic sheets after piercing them with air holes to stop condensation from forming.
Pruning ZZ plants is pretty easy depending on why you’re cutting back in the first place. For example, you’re going to need to cut more away if you’re helping your plant recover from rot or another disease. I’d typically advise you to try and cut away entire stalks if you can see rot rising up.
The sharper the cutters, the cleaner the process will be. This will also help to ensure your plant bounces back quicker, and isn’t as susceptible to picking up diseases after the pruning.
If you’re simply cutting away dead leaves, it’s normally best to just prune these bits away on sight. If some of your stems are injured, try and clip right down to beneath the damage line.
When it comes to pruning a ZZ plant if it’s overgrown, consider first whether or not it’s best to move it to a new container outright. You don’t have to (and I wouldn’t advise it necessary unless the plant is rotting or under serious stress).
Like many plants, the ZZ can suffer from shock if you move it or change its growth medium and container unnecessarily. It may be kinder to your greens just to give them a quick trim.
If you don’t wish to change your overgrown ZZ’s container, snip off its stems to the desired height, provided the container is still an adequate size. Aside from being aesthetically pleasing, less demand on your ZZ can force it to first recover and then regenerate – some will even flower!
ZZs are slow developers. Add some fertiliser and water regularly but infrequently – and it will be happy out of direct sunlight and away from draughts. Always give your ZZs time to recover, too – as mentioned, shock may set in if there’s too big a change.
Pruning overcrowded plants
In addition to the above, you may find that your ZZ’s stems are struggling to compete for water and nutrients (possibly the case if growing with neighbour plants). If that’s the case, try and prune within your stem cluster as closely as you can.
Try and look into your stem cluster from above and look for uneven growth. It may be that there are some stems growing over others and preventing them from getting access to light. Always be ready to prune back those stems that are a little too extroverted!
Do also remember symmetry. Are there any stems growing faster than others? Try to cut back so that they’re growing at a similar level. As always, make sure there’s enough space for air to flow between them, or you could encourage root rot.
Propagating ZZ plants after pruning
If you can’t bear to say goodbye to your ZZ clippings after pruning, it’s entirely possible to save what you cut and grow entirely new plants. There’s a whole detailed process behind this, so for now, I’ll give you the simple breakdown on how you can get started.
(If you want to read up on a detailed guide to propagating ZZ plants, check the link to the left!)
You can choose to propagate your ZZ cuttings in dechlorinated water so it forms visible roots, or alternatively, you can try to propagate a cutting directly into well-watered compost (a dust of hormone rooting powder works wonders, too). Try to place cuttings out of direct sunlight but in well-lit draught-free spaces.
Tall stem cuttings can be divided up to create a batch of baby ZZ plants, too! You can propagate them as above, and plant them individually – or in a circle in a shared container.
If choosing soil, once your ZZs are cut and placed in a container, water around the circumference of your pot and supply some water to the centre. This should create an even balance of moisture below the surface of the growth medium. Turn the container once every few days to allow each cutting to get a good share of light.
While it’s basic practice to clean up after yourself when pruning any plants, cleaning up after ZZ surgery is absolutely vital. Remember, these beauties are highly toxic, which means you’ll always need to throw away any clippings or leaves you don’t need.
Do also clean your cutting instruments thoroughly before drying and using again in future. Believe me – ZZ toxins really do sting, and they’re not worth toying with just to see if you can handle them!
If someone inadvertently touches their eyes after pruning a ZZ, rinse with sterilised water (this could be cooled previously boiled water) or an eye wash. If symptoms continue, always consult medical advice.
Provided you keep ZZs well out of the way of sensitive people, children, and pets, you shouldn’t have any cause for concern. However, you should always be a conscientious plant parent and clean up after yourself!
Understandably, many of you may not want to prune or cut away at your ZZ plants at all. However, for the overall health of your plant, as well as for its general aesthetics, you’re actually making a reasoned decision.
I frequently trim back my ZZ plants and they thrive from season to season. Remember, these plants will take a little shock every now and again – and while ZZ plants don’t tend to grow at a rapid pace, they will come back fighting if you show them a little pruning TLC.
This beautiful plant will withstand lots of pruning and will even fare well as a bathroom bloom – but remember to show it gentle care all the same.