By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
ZZ plant is a slow growing, reliable performer that is doggedly loyal even when you mistreat it. It is such an easy plant that creating more of them to share with friends and family seems like a good idea. Propagating ZZ plants is easy but can take up nine months or more. Learn how to root ZZ plant cuttings for a better chance at success.
It is common to find a ZZ plant in an office setting with low light and no fresh air. The uncomplaining plant, Zamioculcus zamiifolia, is also known as eternity plant, fat boy, aroid palm and many more common names. It hails from the Southeast coast of Africa and has been an important houseplant in the industry for years. ZZ plants grow from large thick rhizomes. Propagating ZZ plants is as easy as separating these or you can try rooting leaf cuttings.
Propagation of ZZ plants by division can only be done once in a while. This is because the plant produces new rhizomes very slowly, and removing some frequently will damage the parent plant. Since rhizomes are slow, it is best to look at leaf cuttings as the source of material for propagation.
Stems cuttings alone will not work well, but if you take a cutting with two leaves and a bit of stem, the rooting and growth is quicker than just a single leaf and no stem. ZZ plant leaf cuttings are the recommended method by professional growers and can result in new rhizomes in about 4 weeks when grown in nearly 80 degree Fahrenheit (26 C.) conditions. However, most of us don’t have greenhouse conditions so the process could take nine months or more.
Once you have the correct type of cutting, it is time to consider the medium. Some houseplants can root in just a glass of water; however, rooting ZZ plant in water will likely result in a rotten cutting and isn’t the best way to establish new plants.
They need to be in well-drained soil or the newly forming rhizomes will mold and fall away. The best mixture for rooting is often one that is almost soilless. At best, it should have superior drainage.
Try a good potting soil with plenty of vermiculite or perlite added into it or use a mixture of half peat and half perlite. The perlite or vermiculite will give the medium a light texture and help prevent soil from maintaining too much moisture.
Take your ZZ plant leaf cuttings from mature stems. Allow the cut end to callus over for a few hours. Then insert it into your medium, cut end down. Place in a warm area with bright light during the day.
Check for roots and rhizome formation after a month. Once you have a few tiny rootlets and the bud of a rhizome, you can transplant the cuttings to larger containers. It is a good idea to start many cuttings with ZZ plant leaf propagation because some of them may not take off.
Additionally, checking to see if they have roots may actually kill the cutting, but if you have more than one you still have a chance of more ZZ plants. Be very patient. Some growers have mentioned the nine month period as the end of all your waiting, but it could take even longer if the cutting doesn’t have enough light and temperatures aren’t warm enough.
Simply put the cuttings somewhere that you will remember to water them occasionally, and wait it out. Over time, this slow grower will jump into action and provide you with the start of a new plant.
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The reason ZZ Plants don’t need watered very frequently is because they retain water in their rhizomes, which look like little bulbous potatoes under the dirt. You may be able to see rhizomes peeking up out of the soil at the base of your plant. When you take a cutting of your ZZ Plant, it will grow a new rhizome and roots.
It’s actually pretty cool, and it’s a great experiment to do with kids because they can clearly see the new growth happening.
The raven ZZ plant can survive very low light conditions, which makes it awesome anywhere in your home. Bathrooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and even dark basements. For a beautiful, healthy plant, you’ll want to put it in a south-facing window where it will get sufficient indirect light. ZZ plants cannot take full sun, though, so direct sunlight is a no-no for the raven ZZ. If it sits by a bright window put up a thin curtain to give it shade.
Remember that even plants that do well in very low light will thank you for giving them a good bit of bright, indirect light. This is a hardy plant, but the stems might become a bit leggy with too little light. A sign of a leggy plant is increased space between the leaves on the stem. It’s literally stretching for light!
If you choose to move your raven ZZ outdoors, make sure the sun isn’t directly shining on it during peak daylight hours. The best times are early morning or late afternoon when the sun is weaker and a bit more dappled. I took my regular green ZZ plant out for the summer last year, and it did very well on my covered patio. By the end of the season, I had to split it and give away half due to space!
As much as I love my larger plants here at HOUSEPLANTHOUSE , houseplant propagation is a real hobby of mine. I don’t know if it’s the lure of making new plants for free, or that the process feels like I’m getting to understand how my houseplants ‘work‘… whatever it is, I’m forever fascinated with propagating something! I’m updating this blogpost that I originally wrote in January 2020 with some more detailed information to answer some of your propagation questions I have been getting on instagram.
Let’s be honest, winter plant care can sometimes be a rather uninspiring activity when the days are pretty dark + gloomy, some plants are dormant + some might be struggling. So as the colder months approach, I like to take cuttings of any plants that need a trim, or are not doing so well + root them. I think of it as a way of making a ‘back up’ plant or two just in case! Yes, this process is slower during the colder months, but it still works — it’s just a practice of patience.
I’ll start by reiterating that plant care is a very personal process + so too is plant propagation. I mentioned in my mindful approach to keeping houseplants blogpost that the best way to enjoy your houseplant hobby is to be driven by what plants you like growing + not what is popular online.
Furthermore, the choice of whether you like to propagate your plants in water or soil, perlite or sphagnum moss is an entirely personal choice. I don’t think a ‘one size fits all’ approach to plant care is a useful way of thinking about things. I will continue to share how I do things, which is actually different depending on the plant I use all 4 options as I mentioned above for different reasons. For example I like to use soil propagation for some of my foliage plants like my golden pothos or pilea peperomioides, straight perlite for my rosette succulents like echeveria, sphagnum for my jewel orchids + philodendrons + water prop for a whole variety of things. I’ve said many times before that I enjoy the process of water propagation + it’s a great way to observe how different houseplants behave + the different types of roots too! I know some people don’t like water propagation + prefer to put their cuttings straight into potting mix + that’s fine too.
You can decide what works best for you + over time you will develop your own preferences often depending on your lifestyle + household conditions. It is inevitable that there are champions of each method (especially on social media) but with so much conflicting advice, it can lead to confusion + the feeling that you are ‘doing it wrong‘. I encourage you to find what works for you + what you enjoy — it’s meant to be a hobby after all!
The two plants I often get questions about propagating when I post them on social media are my Sansevieria (Snake plants) + Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ’s), so I thought I’d show you the process in some more depth. At the end of the post I’ll share my general propagation tips, but first, some progress photos of my plants…
Snake plants (or ‘mother-in-laws tongue’/ sansevieria/ reclassified as dracaena) were a new propagation experiment for me in 2019 as I had a few stems hanging around after repotting my dad’s plant over the Summer which I started rooting in September. I also repotted one of my larger Sansevieria plants a few weeks ago + found that one of the stems felt a bit soggy. They can sometimes rot at the base or go into to a bit of a shock after being repotted but as it was just one stem, I wasn’t too worried. If you notice this early on there is a chance you will be able to still root the stem — just cut a few inches above the damaged area. It is worth saying however that it is always best to take cuttings of healthy plants. Here it is — no sign of roots yet:
The most important thing with succulent stems such as these is that you should leave the cut end callus over (seal over) adequately before putting in water. This is a game changer in getting your cuttings to root without rotting — I generally wait around 5-7 days but sometimes longer in winter. That reminds me, I took a photo before I popped this in water. I’ll try find it in my plant photo archive!
These are my smaller cuttings I chopped in September that I photographed on November 3rd:
Here’s a visual guide of how to take leaf cuttings of your sansevieria:
The progress on the December 1st:
you get the idea – it’s a sloooowwwww process!
My black coral snake plant from June – it’s growing a new leaf under water! The leaves above got damaged when I moved, they’ve both been in water a few months + have rooted well.
Here are my most recent snake plant propagations from my instagram post : Sept 2020
Division will give you an instant new plant because you are simply separating new plants (with roots!) that have already generated from the original plant. There are a few different ways that parent plants will develop plantlets that can easily be divided.
For all three types of divisions, simply plant the newly divided plantlet into an appropriately sized pot of potting medium, pat it down gently, and water. A good rule of thumb is to select a pot that gives about 1–2 inches of soil space all around and underneath the plant. Patting the soil and watering immediately after transplanting ensures that there are no large air spaces and that all roots are in contact with the soil.
Before you make your stem cutting, you need to identify the plant’s nodes. These are the points along the stem where the leaves are attached. Always make your stem cuttings on the internode, the stem area between two nodes. Never cut too close to the node because this is the place where new roots will develop.
Propagating from leaf cuttings results in entirely new little plants that grow from the base of the cutting. When selecting which leaf to make your cutting from, look for healthy ones that have grown to full size, but aren’t too old. Once the new plant has developed new roots, stems, and leaves, the “parent” leaf can be removed if desired.
Most plants propagated using one of these methods will develop their root systems under the soil over several weeks. You will then start to notice leaf and stem growth as they establish themselves. After about three months, your new plants will look a lot like the originals.
Sara Epstein is manager of school programs and partnerships at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
It’s recommended to fertilize the ZZ plant once or twice a year, as a general rule. Use a diluted liquid fertilizer and fertilize only in summer or spring.
You can make your ZZ plant grow faster by:
ZZ plant propagation is not difficult, especially that there are many options available to those eager to multiply their plants.
Depending on the method you choose, you will have faster or much slower results.