It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of my ZZ Plants (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia), mainly because they’re low maintenance and make great foliage additions to my living room. Their natural slow growth makes them ideal for long term placement without overgrowing a space. However, what do you do when they eventually outgrow their pots and look like they need to be transplanted?
Repotting a ZZ Plant is actually a pretty straightforward process. To successfully transplant, repot your plant into a new container (with a drainage hole) that is slightly larger than the old one, using a quick-draining potting soil mixture. Make sure the rhizome is just at, or slightly above, the soil line.
This article is intended to answer all of your questions about the step by step process of repotting a ZZ Plant. From knowing when it’s time to repot to specific tips to follow throughout the process, follow these steps to ensure your ZZ thrives in its new home.
Why You Need to Repot ZZ Plants
ZZ Plants are generally slow-growing plants, but there are a few reasons why they should occasionally be repotted. The most obvious reason is that repotting allows the plant more room to grow!
ZZ Plants have roots and rhizomes below the surface of the soil, and over time, they grow to fill the pot. Giving them more space allows the plant to continue putting out root growth, which benefits the plant, and often translates to more stem and leaf growth.
Another related reason to repot your ZZ Plant is to avoid stunted growth. As I mentioned above, repotting allows for more space for the plant to spread its root system. However, if the plant becomes root-bound, or the rhizome grows to the edge of the pot, this hinders the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients and essentially slows the growth of the entire plant.
When a houseplant becomes too rootbound, you might notice the soil drying out much faster, typically requiring you to water more. This is because what is beneath the surface of your beloved plant is more root than soil.
The soil cycling back and forth, from very wet to very dry, can definitely stress the plant and create an ideal environment for certain root fungi to take hold in the soil.
It may also be important to repot your plant after long periods of time to refresh the pot’s soil. Over time, and across many watering sessions, the soil can become depleted of nutrients and minerals needed for the plant to survive. Also, soil can get compacted over time, which discourages proper drainage, which is essential for the ZZ Plant.
How Often To Replant ZZ Plants
Typically, many houseplants put out enough growth in a season that they can be replanted every year. But for ZZ Plants, you most likely have more time before you need to repot, due to the plant’s slow growth.
I recommend repotting a ZZ once every two years, unless you have a super green thumb and have kept your ZZ really happy. In that case, you may want to consider potting it up between a year and 18 months.
Rather than relying on a set time to repot your ZZ, a more accurate way of determining when you need to transplant is by periodically checking the roots and rhizome of the plant. If the roots seem to be taking over the soil or the rhizome has grown within an inch of the side of the pot, it’s time to give your ZZ Plant some more space.
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When to Replant Your ZZ
ZZ Plants, being the low-key, easy-going plants they are, aren’t super picky about when they get repotted. They usually do go dormant in the winter months, but wouldn’t be opposed to fresh soil and more space if that’s when you decide to shuffle your houseplant collection into new pots.
Ideally, it’s best to repot your houseplants at a period when they have some time to acclimate to their new homes and begin to root out in the new container before going dormant again. For most plants, this typically means getting repotted in the spring.
For your ZZ Plant, this would allow plenty of time for it to establish rhizome and root growth in the new pot and helps avoid any stress related to otherwise tight growing conditions throughout the bright, summer months.
A Note About ZZ Plant Root Structure
Before we jump into the steps to successfully transplant your ZZ Plant, I wanted to take a quick minute to review the plant’s root structure, so we’re all on the same page. Otherwise, you may be surprised when you inevitably pull out a giant “potato” from the pot during transplant.
ZZ Plants grow from structures called rhizomes. A rhizome is basically a modified stem structure that grows through the dirt horizontally and produces nodes, which are points where new roots and stems can grow from. These rhizomes tend to be segmented and, in some cases, separate completely from the original plant, essentially creating new, freestanding plants.
In ZZ Plants, the rhizome is typically very round and swells large to store water and nutrients for the plant to use during times of drought. It’s pretty normal to see multiple stems protruding from one large rhizome, which continues to swell as the plant grows.
Beneath the rhizome, the plant’s roots grow into the soil, soaking up water to store in the rhizome. Because ZZs have both a full root structure and the rhizome, the need for more space in the container is the most common reason you’ll have to repot your ZZ Plant. For more information, click here.
A Note About ZZ Plant Toxicity
Another thing I want to touch on briefly before we are elbow deep in repotting ZZ Plants is the topic of toxicity.
ZZ Plants have a somewhat overblown reputation for being “poisonous,” some even going so far as to claim they cause cancer. Like most things on the internet, you should take these “facts” with a grain of salt.
While I can confidently say that the cancer claims are totally unfounded, I think it’s important to point out that ZZ Plants do contain calcium oxalate. Calcium oxalate is a naturally occurring compound in nature and a known irritant for people and animals.
Found in all parts of the plant, including the sap, calcium oxalate can irritate the skin, eyes, or other soft tissues when you come into contact with it. This irritation typically shows up as itchy, red, sometimes painful, rash-like lesions on your skin.
People most commonly come into contact with it through the sap when they are pruning or transplanting their ZZ Plants. If you find yourself adversely affected by it, take some extra precautions when repotting your ZZ.
Wear gloves to avoid direct contact with your skin. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth during repotting and wash your hands with soap and water when you have finished. Be sure to clean up any plant pieces, like trimmed stems or dropped leaves, so a curious pet isn’t tempted to take a nibble.
Repotting Your ZZ Plant
In this section, you will learn everything you need to know about the proper way to repot your established ZZ Plant, with step by step instructions. Grab your ZZ and read on!
Deciding If Repotting is Necessary
The first step to successfully repotting your ZZ is to decide if it is necessary. Check the rhizome in the pot. If any part of it is within an inch of the container’s side, you should probably plan to pot it up to the next size.
In some cases, you might discover there are multiple separated, or almost-separated, rhizomes in the container. This is also a great time to repot, since you can easily divide the rhizomes into separate containers, allowing all of them more room to grow.
If you notice any roots growing out of the bottom of the pot, or if you remove the plant from the pot and notice it’s beginning to get rootbound, it’s time to transplant.
Preparing to Repot
ZZ Plants don’t require much planning to be repotted, but one thing you should do is check the soil to see if the plant requires water. If so, you’ll want to water thoroughly and then allow your plant a couple of days to absorb water into the rhizome. If the soil is still wet from the last time you watered, this is not necessary.
The idea here is to make sure the plant is happy before moving it to a new environment. If it shows any signs of stress from being underwatered, you want to correct that before transplanting.
The Best Containers for ZZ Plants
Don’t overthink this one. ZZ Plants are happy as long as they are planted in soil, so whatever vessel you choose to hold that soil is of little concern to the ZZ.
There is a rather large pro-terracotta crowd out there exalting the benefits of the clay pots. While it’s true that terracotta’s porous nature does help wick excess moisture away in the soil, you don’t have to limit yourself to the ubiquitous pale red-orange pots, as long as you’ve got your proper watering technique locked down.
Regardless of whether you choose terracotta, plastic, or something else entirely, don’t forget that when it comes to ZZ Plants, drainage is the “be all, end all” of plant health, so make sure the pot has a drainage hole at the bottom. If it doesn’t have one, drill your own, or opt for something that does.
You will also want to consider the size of the new container you pick for your ZZ Plant. Obviously, you’ll want one that is bigger than what it was previously planted in, but not so big that the plant looks dwarfed in it.
A planter that is too large requires more soil to fill and retains excess water, meaning it takes much longer for the soil to properly dry out between watering. ZZ Plants hate sitting in wet, soggy soil, so it is important to repot them in an appropriate size. This will help to avoid stress to the plant and potential fungus and rot issues underneath the soil.
Consider the current size of the rhizome and choose a pot that is 2-3” wider in diameter to accommodate future growth. This should buy you another year or two before the rhizome starts to encroach on the new pot’s sides.
Picking the Right Potting Soil
ZZ Plants are professional survivalists, capable of handling weeks of neglect from us, often emerging as the sole surviving houseplant when we finally remember to water them. However, it’s one true Achilles heel is poor drainage. Sure, they can survive in pretty much anything you plant them in, but there is a big difference between surviving and thriving!
Just as it is important to plant them in a pot with a drainage hole, your ZZ also requires well-drained soil if you truly want to see it flourish. Fortunately, this is an easy thing to accomplish using common, store-bought potting soils.
To make sure your soil medium is porous and well-drained, combine three parts quality, pre-mixed potting soil with one part cactus or succulent mix. The cactus mix will add enough porous material to the standard potting soil to ensure excellent drainage.
If you don’t want to bother with two separate potting mixes, you can always swap the cactus mix and add perlite or pumice in its place at the same ratio above. All of these materials should be readily available at your local garden center.
For more information on choosing the best soil and containers for your ZZ Plants, read this article.
Removing Your ZZ Plant From the Pot Without Damaging It
Now that you have gathered all the necessary supplies to repot your ZZ, you can get started on actually moving the plant to its new home.
Remember, if you know you are, or afraid you might be, susceptible to ZZ Plant sap, now is the time to slip on your gardening gloves to avoid skin irritation.
ZZ Plants have fairly waxy leaves and stems, giving them a tough appearance, but you definitely want to avoid breaking them off as you try to remove the plant from the pot. Because ZZs are slow to grow, breaking a healthy stem is no small loss and may take years for a replacement to grow.
You’ll want to avoid yanking on any stems to free your plant from the old pot. Instead, tip the container over and gently try to slide the plant out upside down, with the central stems threaded between your fingers as they hold the soil surface.
If the plant doesn’t want to come out easily, you can squeeze the sides of the container or use a butter knife to slide around the inside edge of the pot to loosen the soil before trying again.
Transplanting Your ZZ Plant
Once you’ve freed your ZZ from the confines of its cramped pot, you are now ready to transplant it to the new container you’ve chosen.
This is also a perfect opportunity to inspect your plant’s roots and rhizome to make sure everything looks healthy. Keep an eye out for any mushy, brown roots or similar spots on the rhizome. These are signs of rot and will need to be carefully cut out to keep the rot from spreading.
To do this successfully, you should gently wash the root ball with water to remove excess soil and give you a clear view of where any problem areas might be. Using a sharp, clean pair of shears or scissors, clip out any mushy, brown, or black roots. If there are spots of rot on the rhizome, you can actually excise those areas with a clean knife with little risk to the entire plant. For more information on dealing with root rot, click here.
This is also a good time to inspect the rhizome to see if you can divide the plant. It is not necessary to do, but if you are wanting multiple ZZ Plants in your collection, this is your chance to turn one into many. Read more on this below.
Proper Depth to Plant Your ZZ
Once your plant has been trimmed of any unhealthy roots, you are ready to plant it into its new container. Start by filling your new pot with a mound of the potting soil/cactus mixture you’ve prepared. You may want to place a small bit of burlap or coffee filter over the drainage hole, depending on how big it is, to keep dirt from spilling out the bottom of the pot.
Carefully place your ZZ Plant in the soil mound, making sure it is sitting at the right height. You will want there to be room for the roots spread throughout the pot evenly, with a couple inches of soil between your roots and the bottom of the pot. This ensures there is plenty of room for the roots to continue growing without getting rootbound.
Also, check where the top of the rhizome is in relation to the lip of the pot. You want your rhizome, and therefore the base of the stems, to be about one inch below the lip of the pot.
Carefully scoop more potting soil around the plant until it has filled the container and your ZZ Plant is well supported. You want your soil line to be about even with the top of the rhizome. It’s not uncommon for ZZ rhizomes to stick out of the soil a little bit. This actually helps protect the stems against rot and may occur naturally as the soil is watered in and gets compacted.
When you’re done, water your ZZ Plant into the new soil to avoid it drying out. Give it enough water to thoroughly wet the new potting soil, allowing any excess water to drain from the hole in the bottom of the pot.
Once it is drained, you can place your ZZ back in its regular spot in your home. Be sure to check that your plant has adequate light so it can continue to grow and get established in the new container. You can resume your regular watering schedule at this time, which, for ZZ Plants, means checking the soil dampness to ensure it is properly dried out between watering.
You shouldn’t need to feed your ZZ Plant for a while, especially if your store-bought potting soil already has slow-release fertilizer mixed into it. Still, keep an eye on your ZZ as it acclimates to its new pot, watching for any signs the plant might be stressed after you transplanted it.
You should find that your ZZ Plant loves the extra room you’ve given it, and you may even be rewarded with a rarely seen growth spurt over the next few months.
Dividing and Propagating ZZ Plants
As I mentioned above, repotting your ZZ Plant affords you the perfect opportunity to assess whether or not you can divide your rhizome to create multiple new plants. Because you’ve already removed the plant from its pot and are checking for unhealthy roots, you should have a pretty clear view on where you might be able to divide the rhizome, as well.
You do not need to do this for the health of the plant. As long as you’ve got your ZZ in a large enough container, it is perfectly happy to keep growing as is. However, if you want more ZZ Plants in your life, division is an economical way to achieve that, and your plant is tough enough to handle it.
First, hold the rhizome in your hand and look for any rhizomes separating from the main structure that have their own root and stem structures growing from them. These will be the easiest to isolate and cut away to form new ZZ Plants.
If you find that your rhizome is basically one giant, round structure with multiple stems protruding from it, you can still divide the rhizome into two or three pieces. You may want to pay attention to the arrangement of the stems and make cuts that create visually pleasing groupings of three to four stems.
However you decide to divide your ZZ Plant up, you will want to use a sterilized, sharp knife to make the cuts. Making larger cuts can be scary at first, especially considering all the care and attention you’ve given your ZZ up to this point, but this plant is resilient. Once the cuts are made, let the rhizome pieces sit out on the counter, so the cuts dry out.
You are now ready to plant each new rhizome piece into its own pot! Follow the directions above and allow your plant many weeks to reestablish in its new container. Hopefully, before long, you’ll see new growth on your new ZZ babies.
A Note About ZZ Plant Propagation
I noted earlier that you’ll want to be very careful when transplanting your ZZ to avoid breaking off healthy stems that may take a long time for the plant to replace. Sometimes that’s easier said than done.
Repotting (and dividing, for that matter) is sometimes messy business, and things happen. Leaves get pulled off. Stems get broken. If this does happen, you should make the most of it. Finish repotting your plant and then gather up the collateral damage because you can easily propagate those pieces into new ZZ Plants!
If you do find yourself with a broken stem, clean it up by removing any damaged portions or leaves. With sharp scissors, clip the bottom of the stem, so you’re left with one smooth, clean cut. Let the stem sit on the countertop for 1-2 hours to allow the cut to lightly callus over and then place your stem into a small glass or vial of water.
It will take about 3-6 weeks, but eventually, you should see the beginning of a new rhizome forming and a few roots branching out into the water. You should change the water every two weeks to avoid mold issues and clip away any mushy looking roots.
Allow the roots to grow to about an inch long before transplanting your new ZZ Plant cutting into a potting soil mixture. Keep the pot on the smaller side at first, 1-2″ in diameter, so the plant can establish its root system. Once you see roots growing from the bottom of the pot, you can begin gradually repotting the ZZ Plant into larger and larger containers.
By following these instructions, you’re setting up your ZZ Plant with precisely what it needs to flourish in your home. It might seem like a small detail, but keeping your plants in the correct pot sizes really sets them up to thrive, and you often get to witness a burst of growth as they take advantage of their extra-roomy new digs. Think of it as their way of saying, “Thank you!”