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Zanzibar Gem (Zamioculcas) Care Guide

Caring for plants is a difficult job that requires a lot of knowhow. The better you’re able to create an ideal environment for your plants, the better they will look. Here’s everything you need to know about caring for Zanzibar Gem

The Zanzibar Gem requires watering once or twice a week and can survive in temperatures ranging from 65 F to 90 F (18 C to 32.2 C). Porous, sandy soil is ideal for proper nutrient absorption, and placing it in a humid, well-lit position away from direct sun is optimal.

There’s a lot to dive into when it comes to taking care of your Zanzibar Gem, but the key takeaway is that if you set up your plant properly, you’re much more likely to experience success in keeping it healthy. The rest of this article will walk you through everything you need to know about caring for the Zanzibar Gem.

The Basics

The Zanzibar Gem, sometimes referred to as the eternity plant, is a hardy native of East Africa. It has succulent leaves and vibrant foliage, growing up to 30” long.

Described as one of the most beautiful houseplants, the Zanzibar Gem can withstand a great deal of abuse from beginner indoor gardeners—the only problem is that you’re not going to experience the true beauty of this plant without keeping it in ideal conditions. Here are some important parameters you should keep in mind:

Temperate Range65-90 F (18-32.2 C)
SunlightIndirect, partial
Watering1-2 times per week
SoilPorous, sandy
Soil pHNeutral, slightly acidic
Bloom TimeSpring
ToxicityToxic if consumed by humans or pets

These low-maintenance plants, characterized by their wide upward-bound leaves can quickly fill a space indoors. The ZZ, as it’s referred to, has waxy, deep green leaves that thrive best in the right lighting conditions, although the hardiness of this plant makes it suitable for a range of environments.

ZZ plants will naturally gravitate towards the light, so to keep your plant balanced, consider rotating it a quarter turn every few days to help it grow straight and tall.

As an added tip, don’t wash off any dust or dirt that builds up on your ZZ plant, since it can actually clog the leaf pores; instead, use a damp cloth and carefully clean off any dirt on the leaves.

Best grown indoors, these plants won’t mind if you forget to do the occasional watering. They grow thanks to rhizomes, which function by storing water under the soil, making them resistant to droughts.

The ZZ isn’t suitable for households with curious dogs and cats, or around young children since it is highly toxic. In light of this, it’s always a good idea to wear protective gloves whenever you’re working around this plant.

ZZ Plant Types

There are a number of different types of ZZ plants that you should consider putting in your home. Depending on your personal preference, the color of a particular variation might appeal to you.

  • Zamicro – This dwarf plant has shorter stems and smaller leaves.
  • Raven – This new variety is recognizable thanks to its dark purple hue and dense foliage.
  • Lucky Variegated – This fascinating ZZ plant is distinguished by white and yellow variegation with green foliage.

How to Care for Your Zanzibar Gem

The Zanzibar Gem is a hearty plant that generally doesn’t require any advanced gardening techniques. Just pot it right, water adequately, and put it in the best location.

Do that, and your ZZ plant should be fine throughout its lifespan. Of course, if you’re wanting to grow the most beautiful plants, then you should do your best to create the ideal conditions for your ZZ plant.

Lighting

ZZ plants can manage in a wide range of lighting conditions, which certainly helps if you’re planning on growing them indoors. While they can survive in low -light conditions, it’s not ideal for them, and you’ll start to see them droop and turn leggy if they’re not given enough light.

As such, when you’re planning a location for your ZZ plants, pick a bright spot by a window. South-facing windows are best since they provide a good deal of indirect sunlight without the risk of direct sunlight burning your plants.

If your plants are happy and healthy, their leaves should be perky and have a waxy, almost artificial glow to them. If your plant leaves are starting to turn yellow or brown, then it’s possible that your plant is getting too much sun and that the heat is scorching the leaves.

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Left untended, the sun can scorch the leaves to the point that they begin wilting or curling in on themselves, which is a plant’s defense mechanism to reduce the amount of direct sunlight affecting the leaves.

You can always experiment with different places around the house if you suspect your ZZ plants are getting too much sunlight, and adding a suitable window shade to dilute the light your ZZ is getting is also a viable solution to keep your plant in the same place and still reduce the amount of direct sunlight it’s getting.

If necessary, ZZ plants can survive under a fluorescent light bulb, which is probably why this plant is such a popular pick for homes and offices, making it one of only a handful of plants that can manage in a windowless room.

Regardless of where you put your plant, rotating it from time to time is good practice not only to encourage straight growth, but also to allow all the leaves equal access to the sun.

Soil

You’ll be happy to hear that you don’t need to invest in the most expensive, most convolutedly named soil mix out there for your Zanzibar Gems to thrive.

As with most plants, all you need is a potting medium that is well draining, which encompasses most potting mixes you’ll find out there. If you need a little extra drainage, perlite or sand will help your ZZ a little bit.

Your primary consideration should be proper drainage. Soils that hold water will allow fungal diseases to take root in the soil and eventually spread to your ZZ plant.

For the perfect blen, a combination of succulent and cactus mix with some compost will help drain the water effectively while still retaining the necessary nutrients.

On the topic of nutrients, coco coir is a great addition to use when you’re potting your ZZ plant since it can protect your roots and stems from rot and maintain a proper nutrient and moisture balance.

Watering

Thanks to their rhizomes, ZZ plants are extremely resistant to underwatering and can manage if you should miss one of your watering sessions for any reason.

Following the golden rule of plant watering, you should only water your ZZ when the soil is completely dry to the touch.

Depending on the climate your ZZ is in, as well as the current growth phase it’s in, this could be every 1-2 weeks. Pour the water gently near the base of the plant, not onto the leaves directly.

Doing so doesn’t speed up the process of transferring water to the leaves and can actually clog the leaf pores, making it harder for the plant to breathe.

In addition, pouring the water too quickly can harm your plant and allow soil to splash onto the leaves, an open invitation for soilborne diseases to afflict your plants.

When you water, wet the soil so that excess water runs out of the drainage holes at the bottom, but be sure to clean up any excess water where necessary so that it doesn’t pool up underneath your ZZ and invite fungal growths.

With any plant, underwatering is almost always better than overwatering. It’s much better for a plant to be a little thirsty than to be flooded with an amount of resources it can’t handle.

Overwatering can create ideal conditions for root rot to set in, which is extremely difficult to detect and can be a death sentence for any plant.

In any event, you’ll notice the following symptoms depending on whether you’re overwatering or underwatering your plant.

OverwateringUnderwatering
Yellowing of the lower leavesLeaves falling from the plant
Development of brown tips on new leavesBrown tips affecting many leaves
Halted growthSlower growth and smaller leaf development

It’s definitely worth noting that it’s extremely difficult to underwater the drought-resistant, beginner friendly Zanzibar Gem, given its bulky rhizomes that help it store water when resources are scarce.

Overwatering, on the other hand, is the number one killer of plants and something you should avoid doing at all costs. A quick and simple test you can do to see if your plant needs water is simply touching the soil. If the soil is dry up to 3 inches deep, then your plant is ready for water.

Temperature and Humidity

Another important factor to making sure your plants continue to grow properly is the temperature. Too cold, and your plants will suffer. Too hot, and the sun can scorch the leaves.

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Either way, you run the risk of ruining the aesthetic of your ZZ plants if you don’t plan ahead for the different seasons.

With that being said, average household temperatures and humidity levels are perfectly acceptable for ZZ plants to thrive, and you shouldn’t need to make any adjustments for your ZZ plants to be perfectly happy.

Just avoid putting them in locations with sudden temperature fluctuations (such as near a drafty door) or in temperatures lower than 45 degrees.

Optimally, the Zanzibar Gem can thrive in 65-90 degree temperatures and is ok with drier climates due to its ability to store water better than most houseplants. Remember, it is a native of East Africa, and the ideal humidity setting for your ZZ plant is around 50%.

If you start to see your plant looking a little tired, it might be worth seeing if the humidity in your home is below the 20% threshold. If so, then your plant might be having a harder time breathing.

When a plant breathes in carbon dioxide, their leaf pores open, and during this process, water may transpire from the plant.

In a moist environment, there is enough water vapor in the air that the plant doesn’t lose stored water too quickly. In drier climates, a plant may transpire water too quickly for the roots to keep up.

If the plant isn’t getting enough water transported from the roots to the leaves to match the rate that water is transpiring from the leaf pores, the plant will almost completely seal off those leaf pores to prevent loss of water.

This is akin to a person holding their breath. Without being able to breathe deeply, a plant will begin to look tired and ill as a result.

Again, ZZ plants aren’t typically prone to this condition since they’re hardy little fellas, but it’s certainly true that they thrive in humidity conditions above 50%. Consider adding a humidifier near your plants or placing your plant pot on the top of a tray filled with pebbles and water.

The latter helps add moisture to the air as the water in the pebble tray evaporates and is a great option if you’re going to be out of town for a few days.

Depending on how large the tray is that you’re using, you can leave it ‘running’ for several days at a time. If you want to give your plants a more personal treatment, you can add daily misting of your ZZ plants to your routine.

Use either rain or filtered water—not cold—to mist your plant and ensure it has plenty of moisture to work with. Avoid tap water at all costs, since harmful chemicals like fluoride or chlorine can damage the leaves, turning them yellow and harming your plant in the long run.

Another small way you can improve your ZZ plant’s quality of life is by grouping it with other plants. Some varieties of palms and Calathea, for example, contribute to creating a humid environment that each plant benefits from.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer isn’t necessary for the Zanzibar Gem since it thrives just fine on its own; however, if you’re looking to enhance the size of your plant or make it a more vibrant waxy green, then you can certainly make use of some indoor plant fertilizer diluted to half-strength.

You need only apply this fertilizer one or two times during the active growth season, and never during the winter.

Repotting

As with other plants, your ZZ will eventually grow out of its container, prompting the need to get a bigger pot. When you start to notice the rhizomes pressing against the edge of the container, or the pot itself begins to bulge as the roots press against it, it’s time to size up your pot.

Root-bound plants may start to show signs of distress and need to be repotted accordingly. In a best-case scenario, you should replant in the spring or summer to minimize the risk of transfer shock during their active growing period.

You only need to go up one size—too big, and you’ll run into other potting problems. Just one size is enough as long as you ensure the pot has plenty of drainage holes for your Zanzibar Gem.

Pruning

All parts of the Zanzibar Gem are poisonous and nonedible. As such, you should always wear gloves and goggles before you prune to avoid skin irritation. After making contact with the plant, wash your hands thoroughly.

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It’s often not necessary to prune your ZZ plant, but there are certainly some benefits to a minimal pruning every once in a while.

For example, targeting yellow leaves and branches that are potentially infected is often a wise idea, and you can also prune off older shoots to promote new growth or limit the growth of your ZZ by pruning new shoots.

The best time to prune is during winter when your plant can more easily recover for better growths during the summer.

It’s important to note that wherever you fall on the pruning debate, this action does stress plants to an extent. As such, you should ideally try to limit the amount of pruning you’re doing so that you don’t put undue stress on the plant.

Give the plant adequate water and 2-3 weeks rest after a pruning session to give it time to recover.

Pests

More often than not, you won’t have to worry about pests on your ZZ plants, but if you have other plants in your home, it could be prompting pests to invade your home.

Mealybugs, scale, aphids, and fungus gnats are some of the most common pests that you’ll find on your ZZ plants. A good insecticide soap should take care of just about any pest problem, but the most important factor in stopping pests is prevention.

If you are active in checking for signs of pestilence on your plants and looking on the undersides of your leaves (where those scoundrels love to hide), then you should be able to stop any infestation before it becomes serious.

If you continue to find pests after spraying an insecticidal soap, consider applying another treatment and then repotting your ZZ plant in fresh soil. Doing so will remove the plant from the infested soil and displace it from the pests. Take the infested soil and destroy it.

Above all, you’re likely to encounter aphids as the number one pest for ZZ plants. They tend to feast on the stem and leaves, causing the plant to yellow and wither over time. An occasional wipe down with mild soap and maintaining the right humidity levels can help keep their numbers under control.

Propagation

One of the most exciting parts of plant ownership is the chance to propagate your plant. The Zanzibar Gem lives a very long time—sometimes long enough to be considered an heirloom to be passed down to the next generation.

Regardless, there may come a time where you want to propagate your ZZ plant. To do so, you can rely on the rhizome dividing method. All you need to do is carefully divide the rhizome and place your two plants in separate pots.

Another effective method to start a new Zanzibar Gem bloom is to take a healthy stem from a mature plant and pot it the same way you would sow a seed.

You can also place it in a glass of water with a rooting hormone for about 3 weeks. As the new roots emerge, transfer your new ZZ plant to your potting soil.

You should start to see new buds and young leaves in as little as 3 weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Do Zanzibar Gems Live?

Zanzibar Gems can live for several decades, assuming that they are properly taken care of.

How Tall Do Zanzibar Gems Get?

Zanzibar gems can reach an astonishing 5 feet in height. For the best growth, make sure you rotate them a quarter turn every few days to keep them straight and infrequently apply fertilizer during the growing season.

Does the Zanzibar Gem Cause Cancer?

The ZZ plant is highly toxic, especially the sap it produces while being pruned, but there is nothing carcinogenic about this plant. It can only irritate your skin when you come into contact with the sap.

Where Should I Plant My Zanzibar Gem?

The Zanzibar Gem is a great indoor plant that thrives on medium sun and is ok with a variety of humidity conditions. As such, it’s a great aesthetic choice for your bedroom since it offers a beautiful touch of greenery in the room. The ZZ plant as also been described as an excellent balcony garden choice.

Final Thoughts

The Zanzibar Gem is a beautiful addition to any home, balcony, or garden, and has been described as the unkillable plant.

While it can manage in a range of conditions and unfavorable environments, it thrives best in higher-humidity environments with watering 1-2 times per week, and in a location getting a medium amount of sun.