ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) grow slowly, so they don’t need frequent pruning, in my experience. If your plant looks leggy, has damaged or withered stems, or has a disease, it’s a good idea to trim off affected areas using sterilized plant snips. I find the best time to prune and trim ZZ plants is either spring or summer, during their active growing season, when they can bounce back to full health rapidly. In this guide, I’ll run through how I trim and prune my ZZ plant collection at home.
Pruning and Plant Health, Growth, and Maintenance
As an indoor gardener, you already know how important it is to provide your plants with optimal growing conditions, such as a well-draining soil mix, indirect light, and not too much water. But did you know that plant health can be affected by pruning, as well?
Pruning, also known as pinching, can help keep your plants healthy by removing dead or diseased foliage or stems. Pruning can also help control the size of a plant so that it continues to thrive in a particular space.
Pruning also keeps a plant looking attractive and can be used to rid plants of excessive, uneven, or leggy growth for aesthetic reasons. Let’s dive deeper into how pruning can affect plant health, growth, and maintenance.
Pruning impacts plant health in several ways. Getting rid of diseased, dead, infested, or drooping ZZ plant foliage or yellow leaves helps reduce the risk of further disease or pests. This is especially relevant when bacterial or viral infections are involved.
Why does pruning help plants heal? Because when a plant is damaged, it puts much of its energy into trying to heal. This takes resources away from growth.
As for pests, insects may hide in or feed on dead or damaged foliage. Removing it takes away their hiding places and food sources. Finally, pruning can help increase airflow, which reduces the risk of root rot and mold.
Often, plants grow unevenly. This can be especially pronounced when one side of a plant gets more light than the other. Plants that don’t receive enough light can also start to look leggy. Pruning helps to even out growth, making a plant look more symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing.
You can also use pruning to control a plant’s size. Though ZZ plants grow slowly, they can still reach heights up to 4 feet tall and widths to 3 feet. If this is too big for your space, pruning can help get the ZZ plant back down to a manageable size.
Finally, pruning helps with the general maintenance of indoor plants. Though it may seem strange that cutting a plant back can help it get bigger, pruning can actually make your plant grow thicker foliage.
When you make a cut in the plant, it produces a growth hormone known as auxin. This hormone encourages new growth. This may result in a bushier-looking plant with thicker foliage.
How Fast ZZ Plants Grow Indoors
When grown indoors in optimal conditions – which include temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F, humidity levels from 40 to 50 percent, indirect light, well-draining soil, and never overwatering – ZZ plants can reach heights up to 4 feet. They may grow to 3 feet wide.
ZZ plants grow very slowly. During their growing season, spring and early summer, they may grow more quickly, with new stems growing a few inches per month. But during the rest of the year, they grow very slowly, with growth almost stopping completely during the colder months.
Best Time of Year to Prune
If you’re pruning your ZZ plant to maintain a particular size, prune only during the plant’s active growing season. For ZZ plants, this falls within spring and early summer. At this time, the plants have energy and resources to put toward healing (this is also the best time to consider repotting your ZZ plant).
If you need to trim damaged, diseased or dead foliage, you may do so at any time of year. Be careful to always use sterilized, sharp snips to avoid contamination or infection.
Essential Tools for Pruning
To prune your ZZ plant, you need sharp plant snips or scissors. Make sure to sterilize them before every use to help prevent bacterial or viral infection.
To sterilize snips, mix 1 part bleach with 9 parts water. Soak the snips in the solution for 30 minutes in between uses.
Wear gloves when handling your ZZ plant and the pot. The plant’s sap contains calcium oxalate crystals, which can cause skin and eye irritation.
How to Prune ZZ Plants
When you’re pruning ZZ plants to control shape or size, prune only during the spring and early summer (this is also the best time to propagate). This is the ZZ plant’s active growth period. During this time, the plants can put energy toward recovery and healing and produce a flush of lush new growth.
Only prune to remove dead, diseased, or damaged foliage or stems during other times of the year. No matter what time of year, don’t remove more than 20 percent of the plant at a time.
Follow these steps to prune your ZZ plant:
- Sterilize your snips, shears, or scissors by soaking for 30 minutes in a solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water
- If you’re snipping foliage, trim it above the node, as close to the stem as possible
- If you’re removing stems, cut them as close to the soil line as possible
- If you’re topping longer stems, cut above a node and be careful not to cut the rhizome under the soil.
Post Pruning Care
After pruning your ZZ plant, ensure it has the best possible environmental conditions to help it recover. That means well-draining soil, keeping the plant away from harsh direct sunlight, and optimal temperature and humidity.
Maintain your usual watering schedule after pruning. ZZ plants don’t need much water, and too much can harm them.
Stick to your regular ZZ plant fertilization schedule, too. Of course, if feeding is due soon after pruning, push it back. ZZ plants don’t need much, and too much fertilizer can hinder their recovery.
With due care and attention, ZZ plants can live for years.
ZZ plants grow slowly and require little maintenance, which applies to pruning. If your plant looks leggy, uneven or grows too large for its spot, you may prune lightly in spring or early summer. Try to avoid pruning outside the plant’s active growing season. Of course, if you must prune diseased, dead, or damaged foliage, you may do it at any time of year. Just be sure to use sharp, sterilized snips and remove only what must be removed to maintain plant health.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.