ZZ Plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) are the ultimate beginner houseplant, especially regarding lighting conditions. With due care and attention, ZZ plants can live for years. You can throw almost anything at this tough plant, from low light to direct sun, and it will adapt. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be happy there.
Native to the forests and grasslands of East Africa, these plants thrive in specific lighting conditions that spur growth and maintain their glossy foliage. We’ll cover absolutely everything you need to know to make your ZZ Plant as happy as possible.
- How Much Light Do ZZ Plants Need? – The Essentials
- The Lowdown on Lighting
- Typical Light Conditions ZZ Plants Receive in Their Native Habitats
- Signs Your ZZ Plant Is Receiving Too Much Light
- Signs Your ZZ Plant Isn’t Receiving Enough Light
- The Best Light Exposure for ZZ Plants Grown Indoors
- ZZ Plant Light Requirements FAQs:
- Wrapping Up
- More ZZ Plant Care Guides:
How Much Light Do ZZ Plants Need? – The Essentials
In their native habitats, ZZ Plants naturally receive dappled sunlight under the tree canopy, as well as some direct light when growing in nearby grasslands. Although they can tolerate low light for short periods, they grow best with bright indirect or filtered sunlight. They can also handle some direct morning sun but should be protected from harsh afternoon sunlight.
The Lowdown on Lighting
We all know sunlight is essential for plant growth, but why is it important? Let me take you back to your high school biology class to discuss an essential process for all plants on earth – photosynthesis.
During photosynthesis, plants create their own food using the water in the soil or air and the carbon dioxide they take in through their leaves.
This process is powered by energy from sunlight and is impossible without it. This chemical reaction produces sugars used by the plant for growth, as well as oxygen that fills the air around us.
Without any form of sunlight (like in a completely dark room with no windows), no photosynthesis can occur. The plant will stop growing and will eventually die as it struggles to support itself.
What Light Levels Mean
Plants don’t need direct sunlight to carry out this chemical process. Any sunlight reflected off surfaces coming in from a nearby window will trigger photosynthesis. Grow lights can also have the same effect.
Plants require a certain amount of light for photosynthesis. These light levels differ based on the environments the plants are found in nature.
Succulents, for example, are native to open rocky areas and need plenty of direct sunlight, while tropical forest plants used to shade under trees need indirect light.
Many descriptors are used for light levels to translate these natural conditions into what we can find indoors, but these can result in some confusion. Let’s clarify what the terms mean:
- Bright Direct Light: The sun’s rays directly hit the plant’s leaves, whether outdoors or through an uncovered window. Most houseplants will burn in direct light, but other succulents require them to survive.
- Bright Indirect Light: The holy grail of lighting is suitable for most houseplants. This spot is very close to a window and unobstructed by any objects that receive lots of light but do not directly encounter the sun’s rays.
- Filtered Light: Direct light filtered through another object such as a sheer curtain, creating similar conditions to bright indirect light.
- Medium Light: Spots a bit further away from the window that are bright but not as intense as those closer to the window.
- Low Light: Found in areas far away from windows or in the corners of rooms. It does not mean ‘no light’ (as in zero windows or sunlight), but rather light of the lowest intensity.
How to Test Light Levels in Your Home
There are several ways to tell how strong the light levels are in your home.
The easiest method is simply holding your hand above the plant between it and the light source. The stronger the shadow you cast on the plant, the greater the light intensity.
Bright indirect light will cast a soft shadow that can still be made out, while low light will create almost no shadow.
There are also technologies you can use for more reliable testing. Smartphone apps can measure the light intensity in your home in footcandles or lux. However, they are not always the most accurate.
For the most reliable reading, invest in a specialized light meter.
Typical Light Conditions ZZ Plants Receive in Their Native Habitats
ZZ Plants are native to East Africa. Here, they are found in forests or tall grasslands, growing around 3 feet tall.
Under forest canopies, ZZ Plants receive dappled light, similar to filtered or bright indirect light indoors. But, they receive some direct sunlight in grasslands – although not for long periods.
They are also found close to the equator, where sunlight intensity is strong for most of the year – particularly in summer. They are no strangers to harsh light, even when it is filtered through the trees.
Signs Your ZZ Plant Is Receiving Too Much Light
While ZZ plants can handle direct sunlight, too much is definitely a bad thing. Like humans, some plants can become damaged from the sun’s UV rays and actually burn.
Excessive light can destroy cells, damage chlorophyll within the leaves, and kill leaf tissue that is essential to growth.
Signs of burnt leaves include browning or dropping leaves or stems or dead brown spots where the sun hits the plant. If any of the stems are leaning away from the light source, that is also a sign it is looking for some shaded protection from direct light. You’ll also potentially need to consider trimming or pruning past-prime foliage back in these instances.
Remember, the afternoon sun is the harshest. These plants can tolerate some morning sun but will likely burn if exposed to direct summer afternoon sun for long periods. Recently propagated ZZ plants can also be particularly sensitive to inappropriate light conditions.
Signs Your ZZ Plant Isn’t Receiving Enough Light
While they can tolerate lower light conditions for short periods, they will begin to show signs of struggle if left in low light for too long.
The quickest tell is the growth habit of the plant. If the stems stretch toward the light source and become leggy, rather than spreading out evenly from the center, the plant needs more light.
Lack of growth is another problematic sign. The plant may not put out new stems or leaves. Fertilizing your ZZ plant can help as well in these cases. You may also need to repot your ZZ plant if it has outgrown its current vessel and ensure your plant is exposed to a suitable temperature and humidity range.
Alternatively, the ones that do grow may be small and spread out as opposed to being full and bushy. The stems may also lack their robust and upright nature, potentially yellowing or slowly drooping and becoming thinner as time goes by.
As they are slow-growing plants, don’t worry if it doesn’t grow much bigger in a short space of time.
Rather, take a look at the direction of the stems and the distance between each leaf on the stem than the overall growth of the plant for a better understanding.
The Best Light Exposure for ZZ Plants Grown Indoors
ZZ Plants are known to tolerate a wide range of lighting conditions. They can look the same as they did the day you bought them after several months in low light conditions or with a few hours of direct sun per day.
However, just because they don’t show any visible signs of struggle, that doesn’t mean they’re at their happiest.
ZZ Plants will grow to their full potential when placed in an area with bright indirect or filtered light. This best matches the forest conditions they grow in. A few hours of direct morning sunlight is also suitable, but they should be kept out of the direct sun in the afternoons.
That means south-facing windows are a no-go. East-facing windows are preferred, but they can manage north-facing windows if there are objects to reflect the light in the room. Spots like this will ensure the best growth and the most robust plants.
Rotate the plant every few weeks to distribute the light for even growth. Keep an eye out for signs the plant is receiving too much or too little light and adjust accordingly.
ZZ Plant Light Requirements FAQs:
How much light do ZZ plants need?
ZZ Plants will grow to their full potential when placed in an area with bright indirect or filtered light throughout the majority of the day. A few hours of soft direct morning light can also be beneficial.
Can ZZ grow in low light?
ZZ plants can tolerate lower light conditions for short periods, but they will begin to show signs of struggle if left in low light for extended periods.
Do ZZ plants do well in artificial light?
ZZ plants can thrive happily when exposed to artificial grow lights and is a good option if your home or office space receives minimal direct sunlight. Just be sure to adjust the light settings and proximity to a conducive level for ZZ plants.
Do ZZ plants like bright light?
While ZZ plants can handle some direct sunlight, too much is definitely a bad thing. Like humans, some plants can become damaged from the sun’s UV rays and actually burn.
Excessive light can destroy cells, damage chlorophyll within the leaves, and kill leaf tissue that is essential to growth. Where possible, try to provide your ZZ plant with bright, indirect light at all times.
Is my ZZ plant getting enough light?
While ZZ plants can tolerate lower light conditions for short periods, they will begin to show signs of struggle if left in low light for too long.
The quickest tell if your ZZ plant isn’t getting enough light is if the stems are all stretching toward the light source and becoming leggy, rather than spreading out evenly from the center, the plant needs more light.
Slow or stunted growth is another problematic sign. The plant may not put out new stems or leaves.
Tolerant of many lighting conditions, ZZ Plants will grow well in almost any spot. However, they will grow their best in bright indirect sunlight, appreciating a bit of direct morning sun thanks to their East African habitats.
More ZZ Plant Care Guides:
For more essential ZZ plant care tips, see our essential guides to:
- When and How to Water ZZ Plants
- The Best Soil Mix for ZZ Plants
- Our Favorite Plant Shops for ZZ Plants
- ZZ Plant Uses and Benefits
- Common ZZ Plant Pests and How to Deal With Them