Dividing a Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant)

I’ve had a Zamioculcas zamiifolia for some years now. In the last year, I found the magic formula and – despite rumours it is a slow growing plant – it has been growing like a rocket. So much so, it had outgrown our small flat with a further ten large leaves starting to grow! I felt adventurous and decided to divide it, putting some of my new RHS Level 2 (unit 4 Plant Propagation thank you very much!) knowledge to the test.

I haven’t found anywhere on the internet that explains dividing this plant, so thought I’d just give it a go and document what happens here (please offer other tips in the comments below). Update: one year on I am happy to report the below process worked perfectly and after more research, I can confirm this is the correct technique for dividing a ZZ Plant.

Here's our Zamioculcas zamiifolia hanging out in our bathroom pre-dividing
Here’s our Zamioculcas zamiifolia hanging out in our bathroom pre-dividing

General care advice

Originally I bought it for my gran as an indestructible plant to survive the extreme heat of her nursing home. It not only survived but thrived there. Eventually it passed to me and in the first year, I overwatered it, many of the plant’s leaves losing their leaflets and the rachis rotted. It’s an interesting plant because it does need watering, but it will quickly rot if left in wet (as I discovered). Now, I let the top dry out completely before pouring only a little water each time. That routine seems to work for my plant. Lots of shops say it survives in shade, but I found it only really grows in bright light.

Our Zamioculcas zamiifolia' very (too) healthy root system was so crowded I had to cut it out of the pot!
Our Zamioculcas zamiifolia’s very (too) healthy root system was so crowded I had to cut it out of the pot!

Repotting and growing media

Growing media wise, it needs sandy, free draining media to avoid water log and rotting. I used a mix of sandy cacti compost, horticultural grit and about a third ordinary multipurpose compost. That said, I found it grows best in a very nutrient poor media but with some dilute fertiliser added every month.

Knowing your Zamioculcas zamiifolia

I did find this article which debunks myths and explains the Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a plant from east Africa growing not in desserts, but in shady forested areas. It is a plant with tuberous rhizomes, so the stems are under the soil like potatoes and Dahlias (they look very like Dahlia tubers actually, just with much fatter succulent roots). As a plant geek I found this enormously fascinating and took lots of photos…

Rhizome stem tubor of Zamioculcas zamiifolia
Rhizome stem tuber of Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Dividing

The pot was so crowded that roots of the plant were being pushed out of the top of the pot and, due to our lack of space, I felt risking a divide was the only way forward. I tried pulling it apart, but no chance. In the words of the RHS, if the clump is too solid, the only way forward is with a good slice. I have no idea if what I did was correct, but I got stuck right in…

Dividing Zamioculcas zamiifolia Dividing Zamioculcas zamiifolia Dividing Zamioculcas zamiifoliaAs I say, I have no idea really what I was doing here and if slicing through a tuber was the right thing to do. I’ll let you know in a few weeks if each division keeps growing. But there really was no other way of dividing this crowded clump.

I cut three divisions out of it before I became nervous about doing too much damage and stopped for now. I also pulled out some of the ugly stumps left from when I overwatered it a couple of years ago.

Here’s the finished result – I’ll update in a month or so to say whether they continued growing or died!

The three divisions.
The three divisions.

 

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

53 thoughts on “Dividing a Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant)”

  1. hey just curiuos how did the divisions turn out? and where abouts did you keep your huge original zz plant when it grew so big..near a window? away from a window?

    1. HI Jay,
      Thanks for visiting! 🙂 The divisions are both fine with new shoots growing now. So, three months on, I’m guessing everything is OK below ground. The main Zamioculcas is doing the same, although a couple of the leaves went crinkly, turned yellow and died. I’m guessing this is where I may have severed the roots near those leaves too brutally. But, overall it’s doing really well.
      I grew it in a window with pretty good sun – basically, where it is in position in the finished photo at the end of the above blog. It is a west facing bay window, so gets the sun in the afternoon. I do plan on moving it somewhere more shaded though because I don’t need it to grow so rapidly.
      Jack

  2. Thanks for posting this. I have a zz that I bought as on on-sale orphan in a grocery store. I believe they thought it was dying, and it was tiny. I only figured out what it was when I saw a tag on one in another branch of the same store. I repotted it gently-no dividing–and it didn’t take long before it was doing really well, and growing like crazy. I thought maybe it was time to divide, as I ‘m about to divide my Clivia, but I wasn’t sure. It’s not having any of the issues you mention, so, maybe it isn’t–but I so appreciate the post. I will say that mine is in a smaller pot, and I don’t keep it in full sunshine. It gets filtered light and is perfectly happy. I think the difference is that instead of all of the stems growing up, they bend over in a pretty graceful arc, which I prefer. I’m going to take the plastic pot out of the decorative pot I put it in and see if the roots look crowded, but I know clivia actually prefer to be pot bound–although mine is definitely ready to divide–it has grown two daughter plants in the same pot! Thanks again for sharing this!

    1. Hi Clare,
      Thanks for the post – if you like yours as it is, I would suggest you just repot it up into a bigger size pot. But only if it really is very, very overcrowded in the pot. You can see how root bound mine was and it was perfectly happy. I only wanted to divide mine because it was getting too big for our very small flat 🙂
      Jack

  3. Hi Jack (and contributing posters),

    Great comments and feedback. I purchased my first ZZ plant this past April. It\ seems pretty healthy but the 5″ plastic pot is stretching to an oval shape. I will re-pot using the soil mixture, as you have suggested.

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks Stuart – let us know how you get on. I think they seem to be quite happy growing immensely pot bound but if the pot is stretching, it’s a good time to pot on to a slightly bigger size. One tip I have is to get a tall pot so the top of the soil and plant can be quite far down, this will help keep the leaflets vertical, as the plant seems to prefer spreading and flopping naturally.

      1. ZZ thriving and looks great in our kitchen box window!
        This is one hardy plant. I would feel pretty confident in splitting the fella next summer.

  4. Hey, I did the very same thing ago several months ago. It was a huge pot that I couldn’t lift anymore. Most of the stems are over 4 ft. It flowered several times. So I split it into 5 new plants. Then I decided that my newer apt didn’t have enough windows so I splitthem again. Individually this time. Making sure each one had roots. I did trim off the excess roots….. too much roots, not enough pot. I then arranged all 20 stems and made one fuller and more gorgeous plant…. which should be even more beautiful and fuller next year. Mind does not grow slowly. I did notice after the first split that a few leaves crinkled up. I chalked this up to too much heat during the split and not enough water. I fixed it during the second split and had no trouble. I wish I could palate a pic of before and after pics.

  5. I grow my zee zee plants under grow lights. I also have some growing under lights that are used for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). These lights mimic sun light. The plants are growing rapidly. They are growing new shoots all the time. I have read that they are slow growing. Not the case under grow lights. Also I had a whole stem to break off. It kept leaning until I woke up one morning and it was on the floor. It was a large stem. I dipped it in rooting hormone and placed it in a clear vase of water. After about 3 months it grew small roots and I placed it in cactus soil. It is growing fine.

  6. So, we’re 6 months on and all of the divisions are doing well – growing new shoots. As others are reporting, with a little care and the right soil. This seems like a pretty easy plant to divide, much like most succulents.

  7. Thanks for the advice! I’m going in with a machete to divide a very pot bound zz plant….reassuring to know that the obvious solution is to (gently) hack the thing is reassuring!

  8. Phew! I’ve just hacked mine in half as it began mis-shaping the pot it was in! Glad you cut through yours too with good results!

  9. Hi Jack, excellent post. Thanks!

    I just did something similar to my zz plant which was also huge. However, my plant’s shoots were leaning out away from the pot, not going straight up like yours. What is your secret? I read somewhere that improper watering (lack thereof) could be the cause. What is your experience? I have staked them and hope both that dividing them and staking them won’t kill it (them). Thanks!

    1. Hi Leila, thanks for the comment.

      I have found that as they get older, they naturally sprawl more (which I have seen on mine and others in offices). However, the other cause might be light. I’m not experience enough which to know is better for vertical growth, but I think lack of or lots of light will result in different growth.

      What light conditions is your one in at the moment?

  10. Hi Jack! I love your posting on this ZZ Plant!

    I have mine for about three years now. In the beginning it grows beautifully with a lot of new shoots and shiny dark green leaves. I am not in luck as much on this plant. I am guessing that the fertilizer in the first year that now make each new shoots have shorter life span. Each new shoot grows tall quickly, but the stems are thin and the leaves only come as light green before they turn yellow and crinkcles then die. What should I do to correct this? I water it about every other week as much as 2 cups (500ml) of water each time. I also cut closed to the soil of each died stems. Please help. Thank you.

    1. Hi Noviana,
      It sounds like you might be overwatering it to me. It prefers a dry soil that you only water once it has almost dried out. If it’s left in wet or waterlogged soil it will rot, resulting in the leaves turning yellow and dying as you describe. I too made this mistake in my first year of owning it and look how it came back! 🙂
      The only other thing I can think of is lack of light – or if it is near a radiator?

  11. This page was a wonderful find for me. I have a zz plant I bought about 18 months ago and it’s going through a real growth spurt. It’s in a 6″ pot which was round and is now oval, so I’m thinking it needs to be split or repotted. I’m basically a bit of a scaredy-cat, so I’ll probably cut off one smallish piece to repot and put everything else in a slightly bigger pot. Thank you all so much for your stories – they were really helpful. Jack, I grew up in England and now live on the central California coast where we are suffering extreme drought, so I miss the beautiful English gardens. Do you ever post about your gardening experiences?

    1. Hi Sandy, I think with the ZZ plant there is no need to be scared, I’d go for the chop! As long as you get growing points and roots on each bit, it will be fine. As always, don’t overwater this one or it will rot. All of my divisions were fine afterwards 🙂

      Thanks for mentioning you live in California and grew up in England. I visited California for the holiday of a life time a few years ago. We visited the Sequoia and Yosemite, as well as Hearsts Castle. Which was all amazing.

      I do blog about my gardening on this blog quite regularly, last year I couldn’t because I took part in a TV programme called Big Dreams Small Spaces, which might be on BBC iPlayer in america?

      I do love our lush gardens with the wetter seasons, but I have to admit I also love the idea of a succulent and cactus garden on the Californian coast! Please do stay in touch, I’d love to know more about gardening on the otherside of the world!

  12. So glad to have found this blog. We just bought our first ZZ plant and it’s HUGE! I asked one of the sales attendants about splitting but he admitted not knowing much about the plant and recommended not splitting it. But the roots look so over crowded and the pot it oval rather than round. I am nervous about splitting because this plant was expensive and I don’t want to kill it. But it sure would be nice to have more pots of this plant in the house, it’s so beautiful. Wish me luck!

  13. Well, it’s been over a year owning my ZZ, and last week I split it into three pots. What a hardy plant! 🙂
    I appreciate this blog, Jack. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for coming back to report your progress Stuart, it’s really interesting to hear 🙂 it is a toughie. I gave away my two smaller plants and the main one is still doing wonderful things here, it has lots of new shoots starting into growth right now.

  14. I have had my ZZ plant for three years now. It is beautiful but has outgrown the pot desperately, so I really need to divide it also. I’m a bit scared to do this because I really don’t want it to die, it would break my heart!! So I am thankful for all the advice and comments on this post. I’m just going to go for it because it sounds from all of your experiences it can take the beating and still live. So please wish me luck.

  15. Thanks Jack for this thread. I wasn’t been able to find any info on this great plant and your blog was just the answer.

    I lived in Houston for 12 years, and this plant is a staple there in many homes. After moving to Chicago about a year ago, I bought a small one for a north facing window as a reminder of Texas. Well, I year later it is double in size and stems – and time for a reboot.

    One question though: is it ok to repot in the fall? (Although it still feels like summer here!) If not, I’ll wait through the long winter until Spring to allow it to stretch its legs!

  16. Thanks for this post. I rescued a rather large but not very healthy from the alley where someone orphaned it. I had to post on another forum just to figure out what it is. I was about to ditch it until I found this thread – maybe I’ll try some rehab first.

    My ZZ is extremely crowded, so a repotting will be good. But the leaves are at least 3 ft long and don’t stand up straight. They’re so bent right now they touch the floor. I’m wondering if it’s too weak to repot right now? Perhaps I will need to sacrifice some of the longer leaves to save the shorter, healthier ones?

    I’ll take a shot at the repotting this weekend and see what looks good…

    1. Hi Kemery, no problem thanks for commenting and adding to the discussion 🙂 I’ve found that all ZZ plant old leaves will curl over like that as they age. So nothing to worry about, just how they look. You can cut the older leaves off if you want to but they certainly aren’t harming it.

  17. Hi Jack. Just wanted to comment as your post was the only one I’ve found to help explain what status my ZZ is in. The root ball has started to come through above soil level and I can see from your experiments that it’s probably time to repot. I can afford to go for a bigger pot as it’s an office plant so space isn’t as tight. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Hi Phil, thanks for commenting and not problem at all. It’s been great hearing from everyone about their own ZZ experiences. We have enough people here now to start a ZZ plant club! 😀

  18. Jack
    Have in the past had a number of ZZ plants but could not keep them due to a lack of knowledge regarding watering and light. I bought 5 in May this year for a large pot, they are still in their pots and are growing well. My question is you state in your blog to water only a little at a time. What do you call “a little at a time”
    John C

    1. Hi John, I keep mine on the dry side. When the compost on the top looks dry I just pour on a trickle over the top. Maybe half a cup full max. I do little and often like this.

        1. Personally I just follow the same routine of keeping the compost on the dry side. If it gets too wet the plant can start to rot. It’s difficult to give an exact amount because every plant will be different. So the best way is to water it only when the top of the compost surface is dry. I do this about once every week or so. If you find it is still damp on top every week, try watering less.

  19. Hi Jack, Have come across you website which trying to find out why my zanzibar gem doesn’t stand upright. It has two lovely new shoots but he rest leans outwards. I have done like you have to the roots of zanzibar to my desert rose plants. Overwatering causes the large bulbs to rot and I have twice now operated on them and cut the rotted parts away and they still continue to grow. Do you think maybe by gems need the same treatment? Would love a reply if you can. I am in Australia so
    cannot visit Edinburgh to see the gardens there.

    1. Hi Marion,
      Thank you for visiting my site and messaging 🙂
      I’ve heard from lots of people that their plants flop over eventually. Mine did the same, so I think it is actually a growth habit of the plant. I’ve noticed this mostly happens on the older leaves. I think it can be made more pronounced when there isn’t quite enough light, so if you have it in a very shady position, this might be contributing. Though because you say yours is growing well, I’m not sure it is to with light. Instead, most likely just that it’s doing so well you have lots of new leaves, pushing the old ones out and over.
      Personally, I do two things to remedy this. First, I have mine in a plastic pot within a taller ceramic pot. The ceramic pot edges help push and support the leaves back upright. Also, when they’re really bad I carefully remove some.
      I hope that helps a bit… hope life in Australia is good, I have lots of friends who live in Australia 🙂
      Jack

  20. Late to the party, but your post is still up so I’m going to respond 🙂
    I just picked up a good-size plant that had been abandoned out on the sidewalk. As it is winter here in Switzerland, I took it in before it would freeze overnight.

    The pot was soaking wet and I suspect that the soil was old and poor. I bought a new pot, new soil and tore everything apart. When I pulled the plant out of its old pot, there was a mass of soggy, shaggy roots, but no thick rhizomes. There were some thicker roots, but nothing bulbous like in your photos. I pulled out any loose/rotten roots and ended up with three healthy looking sets of stems. I put them all back together in the new pot, with new soil, but did not water them in.

    Now I will wait to see how they recover. I don’t understand how new shoots form, so I am curious to see this stage. I hope I do not have to wait too long! Thanks for documenting your division – it is interesting to see what my plant should look like some day.

    1. Good luck Colleen it sounds like you may have just caught it in time. I certainly wouldn’t advise watering it for at least a week or two to allow any wounds to callous over. If it was outside for sometime it could be irretrievably damaged from the cold and freezing temperatures as it is a very tender houseplant but fingers crossed. New shoots should appear in the summer from the base of another existing shoot. It seems to grow from ground running rhizomes a little bit like an Iris.

  21. Thanks for your great post and all the useful comments. I bought a ZZ plant over a year ago and divided it successfully into 3. However sadly over Christmas two of them got a bad case of green fly and despite my best efforts have now succumb. My question is: do you think the ‘bulbs’ are still ok? They don’t look to be withered. I don’t have a garden, otherwise I would just plant them & see what happens.
    Just thought I’d seek advice before I dedicate (scarce) window space to several pots of soil. Really liked that plant so would be great if I could give her another life.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Sarah! Hmm, I’m not too sure. If they look alive in the root they will probably come back but it will be a very slow process. If you’ve limited space maybe give up on them, grow something else and then in future years you can try again with the third one when it bulks up? Otherwise, wait until spring to see if there’s any action and then if not, get rid! 🙂

  22. Thanks for the most helpful info regarding this plant. Please advise re fertilizing and how often. I am moving the plant to get more sunlight. I have some new shouts but overall the plant is not as deep green as it should be. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jan, personally I just use half strength general liquid fertiliser occasionally in the summer. Or, just pot up to a slightly bigger pot which will give more nutrients. It doesn’t need very much. If it’s lighter than normal, it could be due to lack of nitrogen which fertiliser will rectify, or it’s being kept too damp.

      1. Thanks to all the input and suggestions. I have 2 zz that are about 13 years old. I know by “plant law”….they needed to be divided many years ago. Good to know that the general dividing “rules ” apply.
        David

  23. Jack, sorry to bother you again on this subject but what mix of soil do you use so that the pots do not become waterlogged. I have been using one third horticultural sand, one third John Innes Number 3 and one third horticultural grit. The mix is very loose but seems to stay very wet and I have had a few rhizomes that have rotted although I have not given them that much water.
    I have obviously now reduced the watering even more!
    John

    1. No problem at all John, I enjoy helping out so feel free to ask anytime.

      Tricky question, the mix you mention should be free draining and good for a ZZ plant. However, I have had the same experience as you with an Aloe and an Aeonium, the media was near gravel yet stayed wet for ages. I’m not sure what the science is behind that because it should really be freer draining. I suspect it is because the root systems on these plants aren’t yet filling most of the pot, so the water just goes nowhere. Is your pot quite large compared to the plant?

      It might be that you really do have to hold back even further on the watering as you suggest. If it’s still wet, definitely don’t water and in future water less each time. With my ZZ, each time I water I do literally only pour a small amount in, I don’t flood the pot.

      Alternatively, it might be worth repotting and checking the drainage again – so making sure the drainage holes aren’t blocked, make sure the media is quite loose with good air pockets in the mix. That might help too.

      Hope that at least gives you some ideas of pointers.

      1. Thanks Jack
        I think that unfortunately I followed your original watering but the pots were not comparable with the yours being around 15 cms so they did get too much water. I shall now as I stated reduce the amount in order to get over the problem.
        The other problem I did get was the new shoots coming up pretty good and then going brown on the end and not opening but dying off, again perhaps due to, too much water?
        John

        1. Might be too dry an atmosphere or too just tied into over watering (i.e. Rotting roots = less water uptake like drought). I’d definitely address the watering. Let the media completely dry out to at least 1-2 inches down. Then only water a bit gently to make damp again, not drenched.

  24. Hi Jack..
    I got a piece of the ZZ rhizome from a friend with a mature stem and leaves on it….I used a mix of compost soil and coco peat to pot it. The leaves have been turning yellow and brown and falling off from the stem…I watered it once in 3-4 days and very little.
    How much water does it need when it is newly planted??

    1. Hi Sumi, it’s hard to know without seeing in person but the same rules apply. Never absolutely soak it, let it dry out at the top and then water a bit again. If the stem is still round and not wrinkly, I’d guess it is over watered rather than under watered.

  25. hi Jack.
    THANKYOU! what a great resource for ZZ plants.
    I used to travel quite a bit for business and I first noticed them in hotels. I was quite taken with the tall stems and shiney, waxy leaves as I had never seen anything like it. it seemed, no matter the city, almost every hotel had them by the elevator… on every floor.
    then I started to see them in Dr’s offices and even several in a hospital.
    I began a mission for one of my own after I did an Internet search and learned the name. They were nowhere to be found and when I would ask about ZZ plants, noone knew what I was talking about. I finally gave up and forgot about them. then several years later, I just happened to run across a single plant in a 6″ pot.
    that was about 3 years ago. I have since repotted it in a larger container and placed it in a bay window that gets bright morning sun. although it did very well last year I didn’t see any new growth and began to wonder if the new pot was too large. I water it sparingly. sometime by just placing a few ice cubes on the soil.
    about two weeks ago when I was checking to see how dry the top soil was, I noticed a new shoot, then another, and another… there were 4 new shoots all at once! the largest one has taken the center of the pot and is about 6″ taller than any of the others. I am thrilled, to say the least. I must be doing something right.
    since my first lucky find, I have purchased 3 more.
    one of them was in a tiny grower’s cell with 3 little two-leaf shoots. it now has 7.
    one, I over watered, but the part that’s left is doing great now and I expect new shoots any day.
    after planting all my annuals for the container garden I do every year down by the pool, my last gardening chore for the day is to divide another one. thanks for the tips on how to do this. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  26. Hello. I also divided my zz plant but it starter to rot at the division. I cut the rotted part away already 3 times and don’t water it, but it keeps rotting where the cutting is. I have already lost more then half of the plant. What can I do to save it?

    1. Hmm, you could try using powdered copper compound, just sprinkle it around the affected area – this may save it. I have had the same and it worked for me. Although when rot sets in it can be very hard to stop it.

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