The ZZ plant is one of the most famous low-maintenance houseplants. Thanks to its ability to tolerate low light conditions, this plant is found in many dimly lit offices and homes.
But there’s a difference between tolerating and enjoying something. If you’re new to this plant, you need to learn its light requirements thoroughly. Doing so will help you grow this plant in low-light without compromising its health and growth.
In this in-depth guide, you’ll find answers to all the relevant questions regarding the ZZ plant’s light requirements. You’ll learn things like the type of light a ZZ plant prefers, can you grow it in artificial light, how to check if it’s getting too much light, and more.
How Much Light Does a ZZ Plant Need?
A ZZ plant loves bright indirect light throughout the day. Ideally, the plant needs 8-12 hours to thrive, but 6 hours is the bare minimum. You can also expose the plant to direct sunlight for a couple of hours, but leaving it there for longer can cause sunburn.
If this is your first experience with a ZZ plant, you might want to thoroughly learn the difference between direct and indirect light.
Difference Between Direct and Indirect Light
You can expose a ZZ plant to two types of sunlight i.e. direct and indirect lights. Let’s discuss what they are and which is more suitable for a ZZ plant.
What is Direct Light?
Direct light is the sunlight that hits the plant without passing through an obstruction (such as sheer curtains, trees’ canopy, etc.). Direct light is bad for the ZZ plant, and overexposure can lead to sudden moisture loss and sunburn. However, a couple of hours of direct sunlight is tolerable for the plant.
What is Indirect Light
In their natural habitat, the ZZ plants receive sunlight passing through the canopy of trees and taller plants. This type of sunlight, which becomes less intense after passing through an obstruction, is called indirect light.
Bright indirect light is perfect to help your ZZ plant thrive and is easily found in most homes. Place your ZZ plant near north or east-facing windows to give it ample indirect sunlight. North-facing windows receive dappled sunlight, while east-facing windows expose your plant to the cool early morning sun.
You should not place your ZZ plant directly in front of a south-facing window (if you live in the northern hemisphere), as it receives the most intense sun throughout the day. If you are in the southern hemisphere, the north-facing window will receive the most intense sunlight.
If you only have a south-facing window, you can make the sunlight less intense for your plant by using sheer shades, a window net, or placing your ZZ plant under other taller plants. You can also place the plant farther from the window to reduce exposure to direct sunlight.
To keep things simple, if you are in a room with enough bright indirect light to help you comfortably read a book, the light is enough for a ZZ plant.
But what if you’re limited to a place with no access to natural sunlight? Well, here’s what you can do.
Can A ZZ Plant Grow Without Sunlight?
Let me start by saying this: the ZZ plant tolerates low-light conditions very well.
That is why people with no access to sunlit spaces, such as office goers, prefer a ZZ plant. But being tolerant of low light does not mean the plant prefers it.
A ZZ plant in a low-light environment doesn’t grow like the one in a brightly lit environment. However, if provided with enough artificial light, the plant survives well without issues.
There are a plethora of artificial lights out there, so here are some artificial lights that will closely replicate the natural environment for your ZZ plant.
Choosing and Using Grow Lights the Right Way
If you’re growing a ZZ plant in low light, your best bet is to invest in high-quality grow lights. You should choose the lights with compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs. To be more accurate, you can find the right type of grow light for your ZZ plant here.
Some people may also tell you that their ZZ plants do just fine in the regular indoor lights. Again, the distinction is surviving vs. thriving. While a ZZ plant would live in regular indoor lights, investing in a grow light that mimics the natural conditions is recommended.
Here are some best practices when using grow lights as an alternative to sunlight:
- Position your grow light 18 inches from the top of the leaves.
- Monitor the plant closely for any signs of burning. If you notice burnt leaves, the grow light is too close to the plant.
- Aim to provide the plant with 14-16 hours of grow light to compensate for the lack of sunlight.
- Expose the plant to grow light during the daytime to mimic the natural day-night cycle.
- You can also invest in a smart automatic timer to turn the grow lights on and off at a designated time in your absence.
Addressing a Common Misunderstanding
If you feel like your plant is growing slowly in low light, you may be wrong, and here’s why:
Yes, slow growth is a sign of low or insufficient light, but ZZ plants are naturally slow growers. This makes measuring new growth quite difficult. As a result, sometimes it may be hard to tell whether your plant has stopped growing (because of low light) or is just growing really slowly.
Even if your plant IS growing slowly because of low light, it shouldn’t cause much concern. Indoor lighting is not ideal to begin with, and slow growth (or no growth) isn’t really going to kill a ZZ plant.
How Can You Measure Light Intensity?
If you’re new to caring for a ZZ plant, you might be looking for a way to provide the EXACT amount of sunlight your plant needs. Luckily, there are two ways to do that.
But first, how much light does a ZZ plant need?
How Much Light Does a ZZ Plant Need?
Light intensity is measured in lux, and about 2000-5000 lux is perfect for a ZZ plant. This intensity is achievable with bright indirect sunlight provided over 8-12 hours.
Here’s how to measure the light intensity.
Conducting Hand Shadow Test
Hand shadow test is the easiest method to measure light intensity. Standing near your plant, simply hold your hand between a blank sheet of paper and the light source.
Your hand should cast a slightly hazy or blurry shadow, but you should still be able to make out the outline of your hand. This type of shadow indicates your plant is receiving bright and indirect light.
In low light conditions, the shadow will be almost non-existent. Conversely, the shadow will be deep, dark, and sharp in bright direct sunlight. Neither of these situations is ideal for a ZZ plant.
Using a LUX Meter
To measure the sunlight intensity more accurately, you can use a specialized light meter called a Lux meter.
It is an electronic device that measures light intensity with the help of photocells. The photocells convert the light received into an electrical signal, which is then converted into a lux reading you see on the screen.
As I already mentioned, you should aim for a lux reading of around 2000-5000 for ideal indirect bright light.
Considerations when Moving ZZ Plant to a New Location
You may want to move your plant to a new location, decorate a different part of your house, or simply want to try something new.
But the problem is, not every part of your home receives the same amount of sunlight. When you quickly move a ZZ plant to a new place, it may experience shock, especially if the sunlight is drastically low or high (in the new spot).
To protect your beloved plant from shock, you should acclimate the plant and move it a foot every day toward the new spot.
If you wish to expose your plant to the outside sun, place it there daily for a few hours. The sunlight in this spot should not be direct. You can dampen the sunlight by placing the plant under some shade or canopy of taller plants.
After 4-5 days, you can gradually increase the number of hours, ultimately leaving the plant outside 24/7.
As you discover more, you might come across an opinion that direct sunlight is not that bad for a ZZ plant. Here’s what my experience has taught me.
Is Direct Sunlight Really That Bad?
Some people on online forums claim that you can acclimate a ZZ plant to several hours of direct sunlight. They also claim that the idea that a ZZ plant can not tolerate direct sunlight is exaggerated.
As much as I want that to be true, my experience has taught me otherwise.
Whenever I have tried to acclimate a ZZ plant to direct sun, it has gradually developed sunburn symptoms. And whenever I have kept it in indirect bright sunlight, it has been its happiest self.
Therefore, I recommend you read everything online with a grain of salt (even my advice). Before following a statement 100%, experiment with it and if it works well, commit to it gradually.
Is Your ZZ Plant Starved of Light?
Let us now look at the symptoms your plant exhibits when it receives insufficient light.
Leggy Stems or Etiolation
A light-starved ZZ plant compensates by extending out its stems in search of light. The plant’s stems may also lean towards a light source rather than growing out evenly on all sides.
These longer stems are commonly referred to as leggy stems or etiolation. Leggy stems are stretched out, droopy, and have fewer and smaller leaves. Leggy stems are the most easily noticeable symptom of low light.
To fix leggy stems or a leaning plant, expose it to more indirect sunlight. If you’re using grow lights, and the plant is still putting out leggy stems, you may not be providing enough artificial light. Rotating the plant every now and then will also help all the stems receive light evenly.
After providing sufficient light, you can also prune away leggy stems. Make sure that you use sharp shears and cut at nodes. Do not cut the entire stem, as it can be stressful for the plant to grow it back.
Slow or No Growth
Lack of sunlight can also lead to stunted growth, but detecting it is not easy. ZZ plants naturally put out only a few inches of leafy growth each season. They grow so slowly that it may feel like they’re not growing at all.
The plant also goes through a growth and dormancy cycle each year. During spring to early fall, it puts out new growth (slowly). But during winter, it becomes dormant and stops growing.
Before assuming that your plant is growing slowly, check the time of the year and whether the plant is dormant or not. Also make sure that all the other needs of the plant (water, nutrients, temperature, and humidity) are being fulfilled.
After checking off all these boxes, if the plant still doesn’t seem to grow at all (year after year), it might be receiving insufficient light. And if you also notice leggy stems with stunted growth, you can be certain that your plant is light-starved.
Is Your ZZ Plant Getting Too Much Light?
When a ZZ plant experiences too much light, it doesn’t keep you guessing. You’ll immediately start noticing sunburn, starting from the top leaves and gradually moving downward if left untreated.
A sunburned leaf would be pale and browning at the edges. With time, it would turn crispy and brown, ultimately shriveling up and dying. Sunburned leaves will also have brown spots on their skin. You might also notice the plant’s stems (closest to the light source) leaning away from the light.
The key to treating sunburn is to address it as soon as possible by moving the plant somewhere it receives softer light. The plant will gradually recover, except for the badly burnt leaves you must snip off. The leaves with lesser sunburn damage (such as yellowing) will likely recover gradually.
Fulfilling a ZZ plant’s light requirements is not that difficult. All it needs to be happy is bright indirect light, and it doesn’t even seem to mind artificial light (if provided properly). The only thing to be extra careful about is overexposing it to direct scorching sun, which can quickly burn its plump dark green leaves.
Always remember that whenever in doubt, this guide will be here to help you with all the light-related questions you might have for your ZZ plant.
Can a ZZ plant survive in low light?
ZZ plants can survive in low light but can not grow as they would in bright indirect light. If you can’t provide them with natural light, you can supplement them with grow lights. Ideally, the plant should receive 2000-5000 lux, which can be measured with the help of a lux meter. For a more accurate selection of grow lights, refer to this website.
How do I know if my ZZ plant needs more light?
If your ZZ plant needs more light, it will start putting out leggy stems. Also known as etiolation, these stems are stretched out, limp, and have fewer and smaller leaves. It is the plant’s way of reaching sunlight by growing higher than the other stems.
Another sign of insufficient light is slow or stunted growth. But it is quite difficult to notice as a ZZ plant is a naturally slow grower.
How much light does a ZZ plant need in lux?
The ideal light intensity a ZZ plant loves is around 2000-5000 lux. It is achievable by providing your plant with bright indirect light for 8-12 hours.
Where is the best place to put a ZZ Plant?
The best place to put a ZZ plant is where it gets bright, indirect light throughout the day. Usually, this type of light is available near the east or north-facing windows. Avoid placing the plant near the south-facing windows (if you live in the northern hemisphere), as they get the harshest afternoon sun, which is bad for a ZZ plant.