ZZ plants are the perfect houseplants. Okay, maybe not perfect, but definitely close. They are drought-tolerant, require little maintenance, and can even survive in even low-light conditions.
But every now and then, you may need to prune them for various reasons. For example, you might notice a few yellowing leaves, or your plant may grow out of control. In such situations, the question arises, “how to prune a ZZ plant”?
Well, there is a short answer:
- When pruning a ZZ plant, always use sharp shears wiped with a disinfectant.
- When pruning leaves, cut the stem close to the node at an angle so that excess water runs off. Cutting at the node and an angle will protect the plant from pests, mold, and diseases.
- When pruning a stem, cut it as close to the soil as possible, leaving only an inch above.
- Wear gloves for protection against the toxic sap, and carefully dispose of the pruned bits.
- Never prune a lot at once, as it can cause unbearable stress on the plant.
Even though this answer is accurate, it is not nuanced. For example, if you’re pruning a ZZ plant for aesthetics, the technique will be slightly different than if you were to prune dead leaves.
Therefore, in this article, you will find answers to all the questions related to pruning a ZZ plant. Beginning with how to do it, I’ll discuss other aspects, such as when to do it, what mistakes to avoid, and what are some key benefits of pruning.
How to Prune a ZZ Plant
Here’s a detailed discussion on how to prune a ZZ plant, starting from the right tools and cutting technique, to covering different ways to prune a ZZ plant.
The Right Tools and Preparation
Sharp and Clean Pruning Shears
Sharp pruning shears are essential for making clean cuts through the thick ZZ plant stems. You should also disinfect the shears to ensure your beloved plant is not exposed to diseases.
Wiping shears with a disinfectant is important to prevent the freshly cut stems from diseases. It is also recommended to disinfect the shears after each use.
You can make a disinfectant at home by mixing one part bleach and nine parts water, or you can use rubbing alcohol. I usually use alcohol cleaning wipes for extra ease.
ZZ plants contain toxic sap that can irritate your skin. I always recommend that my readers wear gloves (gardening or disposable) to protect themselves for a comfortable and painless pruning experience.
Because of the toxic sap, it is best to prune the plant in a secluded area, so that its cuttings don’t endanger children or pets. You can also spread a tarp or newspaper for added protection and easy cleaning.
You should also have an empty container to collect the pruned stems and leaves. It will make cleaning up easier afterward and prevent the toxic sap from sticking to different surfaces.
The Right Cutting Technique
Using the right cutting technique will ensure clean cuts that are less susceptible to infection.
Start by disinfecting your shears and holding the stem you want to cut. Make a clean and confident cut by placing the shear at a slight angle against the stem. This slight angle will help run off water and prevent the cut from pests, fungal infections, and diseases.
When pruning leaves, always cut right above a node (the part where the stem splits into two leaves). Cutting above the node ensures no extra stem that may get infected and endanger the whole plant.
When pruning an entire stem, cut it close to the soil, leaving only an inch above. It protects the exposed stem from rot, infection, and diseases.
Let us now discuss why you may want to prune your ZZ plant and how to do it in each case.
Pruning Dead Leaves
Dead leaves are one of the most common reasons for pruning a ZZ plant. Simply cut them with clean shears whenever you see them, as you don’t really have to spend time making all the preparations. Similarly, if you notice any injured or unhealthy stems, clip them just below the damaged part.
Pruning Leggy Stems
Leggy stems are unusually long stems with relatively fewer leaves on them.
They grow when the plant experiences insufficient light and tries to “reach” it by growing tall. If your ZZ plant has leggy stems, you should prune them AND reposition the plant for better access to bright indirect sunlight.
If you cut the entire leggy stem, your plant will have to put extra energy into regrowing it. Therefore, I recommend you cut it to the same height as the rest of the stems.
Pruning for Directing Growth and Aesthetics
You can also prune your ZZ plant to give it a particular shape, but it requires expertise.
Before pruning your ZZ plant for aesthetics, you must understand its natural growth pattern. This plant tends to grow tall and narrow. When its stems grow too tall, they also droop to the sides, making the plant appear wider than you may prefer.
To make your ZZ plant look bushy and compact, you can prune the tips of the tallest stems and cut away any leggy growth. On the other hand, if you want your plant to appear taller, pinch off the tips of the longer side stems while sparing the ones in the middle.
Do not cut off too much of the plant at once for aesthetics, or your plant might not recover at all.
Pruning to Maintain Nutritional Balance
Sometimes, the stem cluster can become crowded, and the inner stems might find it hard to access sunlight, water, air, and nutrients. It usually happens when the pot is smaller than the plant’s size.
If you don’t want to repot your plant in a bigger pot, you can help it through pruning.
Prune the tips of the outer stems, especially focusing on the ones that seem to be growing faster than the others. Look at the stem cluster from the top and cut away the ones stifling other stems by growing over them.
Once you do this, your plant will have more space for air to flow and better access to sunlight.
Pruning to Encourage Bushier Growth
You can also prune your ZZ plant to encourage bushier growth. Also known as “tip pruning” or “pinching,” this technique is commonly used to make houseplants grow faster and fuller.
All you have to do is cut off the tips of the stems(at the nodes) that are longer than others. Doing this will encourage the plant to direct more resources to the “pinched” part, resulting in more growth.
Pruning to Treat Root Rot
If your ZZ plant is experiencing root rot, the first thing to do is to take it out of the pot, cut away the rotting roots, and plant it in fresh soil.
But sometimes, it may not be enough.
When there is extensive root rot, it reaches up the stems and endangers the foliage. In such cases, you may want to prune away the rotting stems. Look for the stalks that show signs of rotting (mushy, soft to the touch, black lesions), and cut away the entire stem from the base.
Pruning away the rotting stems will prevent the disease from spreading to the whole plant.
Post Pruning Care
Here are some things to ensure after pruning your ZZ plant:
- Apply a layer of fungicide or horticultural oil to the tips of the pruned stems to prevent them from pests and fungal infections.
- Properly dispose of the pruned stems and leaves by wrapping them in plastic and throwing them out. They contain toxic sap that can be harmful to humans and animals.
- Clean the work surface and tools thoroughly to prevent the toxic sap from getting everywhere.
- Lightly water the plant depending on the moisture already present in the soil. If the soil is already moist, there’s no need to water after pruning.
- Place the plant in indirect and bright sunlight to encourage natural growth.
- Monitor your ZZ plant and the pruned stems for any signs of diseases.
When to Prune a ZZ Plant
Pruning can stress your ZZ plant, which makes it important to prune them at the right time.
In its natural habitat, the ZZ plant grows during spring and early summer. It has plenty of energy and resources to regrow during this time, and that is when you should ideally prune it.
On the other hand, the ZZ plant goes through a period of dormancy (summer and winter) when it is not focused on growth. Pruning it during this time can be detrimental.
But, if waiting for the right season is not an option, you can still prune it, ensuring not to cut away a lot of the plant in one go.
Common Pruning Mistakes
Even though I have discussed basic pruning mistakes throughout the article, here’s a look at them in one place.
ZZ plant is a slow grower and doesn’t require frequent pruning. Only prune when essential, and avoid over-pruning.
Timing is important when pruning a ZZ plant. Prefer pruning it during spring or early summer, as it is much easier for the plant to manage pruning stress during the active growing season.
Using Dull and Dirty Tools
Sharp and clean tools can make all the difference between your plant getting sick or recovering well from a pruning session.
Use alcohol wipes to clean your shears each time you use them to prune your ZZ plant. Never use a jagged or dull tool, as it can make a cut stem more vulnerable to diseases.
Improper Cutting Technique
Cutting too close to the stems, not cutting at the nodes, or not cutting at an angle are all common mistakes to avoid when pruning a ZZ plant.
For example, when you cut at the internode instead of a node, you leave a part of the stem vulnerable to diseases. Similarly, not cutting at a slight angle makes the water droplets stay at the stem instead of running off, giving way to bacterial and fungal growth.
Benefits of Pruning a ZZ Plant
Cutting away dead leaves, rotting stems, or pruning for better growth are all useful for a ZZ plant. But here’s a more detailed look at some of the key benefits of pruning a ZZ plant.
When you prune a crowded ZZ plant, you open it up to better air circulation and less competition for resources. Better air circulation helps manage the humidity levels, limiting the growth of mildew, mold, and pests.
As you prune away the stems that overshadow other stems, your ZZ plant experiences better access to sunlight. It ensures that no leaf is left out and the plant experiences an even growth at each side.
Prevention of Root Rot
Better air circulation also helps the soil dry out quickly. On the other hand, the plant roots that sit in moist soil for too long are at a greater risk of experiencing rot. Therefore, pruning not only helps prevent pests but also root rot.
Better and Longer Plant Life
Better air circulation and sunlight penetration lead to a well-nourished ZZ plant. As a result, many people notice their plant growing healthier, faster, and bushier after pruning it. Moreover, a consistently healthy plant has a longer lifespan.
Equipped with this information, you’re all ready to handle any pruning tasks your ZZ plant may throw your way. The key is to understand that even though pruning is beneficial for a ZZ plant, too much of a good thing can be harmful.
Only prune your plant if there is a strong reason to do so, and always use sharp and clean tools. Also, when pruning your ZZ plant for aesthetics, do not cut off a lot in a bid to make your plant look more pleasing.
1. How do I make my ZZ plant bushy?
If your ZZ plant gets plenty of bright indirect sunlight and water, you can turn to “pinching” to make it bushier. Pinching is a pruning technique where you cut off only the tips of the longer stems of the plant. It encourages the plant to direct more resources to the cut stems, ultimately making it bushier.
Be careful not to cut a lot at once, always cut at nodes, and always use sharp and disinfected shears.
2. Will a ZZ Plant grow back if you cut the stem?
Yes, if your ZZ plant gets sufficient sunlight, water, and nutrition, it can grow back if you cut the stem. However, make sure not to cut many stems in one go, as it can cause unbearable stress.
3. How do I keep my ZZ Plant from getting too tall?
You can keep your ZZ plant from getting too tall by pruning it. Pick a few tallest stems and snip them off at the nodes so they are as tall as the rest. If the stems appear leggy, move the plant to where it gets enough indirect sunlight after pruning it.
4. When should I prune my ZZ plant?
Ideally, you should prune your ZZ plant during spring or early summer. These are the active growing seasons, and the plant manages pruning stress much easily during this time.
On the other hand, pruning a ZZ plant during dormancy (summer and winter) can cause unbearable stress.