Underwatered ZZ Plant

Knowing that a ZZ plant can die from overwatering may lead some indoor gardeners to err in the opposite direction by giving them too little water. While ZZ plants are drought resistant and known to thrive on a bit of neglect, there are limits. They store water in their bulbous rhizomes to tide them over dry periods, but they will eventually dry out and die.

While ZZ plants are hardy and forgiving, they do need water from time to time. Underwatering causes leaves to yellow, wilt, and eventually drop. The stems may also droop from lack of water. Regularly monitoring your plant’s condition and watering when the top half of the soil is dry prevents this.

ZZ plants are among the easiest to keep, but if you are the type of person who doesn’t pay much attention to your plants, you run the risk of underwatering. The benefit of a weekly watering schedule is that even if your plant doesn’t need water once a week, you are regularly monitoring and assessing its condition.

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Signs Of Underwatering

While yellowing leaves in a ZZ plant is a common sign of overwatering, it can also be a sign of underwatering. If you don’t have a regular watering schedule, it is easier to forget to water your ZZ plant. Since the plant has some water reserves, you may not realize that you are not watering often enough only when the leaves turn yellow.

Since there can be several causes for yellowing leaves in a ZZ plant, including too much fertilizer, light, or direct sun, you need to check the soil around it. If it has been in the same spot for a few months and has been doing well, the chances are it needs water. Feel the soil with a finger to see how dry it is.

If you have a moisture meter, stick the probe into the substrate, and it will tell you if it is wet or dry. You can also insert a dry chopstick into the potting mix to the very bottom of the pot. If it comes out without soil sticking to it, you need to water it.

Another sign of underwatering is if the stems of your ZZ plant are drooping. However, this can also result from stress due to repotting, excessive fertilizer, too little fertilizer, or low temperatures or lighting. You will therefore have to investigate further.

Probe the substrate for moisture. If it is dry, water the plant. A confirmation of underwatering can come in the form of shriveling or curling leaves. In cases of extreme dryness, a ZZ plant may even start dropping its leaves to conserve moisture and prevent further water loss.

If you see brown, dry leaf tips on your ZZ plant, this is another sign that it needs water. Learning to read your ZZ plant is essential to keep it happy and healthy. Dry soil is generally lighter in color than moist soil, and small cracks may appear on the surface.

If the substrate starts shrinking away from the pot’s walls, it has lost water volume and is bone dry. Hopefully, things haven’t got to this point because a lack of irrigation eventually damages the roots.

Underwatered ZZ Plant with yellow leaves

How To Remedy Underwatering.

The first thing to do is water the plant, but don’t drench it, or you could stress it out. Water slowly and sparingly to allow as much of the water as possible to be absorbed by the substrate. Empty the drip tray of any excess water as the plant doesn’t like wet feet.

Wait for a few days until you see the soil is dry again, and then add more water. You can also give your ZZ plant a nutritional boost on the second watering once the rhizomes have had a chance to absorb the initial watering. Use liquid fertilizer diluted to half the strength indicated on the label as you don’t want to run the risk of the plant sustaining chemical burns.

It is difficult to water houseplants on a fixed schedule due to changing conditions in their environment. For instance, if the weather has been cold for the last week or so, they may not need water just yet, even if you are on a weekly watering schedule. The problem is that if you don’t have some kind of schedule, you may not notice when a plant is in trouble.

If you don’t habitually check your plants, this can lead to underwatering – especially if life has been pretty hectic for the past several weeks. You may not notice changes in weather conditions either, but these can affect your ZZ plant’s watering needs.

For instance, if the weather has been scorching and dry for the past week, the plant may need watering sooner than if it has been cool and cloudy. One way of checking if the substrate is still holding water is to weigh the pot in your hand. The substrate is heavier wet than dry.

If you do this often, you will soon learn to know when watering is necessary just by lifting the pot. Pick up the pot after you’ve just watered to get an idea of its weight when wet. Then wait until the soil around your ZZ plant feels dry and pick it up again.

The pot of your ZZ plant should always have drainage holes. These are usually in the base but may also be low on the sides around the bottom. Feel the soil through the drainage holes with the tips of your fingers to check its moisture content.

Consistent watering as and when the plant needs it is critical. If you leave to get bone dry and then drench it, this will stress your ZZ plant. Stressed plants are more susceptible to insect pests and diseases. These include spider mites, mealybugs, and scale and further exacerbate the deterioration of your plant’s health.

You, therefore, have to monitor your ZZ plants individually to assess their watering needs. Usually, when watering a ZZ plant, you should drench it thoroughly until you see water emerging from the drainage holes. This has the benefit of washing mineral salts from the soil and preventing them from building up.

Parched soil may initially be resistant to water, so if you have underwatered your ZZ plant apply the water bit by bit to give the soil time to absorb it properly. In normal conditions, you can apply water more rapidly, and many people like to put their ZZ plant in the sink when watering it.

Allow it to sit for a few minutes until water stops coming out of the drainage holes. Then put it back in the drip tray in its usual place. In winter, when your ZZ plant is not growing, you may only need to water it every four weeks, but in a hot, dry summer, it may need weekly watering.

Potting Mix

Soil mix

While ZZ plants need well-draining soil, you may have used too much perlite or peat to retain enough water if you have repotted your plant recently. The frequency with which you water depends on the potting mix. If it dries out rapidly, you will have to water more frequently.

However, the solution is not to use a substrate that retains significant amounts of water because ZZ plants get root rot in saturated conditions. You should always use a combination of potting soil and perlite, coarse sand, peat, or vermiculite to ensure there is sufficient air circulation around the roots.

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Pots For ZZ Plants

Unglazed clay or terracotta pots are porous and allow the transfer of oxygen and water through their walls. They are therefore recommended over plastic or ceramic pots but will affect the frequency of watering. If the water quickly evaporates through the pot, you may need to water slightly more often than if you use a plastic one – especially in hot, dry weather.

The ideal temperature for a healthy ZZ plant is between sixty-five and ninety degrees Fahrenheit. If the air humidity is high, it will need water less often than if it is low. The best humidity levels for a ZZ plant are around forty to fifty percent. Temperature and humidity levels are both factors that determine how often a ZZ plant needs water.


Forgetting to water your ZZ plant occasionally isn’t cause for panic. Just water it well as soon as you remember. However, if it is severely underwatered, you need to water it gradually and sparingly at first to give it a chance to recover.