ZZ Plant Long Stems: the 2 Most Likely Causes And Solutions

ZZ plants are deep green, smooth and shiny. These popular and attractive houseplants are easy to keep and seem almost artificial in their waxy perfection. If your ZZ plant has started developing some long stems that make your usually neat plant look unbalanced, don’t worry, this is a common condition that can be remedied.

The issue of ZZ Plant Long Stems mostly arises from incorrect or insufficient light. This condition is also referred to as becoming ‘leggy.’ You can encourage the plant to grow straight and become fuller by rotating it, increasing the amount of light it receives or pruning the offending stems.

When your usually slow-growing ZZ plant suddenly starts sending up lanky, thin-looking growth, it may come as a surprise. In extreme cases, the long stems become so heavy and lopsided that the pot can fall over. There are a few practical steps that you can take to keep your ZZ plant looking compact and full even during the growing season.

Why Does My ZZ Plant Have Long Stems?

Potted ZZ plant by a window

While the humble ZZ plant will never be a rare wonder in your houseplant collection, its hardy, consistently healthy appearance makes it a delight that you will take pride in, even if you are a novice gardener. The plant has an appealing, prehistoric look reminiscent of the cycad family. 

The ZZ plant’s actual name is Zamioculcas Zamiifolia, but it is also known as Zizi plant or Zanzibar Gem. It comes from East Africa, and this tropical wonder is undemanding and uncomplicated. ZZ’s are tolerant of a wide range of conditions and look good with minimal attention.

ZZ plants are low-maintenance, emerald green perennials and are slow growers.  You won’t need to spend much time re-potting, fertilizing, or pruning.  ZZ plants will reward you with a constant evergreen appearance if you provide occasional watering.

The stems of ZZ plants rise out of the soil from large rhizomes, which lie just below the surface. Any sign of new growth emerging from below the surface should be welcomed because it can take 3-5 years for a 1-2 stem small plant to develop into a fully grown, multi-stem plant. The roots spread outwards by only about an inch per year, so ZZ plants can live happily in the same plant container for many years.

The more shoots the plant pushes up, the healthier and fuller its overall appearance will be. In tropical climates, ZZ plants grow throughout the year. In temperate climates, when the amount of light drops during the cooler months, and the plant becomes dormant.  Growth will start again in spring.

Light is the most critical factor determining how fast a ZZ plant grows. Although these hardy plants are well known as the ultimate survivor houseplants that can withstand most conditions, they prefer a lot of bright indirect light.

There are two possible reasons why a ZZ plant could develop uneven-looking long stems. Both are related to the amount of light that it receives.

  • Light is too low
  • Light coming from one side

ZZ plants are well known for tolerating very low light conditions, but this does not mean that they will thrive. The plant may not push up new growth and may look sparse or develop elongated stems or petioles. The petioles are the parts that attach the leaf to the stem.

Once you understand the reasons why your ZZ plant may have grown a few disproportionately long stems, some basic steps will soon get your ZZ plant back on track to becoming compact and full.

Related: Zz Plant Brown Tips: 4 Most Likely Culprits And Solutions

ZZ Plants Grow Long Stems Because Of Low Light

Uneven and lanky growth on ZZ plants is frequently noted in plants that do not receive enough light. The stems become elongated as the plant attempts to find as much available light as possible.

To encourage a tightly compacted leaf structure on each stem, try placing your ZZ plant in an area where it will get more light. You can even move it around for occasional brighter light ‘visits’ if it is usually kept in a very low light area. The more light the plant gets, whether natural or artificial, the better the chance of developing new stems, rather than stretching out the ones it already has.

A word of caution, though, Zizi plants cannot tolerate a lot of direct harsh sunlight. The glossy green leaves will quickly start turning yellow if placed in a position where they get a lot of direct sunlight. The key to healthy, compact growth is to keep the ZZ plant in a bright area but not where it will be in bright sunlight for extended periods.  

ZZ Plants Develop Long Stems When Not Rotated

If your ZZ plant has developed some lanky stems and looks uneven, and the light source is predominantly coming from one side, try rotating the pot regularly. Therefore, individual stems will be able to face the primary light source regularly, and the plant will usually become more compact.

By rotating the pot regularly, all sides of the plant will receive light, and it should grow at a more even rate. Even the largest ZZ plants kept in ideal conditions will only ever reach a maximum of 4ft, so they will always be manageable to turn. The idea is to encourage dense foliage on each stem, and by rotating the pot, every side of the plant will receive enough light to photosynthesize effectively. 

ZZ plant

How To Correct A Long Stem ZZ Plant

If your ZZ plant is looking lopsided with one or two long stems that seem to be pulling the rest of the plant over, your best option is to prune off the offending fronds and correct the light situation. However, only take this drastic step if there are other stems on the plant.

If your ZZ plant only has long stems with sparse leaves, then place it in brighter light and provide optimal conditions to encourage growth. As soon as you see new fronds making their appearance, you can prune off the less healthy stems, but keep in mind that ZZ plants are not fast growers, so you might have a long wait before the plant looks established again.

Instead of cutting off the entire long stem, you can prune them to make the plant appear more compact. Pruning your ZZ will not stimulate it to produce additional leaves or new growth, so pruning needs to be undertaken sparingly. Always use a sterilized cutter and wear gloves when pruning a ZZ because every part of the plant is toxic if ingested so try to avoid any contact of the sap on your fingers. 

Be careful never to overwater your ZZ plant. Although you want to encourage the development of new leaves or stems, ZZ’s don’t need a lot of water. Many a hardy ZZ plant has been loved to death from overwatering and the associated dreaded root rot. So while you should increase the amount of light your plant receives, do not increase your watering schedule.

These plants have adapted to live through drought conditions, and water is stored in the root rhizome. In general, the hardy ZZ plant only needs to be watered every 2 – 3 weeks, even in the growing season.

ZZ plants can be encouraged to push up new stems during the growing season by paying attention to the following:

  • Providing adequate indirect light
  • Correct watering schedule – never overwatering
  • Occasionally adding fertilizer
  • Keeping it in the correct size pot

Also Check: Zenzi ZZ Plant: Detailed Growing And Care Guide

Conclusion on ZZ Plant Long Stems issues

ZZ plants are popular houseplants that are perfect for novice plant owners because they can withstand some neglect. Another advantage of this slow-growing plant is that it can be kept in low light conditions and tolerates artificial light. ZZ plants that do not receive enough light, or uneven light, may develop elongated stem growth, which is often referred to as becoming ‘leggy.’

References:

https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/houseplants/zz-plant.html

https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/zz_plant_a_narrative_guide