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10 Signs Your ZZ Plant Is Dying? & How To Save It

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The Zanzibar gem is widely reputed to be an easy-to-care-for houseplant; they often thrive on neglect! However, these hardy plants have several common issues affecting their health and aesthetics.

Although the ZZ plant may be ideal for the blackest thumb, not everyone can manage to keep this exotic beauty thriving. So, how do we know when a ZZ plant is dying?

ZZ Plant dying 1

The common signs of a dying ZZ plant include yellowing or browning leaves, brown tips, scorched or dropping foliage, black spots on stems, bending stalks, wrinkled bulbs or rhizomes, root rot, and poor growth. Ensure to provide enough sunlight, water, soil, and fertilizer to keep the plant healthy.

The trick to keeping your ZZ plant happy (or any other houseplant) is to identify and understand the underlying symptoms and linked problems. So, this article will provide the top signs of a dying ZZ plant and how to prevent the problems from reoccurring.

Signs That Your ZZ Plant Is Dying

Although many people say that a ZZ plant thrives on neglect, all plants require a degree of care to survive. These plants mostly need adequate lighting and watering every few weeks to grow happily.

If your scenario differs from the information mentioned above, do not fret. We’re here to enlighten you on the ten most common signs that your Zanzibar plant is dying, along with eight excellent tips to reverse and prevent these adverse signs from reoccurring.

First, here are the top ten signs your ZZ plant is dying:

  1. The ZZ plant’s leaves are yellowing
  2. The ZZ plant’s leaves are turning brown
  3. Brown tips appear on the edges of the ZZ plant
  4. Scorched foliage
  5. Dropping leaves
  6. Black spots on the ZZ plant’s stems
  7. The ZZ plant stalks are bending
  8. Wrinkled bulbs or rhizomes
  9. Slow or poor growth
  10. Root rot
dying zz plant

ZZ Plant Dying Common Signs

Now, let’s briefly discuss each sign:

The ZZ Plant’s Leaves Are Yellowing

A healthy ZZ plant has thick deep green leaves with a naturally glossy surface texture. In comparison, a sickly plant may exhibit yellowing leaves.

The yellow leaves can be an individual stem with some leaves, or all the plant’s foliage can turn yellow.

While yellowing leaves do not mean that the plant is already dying, it’s a clear indication that your Zanzibar plant needs some TLC to prevent it from dying in the future.

Yellowing leaves are typically signs of:

  • A lack of nutrients: Your ZZ plant’s leaves may be turning yellow from a lack of nutrients in the soil. Nitrogen is the essential nutrient needed to produce chlorophyll – the pigment that turns plants green.
  • Too much sun exposure: ZZ plants prefer bright, indirect light. So, if the plant is in direct sunlight for prolonged hours, you may notice the leaves turning yellow.
  • Overwatering: Overwatering damages the ZZ plant’s foliage, causing it to turn yellow. When overwatered, the plant’s roots stay soggy for too long and can drown from the lack of oxygen. In turn, the leaves turn yellow and fall off.

The ZZ Plant’s Leaves Are Turning Brown

Brown leaves are another tell-tale sign that the ZZ plant is dying. The leaves turn brown to indicate that a part of the care regimen isn’t working correctly and needs looking into to prevent the Zanzibar plant from dying.

While it’s natural for some of the older foliage to brown and fall off with age, something is wrong when the majority of the leaves turn brown all of a sudden.

Here are the possible reasons for browning leaves:

  • Poor water quality: ZZ plants are sensitive to low-quality water containing harmful substances like salts, chlorine, and fluorine. These unsuitable minerals build up in the soil, leading to nutrient deficiency and damaging the plant. As a result, the leaves start to turn brown.
  • Too much sunlight: If the ZZ plant receives too much sun exposure for several hours a day, it can develop sunburn on its foliage, resulting in brown, calloused patches.
  • Underwatering: Although the ZZ plant is drought tolerant, underwatering can cause the plant’s rhizomes to dry out too much, causing brown leaves.
  • Pests: Bacterial or fungal diseases can cause brown leaves. These pests affect the growth and health of the plant, browning the leaves and leading to death if left untreated.

Brown Tips On The Edges Of The ZZ Plant’s Leaves

We now know that the ZZ plant can experience yellowing or browning leaves. However, it can also exhibit brown tips on the edges of foliage.

Here’s why:

  • Poor water quality: Water containing harmful minerals like salts, chlorine, and fluorine affects the soil quality. As a result, the mineral build-up harms the roots, causing the leaves to dry out and brown.
  • Low humidity: A ZZ plant thrives in highly humid conditions. Moisture enables the plant to form stems and leaves with vibrant green colors. However, low humidity will increase the plant’s transpiration rate, causing it to lose a lot of moisture. If you fail to replenish the houseplant with water, it can cause browning leaf tips.
  • Too much sunlight: A ZZ plant does not tolerate intense UV rays or hours of bright direct sunlight. Prolonged exposure to harsh sunlight can scorch your Zanzibar plant’s leaves, causing the foliage to wither and the tips to turn brown.

Scorched Leaves

It’s essential to remember that even though the ZZ plant is hardy, it does not tolerate direct sun exposure well. However, over-fertilizing the plant can also scorch a Zanzibar plant’s foliage.

  • Too much sunlight: Extended exposure to direct sunlight tends to dry out or scorch the plant’s leaves.
  • Over-fertilizing: ZZ plants require minimal fertilizer servings. Excess fertilizer can damage the plant and cause scorched leaves. You’ll notice excess salt deposits appearing as white, fuzzy bits in the soil.

Dropping Leaves

Leaf drop is a frustrating issue on any plant because this condition can be challenging to diagnose and correct the situation.

If you suddenly notice the ZZ plant dropping many leaves at once, or if the plant is losing healthy green foliage, it can be one of the following problems. 

  • Shock: Shock is a principal reason for leaf drop. If you expose your plant to sudden changing conditions, including temperature, light, humidity, and watering habits, it can experience leaf drop.
  • Low humidity: Dropping leaves from low humidity is a natural response as the ZZ plant attempts to conserve its moisture by losing leaves to minimize transpiration.
  • Pests:   Pests like scale, spider mites, and mealybugs can cause leaf drop if you do not treat the Zanzibar plant.

Black Spots On The Stems And Leaves

Zanzibar plants can suffer from black spots and discoloration forming on their stems and leaves. Note that you might initially notice hints of yellow surfacing on the tips or edges of the foliage that eventually turn into black spots. In addition, many of the black areas exhibit a yellow outline.

If you notice your plant suffering from black spots, here’s why:

  • Fungal infections: The most prevalent reason for extensive black areas is a fungal infection. Fungal infections are linked to overwatering as they thrive in moist environments. Therefore, you’ll want to ensure that leaves do not stay too damp to prevent fungus from growing.
  • Pest damage: The most common pest culprits to cause black spots on your ZZ plant’s foliage and stems are aphids, scale, mealybugs, and spider mites.
  • Overwatering: Black spots on your ZZ plant can be the plant’s final cry for help if you are overwatering it. Damage from overwatering initially seeps into the roots and spreads up into the leaves.

Bending Stems

Injuries and other improper conditions can cause your ZZ plant to appear weak and spindly.

Here’s why your Zanzibar plant has bending stems:

  • Overwatering: The ZZ does not require frequent watering. When you overwater the houseplant, it damages the roots, preventing the plant from receiving needed oxygen. In turn, the stems start leaning and drooping, causing the plant to fall over.
  • Underwatering: The Zanzibar plant can experience similar effects from a lack of water. The foliage will curl and shed, and the plant’s stems or foliage will drop.
  • Trauma: When your plant experiences trauma, it may start to lean over and tip from stress.

Wrinkled Bulbs Or Rhizomes

When repotting your ZZ plant, you may notice that it has wrinkled bulbs or rhizomes at the plant’s base. These bulbs are essential to store nutrients and water to feed the plant and help it thrive.

The two culprits behind wrinkled bulbs and rhizomes are:

  • Overwatering: If you overwater your ZZ plant, the bulbs can range from black spots and wrinkles as they drown.
  • Underwatering: Underwatering the Zanzibar plant can cause the rhizomes or bulbs to dry and wrinkle.

Slow Or Poor Growth

Slow and poor growth can be a tell-tale sign that your ZZ plant isn’t happy with its environment. So if you do not notice growth or new stems forming in the springtime, you may want to jump in before it’s too late.

Before digging into the causes of poor growth, we want to remind you that a ZZ plant undergoes dormancy during winter. However, if you speculate that your plant is growing because its dying, here are two common reasons:

  • Too little light exposure: ZZ plants thrive in bright indirect light. Essentially, if the plant does not receive enough light, it cannot photosynthesize properly to produce energy to grow.
  • Nutrient-deficient soil: A houseplant can only utilize the soil in its pot. If the ground is nutrient-deficient or depleted, it cannot grow effectively.

Root rot

Root rot is a severe, even deadly issue that does not announce itself upon its arrival. So, it can be pretty challenging to spot as it occurs under the soil’s surface. However, some signs include foul-smelling soil, drooping stems, and mushy roots.

The following factors can cause root rot:

  • Overwatering: Overwatering is the most troublesome issue of all. The Zanzibar plant needs oxygen to survive, making waterlogged soil a significant problem. The roots drown and rot in the excess water and die.
  • Unsuitable soil: The ZZ plant can become waterlogged if you do not have well-draining soil. A combination of improper soil and overwatering is detrimental to the ZZ plant as the roots receive excess water exposure.
  • Poor drainage holes: If your ZZ plant lives in a pot with poor drainage holes, the excess water won’t drain thoroughly, causing root rot and ultimately killing the plant.
  • Fungal infections: Fungus thrives under wet conditions, especially in water-logged soil. The fungus can cause root rot and kill the ZZ plant.

Tips To Keep Your ZZ Plant Healthy

Consider following these tips to your “tough as nails” ZZ plant healthy and thriving:

  • Try to keep the ZZ plant in bright, indirect light. In addition, avoid low conditions as the Zanzibar plant can quickly become leggy; however, avoid direct sunlight to prevent scorched leaves.
  • Ensure that the ZZ plant has a standard, well-draining potting mixture with a handful of perlite and sand to encourage drainage.
  • Avoid using clay soil that can lead to soggy conditions.
  • Ensure that you pot the plant in a container with ample drainage holes.
  • It’s better to underwater the ZZ plant than overwater it. Aim to maintain a balanced water schedule by deeply the water plant until the moisture seeps through the drainage holes and leaves it until the soil dries out completely.
  • Avoid using poor-quality water that contains salts, chlorine, and fluorine.
  • Aim to place the Zanzibar plant in a moist area in your home, like the bathroom. Alternatively, increase the humidity by investing in a humidifier or placing the pot on top of a water tray.
  • While the ZZ plant does not require regular fertilizing, it’s advisable to apply a balanced fertilizer every four weeks to supply the proper nutrients during the growing season.
  • Repot the plant every two or three years to replenish the soil.
  • Prune the infected areas of the plant (roots, stems, and leaves).
  • If the ZZ plant has root rot, consider repotting it into new soil to prevent fungal and bacterial infections from spreading.

Frequently Asked Questions About ZZ Plant

Let’s answer a few FAQs to ensure we cover all your questions.

Why Are My ZZ Plant Leaves Turning Yellow?

When yellow foliage presents itself, it is generally concerning your watering schedule. Adjust when and how often you water the ZZ plant to reverse the damage.

What Does Root Rot Look Like On A ZZ Plant?

Root rot can present itself in various ways on a ZZ plant, including mushy roots, smelly and musty soil, discolored roots (gray or black), and drooping stems.

Does A ZZ Plant Need High Humidity?

ZZ plants are usually extremely hardy. They thrive in various humidity levels but prefer regular indoor moisture levels around 40 to 50%.

How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On A ZZ Plant?

Mealybugs look like a white powdery material on the ZZ plants. Fortunately, they are susceptible to most pesticides, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils (like neem oil), alcohol wipes, or systemic pesticides. 

First, wipe off the cotton-looking substance with rubbing alcohol and a q-tip. Then, spray the plant down with insecticidal soap or neem oil.


While ZZ plants are generally as tough as nails, it isn’t immune to neglect. In comparison, too much of a good thing can also cause harm.

So, try to watch your houseplants for signs that it’s unhappy or dying. There are many ways to treat and revive your plant, but it’s essential first to know how to identify the signs and causes of a dying Zanzibar plant before you can determine the perfect strategy.

Good luck with your exotic ZZ plant!