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Although ZZ plants are very resilient, they sometimes manifest problems by developing brown patches on the leaves or stems. This can be in response to poor water quality, improper watering, incorrect humidity, light, pest infestation, nutrient deficiency, or factors relating to the plant’s pot.
ZZ Plants are drought-resistant, ornamental wonders originating from East Africa that is also called the Zanzibar Gem. They certainly are a treasure when it comes to owning a houseplant that will consistently look good, purify the air, and require minimal care.
So, you may be confused if the usually tough-looking, naturally shiny green leaves on your ZZ Plant start turning brown.
Why Is My ZZ Plant Turning Brown?
ZZ Plants are remarkably easy to care for and seem to have an almost unnatural ability to continue looking lush and gorgeous even in conditions that may not always be ideal.
So, if you spot some brown patches creeping across the leaves of your plant, you may fear the worst. However, if you take action quickly, your gorgeous ZZ Plant will soon be on the road to complete recovery.
There are several possible reasons why a regular trooper like a ZZ Plant may start looking sickly and turning brown. The normally waxy, almost prehistoric-looking leaves may start uniformly losing their deep green appearance, or more commonly, the tips of the leaves begin to turn brown.
Before you can do anything to remedy the situation, you need to diagnose why the ZZ Plant is turning brown.
Unless the cause is obvious, you will need to go through all the possibilities to make the setting as ideal as possible for your plant to thrive. Like all plants, even the humble ZZ Plant has some minimum basic requirements to stay healthy.
The most common problems that cause ZZ Plants to change luster to become a dead brown color are the following:
- Water quality
- Incorrect watering
- Humidity Issues
- Too much sunlight
- Incorrect pot size
- Transplant shock
- Pests and diseases
- Avoid leaf shine sprays
Of course, there is much more to each point than simply doing the reverse of what you are currently doing.
To thrive, you need to remember where ZZ Plants originate and mimic those conditions as much as possible.
Fortunately, the mild conditions inside most homes are pretty much perfect for ZZ Plants, so it often is a matter of correcting one factor to get your ZZ plant back to its former magnificence.
It is important to note that once part of a leaf or an entire leaf turns brown, that part can no longer be saved. It will never turn green again. So once you have decided on an action plan to treat your ZZ plant, you should trim off the affected brown bits.
10 Reasons Why Your ZZ Plant Is Turning Brown
Let’s go through the most common causes why your ZZ Plant may be turning brown. We have included solutions to each challenge to make things easier so you won’t need to get a degree in horticulture to get your ZZ Plant back into beautiful, healthy green condition.
1. Tap Water May Be Making Your ZZ Plant Sick
ZZ Plants do need to be watered regularly, but not frequently. This is because they store water in their plump rhizome root system.
So, if you forget to water the plant for a week or two, in all likelihood, your ZZ plant will forgive you. What these plants are less able to tolerate are the chemicals in tap water.
That is not to say that all tap water is unhealthy; it’s just that ZZ plants are particularly sensitive to the purifying chemicals and additives contained in most tap water.
Since these drought-resistant plants don’t need to drink as often as many other houseplants when they do, they make it count, so the effect of chlorine, minerals, and fluoride contained in tap water may cause the plant to look sickly.
Luckily you don’t need to rush out and buy special spring water for your ZZ. If you can, try to collect rainwater to water your plant.
Snow works too, but remember to let it melt and get to room temperature before dousing the soil around the plant in freezing water.
If you have a lot of houseplants, it may be worth it to get a simple filtration system to purify tap water. This can be as simple as investing a filtered pitcher like this one from Aquagear.
You might have heard that leaving your tap water out overnight will cut the chlorine content. It is true that chlorine evaporates, but according to experts, it may need at least 48 hours to get the job done. But, it is worth trying if you do not have any filtered water available.
Keep in mind that with ZZ plants, while regular watering is essential, it is a case of quality over quantity. It is far better to water your plant less frequently using pure water than the other way around.
2. Water Your ZZ Plant Only When Needed
Many of us want to love and spoil our plants, and one of the most common ways humans show love to their houseplants is by regularly dousing them with water.
After all, we don’t want them to dry out and die, right?
ZZ Plants seem to have evolved on neglect. They expect very little and react dramatically when they receive more than necessary.
That is not to say they don’t need water at all, but the watering schedule should be based on the plant’s requirements in terms of outside temperature or season and less on a strict plant watering schedule.
Over- or under-watering your ZZ plant may result in the plant turning brown. Think about how the plant would grow naturally in East Africa.
If it were standing in floodwater or hot, dry soil, the green, leafy top of the plant would undoubtedly turn brown. It is no different for your houseplant.
So, before you do anything else, check that the drainage holes under your plant’s pot are entirely open. Watering is important, but it should drain quickly through the soil around the plant’s roots, and excess water must drain out through the base.
A good rule to follow before watering your ZZ plant is to feel the soil around the plant with the tip of your finger. The top layer should be completely dry before you reach for the watering can.
Usually, you will only need to water a ZZ plant once a week, and during winter, it can be even less frequent.
You also don’t want your plant to go into self-preservation mode by not providing enough water. ZZ plants save themselves during periods of drought by preserving all their reserves in their large rhizome roots.
This, of course, will mean that the top, showy part of your plant that looks beautiful in your home, will begin to turn brown as the plant starts to shut down.
3. Incorrect Humidity May Be A Factor
ZZ Plants usually cope well with various humidity levels, making them popular in many office air-conditioned settings.
However, extremely dry air means that evaporation is taking place faster. This will cause the ZZ plant’s leaves to dry out more quickly, resulting in the lustrous green leaves turning brown. You may notice the edges of some of the leaves developing brown edges.
If you live in an arid area and your ZZ plant is turning brown, even though it is watered correctly, there are some quick and inexpensive ways that you can use to remedy the situation.
- Mist the leaves – all you need is a spray bottle filled with room temperature water. Set the nozzle on the finest spray and occasionally lightly mist the leaves of your ZZ plant. The goal of misting is to lightly coat the surface of the leaves. Be very careful not to spray so much water that it runs down the stems into the soil and you end up accidentally overwatering your plant.
- Use a pebble tray – Making a pebble tray is a fun project that looks good and will undoubtedly raise the humidity around your ZZ plant. A word of caution here. The base of the plant must never be in the water. Drainage must still take place through the pot, and excess water must move away from the plant’s roots.
A pebble tray can look great with a ZZ plant if you use pebbles that complement the plant’s prehistoric appearance. You can use any tray or even a saucer, so long as it has a lip that can hold water.
Once you have your pebble tray set up, keep topping up the water around the pebbles, and voila, your plant will be basking in its own self-regulating humidity zone.
- Group your houseplants – In nature, very few plants grow out in the open all alone. They grow in clumps among other plants of different types and heights. This grouping also helps to prevent individual plants from drying out.
So if the air where you keep your ZZ plant is particularly dry and you have other houseplants, consider arranging them close to each other. Just keep in mind the light requirements for each variety.
- Move it to a more humid room – If you live in a dry area and your ZZ Plant is developing brown edges on its leaves, it may be a good idea to move the plant to a more humid environment. Steamy bathrooms are great at mimicking African tropical conditions, and the plant will benefit from the naturally humid conditions.
- Get a humidifier – humans and ZZ plants will benefit from adding a humidifier. If you already have one, perhaps move it closer to your ZZ plant.
4. Too Much Sun Will Burn Your ZZ Plant
One of the many amazing things about ZZ plants is that they are tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions. Although they do better in high, indirect sunlight, they plod along steadily even in lower light settings.
High light is not the same as full direct sun, and if your plant is turning brown after being in direct sunlight, it has probably been scorched.
Immediately move it to a position where its rigid, waxy leaves are protected and won’t be burnt further.
5. Extreme Cold Will Affect Your Plant
If your plant is in your garden or on your porch and you notice that it has started turning yellow with brown edges, check the overnight temperature.
ZZ plants can tolerate temperatures ranging from 50-90F. Average room temperatures are ideal, so these plants do well as pot plants in indoor settings.
Often the start of winter comes around before we expect it, and nighttime temperatures begin to fall rapidly.
At the first sign of cold, bring your plant indoors. Any temperature below 50F is likely to cause the top of the plant to start turning brown and receding.
Cold temperatures are not only caused by cool weather. Sudden blasts from a cold air conditioner or air vents may cause fluctuations in the temperature that will affect your ZZ plant.
Even if your plant has already been damaged by cold, you can save it by immediately bringing it indoors or moving it to a warmer position.
Trim away the damaged section, even if that means all the surface leaves, and continue caring for the root.
The hardy rhizome will send up new shoots in the next growing season, but prevention is better than cure, so keep your ZZ warm and comfortable to keep it in mint condition throughout the year.
6. Check The Size Of The Pot To Keep Your ZZ Plant Healthy
Bigger is not always better, and in the case of ZZ plants, this is most definitely the case. These beautiful hardy plants hold their distinctive shape better if their roots are kept in a more compact environment.
So, choose a slightly smaller pot than you may select for another similar-sized plant.
ZZ plants are notoriously slow growers, so they are not likely to outgrow their pot quickly. However, once the soil in the pot has become depleted, their condition will deteriorate.
Moving a ZZ plant to another pot isn’t complicated, and you can usually lift the entire root system out of the old pot and plant it in a slightly larger plant container.
A good trick for indoor plants is to keep the plant in an inexpensive plastic container like the one you got it in from the nursery and insert the whole thing into a decorative pot.
That way, you can lift the entire thin plastic pot out periodically and check if the plant has become pot-bound.
7. Watch For Signs Of Transplant Shock
Like all living things, plants become accustomed to particular conditions, and rapid changes in their environment can make them react and become sickly.
If your newly transplanted ZZ plant has started turning brown, it might be struggling to adapt to the new conditions.
After re-potting, remember to place the ZZ Plant back in the same position as before until the plant has fully adjusted. Watering the plant 24 hours before transplanting is also recommended to reduce possible transplant stress as the plant will be well hydrated when you move it.
Although you should transplant your ZZ plant as soon as you notice signs that it has outgrown its pot, the best time is usually late fall or early winter.
This is when the plant is in its least active growing phase, so the transition from one container to another will be less stressful.
Avoid damaging the fleshy storage roots while transplanting. Another good tip is to have and have the container ready and use as much of the soil from the old container as possible in the new one.
Plant your ZZ at the same depth as before, and it will soon feel at home and thrive in its new pot.
8. Overfertilizing Can Affect The Health Of Your ZZ Plant
ZZ plants are not fussy when it comes to soil. Adding too much fertilizer can overwhelm your humble ZZ plant and may prevent new growth or discoloration of existing leaves.
So long as there is adequate drainage, they can do well in a regular potting soil mix.
Although ZZ plants do not require much additional fertilizer, they will occasionally benefit from a small, diluted feed, especially during the growing season.
However, this should be limited to only a few times a year. It is more important to ensure that the plant is not pot bound and re-pot when necessary.
9. Check Your Plant For Signs Of Pests Or Disease
Pests and plant diseases will quickly affect the health of your ZZ plant. One of the most fatal conditions is root rot which is most often caused by overwatering or inadequate drainage. Stems and new leaves start turning brown, and if you don’t act quickly, the plant will not survive.
Although pests don’t often plague ZZ plants, it is not impossible, especially if you have other houseplants.
These can include aphids, scale, or spider mites. Use a special houseplant insecticide or a natural remedy like neem oil.
10. Leaf Shine Sprays Are Not Recommended For A ZZ Plant
The leaves of a ZZ plant are naturally shiny and sometimes seem almost artificial in their perfection.
If you notice that your ZZ plant is looking lackluster, do not be tempted to reach for the leaf shine spray, as it could block the pores on the plant’s leaves and interfere with transpiration. This could lead to the leaves turning brown.
If the leaves of your ZZ plant start looking a little dull, they may simply be dusty. It is really easy to quickly restore the natural healthy shine to the surface of the leaves without using a leaf shine spray. You can use the following methods to wash your ZZ plants leaves:
- Give the plant a shower – if your plant is small enough, you can place the entire pot in a basin or sink. Then use a spray bottle or low-pressure sprayer to wash the leaves. Ensure that the temperature is tepid and the pressure is not too hard, or the foliage will be damaged. When done, allow the plant to drain and let the soil dry out before watering.
- Use a damp cloth – this may take some patience and time because it must be done gently, but it can be very rewarding to clean your plant by hand. Gently wipe the top of each leaf with a clean, damp cloth. Support each leaf as you clean with your other hand to prevent leaves or stems from snapping off.
- Dip small plants in a bucket – If your ZZ plant isn’t too big and its pot is small enough to hold easily, you can try dipping it quickly into a bucket of lukewarm water. This method must be performed extremely carefully so that you don’t tip the plant out of its pot.
Fill a bucket or similarly long container with tepid water. It must be neither cold nor warm. This is important, or your plant could go into shock due to rapid temperature change.
Use both hands to support the soil around the plant’s base turn it upside down so that the foliage is submerged. Gently swish it around to remove dust, remove it and turn it the right way up. Your ZZ plant will be clean, and the leaves will be restored to their glossy deep green color.
Frequently Asked Questions About ZZ Plant
ZZ plants are usually hardy house plants, so you may be concerned and not know what to do if your plant turns brown. Fortunately, our team of plant experts is here to answer all your questions from A – ZZ.
How can I get rid of brown leaves on my ZZ plant?
Sadly, once a ZZ plant leaf has turned brown, there is no saving it. Carefully remove affected leaves or parts of each damaged leaf. It would be best to do this using sharp scissors or pruning shears. Between each cut, clean the blades using rubbing alcohol.
If many leaves are affected, only remove a few at a time so the plant doesn’t go into shock and deteriorate further. Don’t worry, though; once you have figured out what caused the leaves to become brown, you can soon get your plant back to good health.
Why is my ZZ plant stems turning brown?
One of the most serious plant diseases for the ZZ Plant is root rot which often manifests as ever spreading brown coloration along the stem. Once this horrible condition gets a grip, it is tricky to get rid of.
Why are the tips of the leaves on my ZZ plant turning brown?
Watering the plant using tap water that contains chemicals like chlorine and salts can result in the tips of the ZZ plant leaves turning brown. It is best to use filtered or natural rainwater for your beautiful ZZ plant.