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ZZ Plant Roots [Problem & Easy Fix]

Have your ZZ plant leaves suddenly started drooping or yellowing with soft brown tips in the growing season? Beware; it could be a severe plant-root problem.

ZZ plant grows potato-like roots (rhizomes) that store water and are sensitive to overwatering; therefore, they are prone to water stress and root rot problems indicated by their changing appearance.

Read on to find out how your ZZ plant reacts to different root problems with their solutions.

ZZ Plant Roots [Healthy vs. Sick]

ZZ or Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a tropical perennial plant native to Africa and grows about 2-4 feet tall in its lifetime.

However, it may take years to attain that height because the ZZ roots will grow relatively slowly.

Being a succulent plant, it boasts a bulbous root that resembles potato rhizomes and is known to store water to keep the top-plant hydrated.

zz plant with root bounds
ZZ plant boasts deep root that requires significant soil space to expand. In fact, it hates being root bound as it constricts the root size.

Therefore, you should regularly move it to a large pot every 1-2 years to encourage sizeable and healthy root growth.

The healthy ZZ roots look white and crisp at all times. Besides, any change in the foliage’s color and shape may indicate something is wrong with its roots.

Here is how you can tell whether your ZZ plants are healthy or sick.

Healthy ZZ RootsSick ZZ Roots
AppearanceBulbous, fleshy, and thickSlimy and mushy
ColorWhite and crisp tipsGray, black, or brown
SmellSmells like the soilFoul or musty odor resembling slightly sulphurous
GrowthGrows as big as the pot size with thin, long feeder rootsNew growth stops,turns mushy overtime, and loses volume

Remember, overwatering, fungal growth, and root-bound are significant problems for ZZ plants, leading to sick or decayed root growth.

Symptoms of Unhealthy ZZ Plant Roots

Generally, ZZ plant stems look tall and sturdy with uniform, glossy deep-green leaves at each interval.

Therefore, you could tell your plant is under duress when the leaves start changing color, stems turn droopy, or the plant stops growing altogether.

Here are some significant symptoms indicating the root is suffering.

1. Yellowing Foliage

Yellowing foliage is one of the earliest signs of root problems in any plant.

ZZ plant is no different when it exhibits yellowing foliage, usually starting from the outer bottom leaves and slowly taking over the top fold.

Yellowing leaves on ZZ plants are commonly due to overwatering, which drowns the roots and prevents oxygen supply.

Yellowing leaf in zz plant
Yellowing leaf is an early indication of plant-root problems.

Over time, the roots turn soggy, leading to fungal growth that spreads throughout the stem and leaves, inviting a color change.

A tell-tale sign is edema symptoms (water-soaked spots) on the lower leaves, which confirms that your plant root is suffering.

Sometimes excessive or low light may also invite leaf yellowing, but the color remains faded as opposed to deep yellowing of bottom leaves.

2. Brown Tips

Although rare, severe root problems will exhibit browning leaf tips in ZZ plants.

Generally, browned tips will follow after the yellowing of leaves and are often accompanied by mushy and wrinkled leaves or drooping stems.

Remember, browning tips is not commonly seen in ZZ plant, often indicating overwatering and root rot problem.

Once the root stops getting oxygen and nutrients from the soil, the leaves will fail to store water.

Therefore, the water abundance will transition to water deficiency in the plant, resulting in browning tips.

You should quickly fix this issue before the new growth falters and turn delicate or mushy, even killing the plant.

Remember to rule out the lighting problem with the ZZ plant before diagnosing the root rot problem.

3. Stunted Growth

Stunted or stalled growth is another sign of a root problem in the ZZ plant.

The root stress, root-bound condition, and root decay may lead to stalled growth of new development, including leaves and stems.

ZZ plants that are severely root-bound will struggle to grow new shoots and foliage due to the absence of a growing medium.

Similarly, root stress due to excess fertilization and root decay will fail to supply oxygen, water, and nutrients essential for top growth.

You would witness small new leaves that fail to flourish and top-stem failing to extend.

Do not confuse it with dormancy prevalent in fall and winter. Besides, the absence of bright lighting may also cause stunted growth.

4. Drooping and Wrinkled Stems

Be wary of drooping, soft, or wrinkled stems that indicate root stress problems from severe overwatering.

Remember, these succulents hold water in their roots; hence, overwatering them will unnecessarily drown their roots.

The wet condition is more likely to invite harmful pathogens that infest the root system, which affects the shoot’s structure.

Along with changing foliage color, you would witness the stems falling under their weight due to lack of water in the branches.

Similarly, the dried stalks will get wrinkled or turn soft, after which there is no going back.

Temperature stress due to high temperature may also lead to droopy stems, which is more prevalent in the sun-exposed plant.

5. Leaf Curling

ZZ plant curls its leaves to minimize the risk of transpiration, commonly from high temperature and low humidity prevalent in summer or during direct lighting.

Over or under-watering your ZZ plant may also invite curling sometimes. Although rare, under-watering the succulent will encourage it to use up the reserve.

Once the water source dries up, the leaves will begin transpiring, and the plant will curl its leaves to prevent losing water.

Similarly, ZZ plants suffering from root rot due to overwatering will prevent moisture from reaching the leaves, leading to transpiration and curled leaves.

6. Foul Smell

When your ZZ plant begins emitting a foul smell, you can be sure that the root rot problem is severe.

The prolonged root rot condition is caused by the increasing number of anaerobic bacteria that eats up the roots and deprives the plant of oxygen.

It will lead to the decomposing root system. Gently slide out the plant and brush the roots to check the status.

You would notice the roots emitting a foul odor that smells like a swamp, rotten meat, or slightly sulphuric and looks dark and mushy.

You would also witness stunted growth, faded leaves, and severely drooping stems.

How to Repot ZZ Plant

Remember, you can save your plant from severe damage by treating it during the early progression of root rot.

Fungal treatment using a suitable fungicide will help prevent further fungal growth.

Once the root rot has prolonged, you can only salvage the plant by removing the infected parts.

Start with inspecting the root rot condition and salvaging the remaining healthy rhizomes at the earliest.

Step 1: Collect the Necessary Materials

Step 2: Prune and Remove the Infected Root

  • Tilt your pot and grab the plant by the base to pull it out gently.
  • Remove the excess dirt from the root using gloves. You can also wash it off with water.
  • Identify the infected parts that look mushy, dark, and smelly.
zz plants uprooted
Closely inspect the plant roots for signs of decay such as browning, mushy, or darkening.
  • Using the pruning shear, gently cut off the infected parts, including feeder roots.
  • However, beware of cutting through the mother root system, which may permanently stress the plant.
  • Similarly, you can trim off excessively yellowed or brown leaves to redirect energy toward the new growth.
Note: Plants with 50% or damaged roots are better discarded.

Step 3: Sanitize the Plant Root

  • Apply fungicide to the root to kill off any remaining bacteria.
  • Take the fungicidal powder and dab it on the recently cut root, or dip the entire root system in a solution of one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide mixed in one liter of water.

Step 4: Repot the Plant

  • ZZ plant prefers well-draining or succulent potting mix containing organic potting soil, orchid bark, perlite, and horticultural charcoal.
  • Next, fill the new pot with the potting soil up to half and insert the plant root first.
  • Now fill the vacant pot space, leaving one inch of space on the top.
  • Gently dab the soil to hold the plant in its place.
  • Leave the plant as it is for a few days before watering, as it allows the roots to settle in the new medium.
  • Resume the watering but do it sparingly to let the roots recover fully.
  • Keep the plant in indirect sunlight and fertilize only after a month or two when the roots become sturdy.

Learn how often to water your ZZ plant at different times of the year.

From Editorial Team

Taking precautions will always help you avoid ZZ plant root problems.

Maintain the soil pH slightly acidic ranging from 6 to 7, and provide it with a balanced 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 fertilizer monthly during spring and summer. 

Water every 2-3 weeks, provide ample indirect sunlight, use pots with multiple drainage holes, and repot the plant every two years to keep roots healthy.