Zamioculcas zamiifolia always has overly long stems that flop over. Why?

Discussion in 'Indoor and Greenhouse Plants' started by gbell, Apr 27, 2017.

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  1. gbell

    gbell New Member

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    I've had my Zanzibar Gem for 5+ years, and the stems always grow really long and flop over. It's never thick and proud like the images I see online.

    It's in an east-facing window with a roof overhang, so only early to mid-morning sun.

    Any idea what I'm doing wrong?
     

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  2. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member 10 Years

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    I'm going to guess it's gotten rather more water than it needed. Not enough to rot it, but enough to make it send up weaker shoots. It actually doesn't need sun. Filtered light. Mine could get direct sun for an hour or so in early morning in the winter when deciduous trees are still bare, but is also facing east and well under a porch roof. Maybe three or four years old. It's always humid, even in the dry season, and I rarely water it. Maybe once a month. It's in a somewhat smaller pot than your large square one. Now that I'm thinking of that, do you still have yours in a nursery pot tucked into the large cube? It might need more room to grow. This plant can propagate by rooting leaflets and one way to do that is to send out long arching stems that have a chance of touching the ground.
     
  3. gbell

    gbell New Member

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    Thanks @thanrose!

    We water it probably less than once a month, but erratically. So sometimes twice a month, sometimes skip a month maybe.

    This is the first time it's had any sun, so that's not it.

    We live in a temperate climate, so it's not very humid.

    The large pot was an attempt to get it happier, and we thought maybe the deep setting (and thus high walls) would keep the shoots upright. Nope!

    Could it not be enough water, so that the shoots are weak?

    Do you think the shoots are weak or is it that they're overly long?

    Photos of these things online always show small pots, so it's hard to believe it needs more room.
     
  4. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member 10 Years

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    I really don't know. But I am noting longitudinal lines that are in each stem. ZZ's shouldn't have them. I would associate that with insufficient water, but coupled with the great length that seems contradictory. If it is stress from lack of water that created the lines the length of the stem, I'd expect you would have symptoms showing in the leaflets, too. Like wrinkling a bit, drooping slightly, falling off.

    Did you use a potting mix with fertilizer? I wouldn't have. If the mix was rather higher in nitrogen than the plant needed, it might have put more energy into top growth while not having enough underground. All just guesses.
     
  5. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    Is it in an air conditioned room, maybe too cool for the plant? It's supposed to be ok down to 15C degrees, though; it's probably unlikely it would be so cool in your home, but maybe near an air duct that is too cool or too warm?

    I'm reluctant to say anything (probably not reluctant enough), having a plant that refuses to keep more than five leaves (up one from last year, though). But it's supposed to lose its leaves in drought, so you'd think this would be from the opposite conditions. Maybe it doesn't have roots? Have you pulled it out of its pot to see if there are roots? Maybe they either rotted, or there is something that is eating them. After doing that, you may as well try to get some of the leaves to create new plants for you - a few on their own, and a few pinned down to pots under the leaves that touch the floor.
     
  6. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member 10 Years

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    Ha! I was hoping you'd respond, Wendy. I'm sure there are others with ZZ experience, but we've seen pictures of yours. Odd that I didn't consider the chill factor. I don't remember what mine did when I left it outside for the first cold night here a few years ago, probably around 15-16C, but recall that it did look a bit disgruntled. No leaf loss and they didn't curl like rhododendrons or fold like Marantas, yet the leaf appearance made me realize something was amiss. Only temporary, unlike what the same night did to my Spathiphyllum. I think the leaves went dull, losing the shine. The spath did, too, but its leaves drooped and some died.

    Maybe gbell's ZZ is low on some micro or macro-nutrient. I know it's not a cycad, but someone here recommended Epsom salts for the magnesium to help a cycad's fronds stand more erect.
     
  7. gbell

    gbell New Member

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    Thanks so much for the responses, everybody. I'll definitely try propagating it in the spring (it's autumn here now), though they're such slow growers that I'm not excited about waiting years to replace this one :)

    I don't recall the soil we repotted it into - likely its tired, old soil mixed with some new potting mix. We take its reputation of "thriving on neglect" seriously, so I doubt it would have been one of those "plus fert" potting mixes.

    I've taken some better photos to hopefully give some clues. The ribs in the stems, and the black patches are possibly clues? Having not examined a healthy one in person, I don't know myself.

    The ropes are there in a (likely) futile attempt to train them upright.

    This is the 'back side' of the plant that faces the east, overhung window. The leaves seem to be turned away, towards the dimmer inner room. Didn't know plants did that. But, it has always looked like this, even though it hasn't always been there, so I don't think its position is a factor.
     

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  8. thanrose

    thanrose Active Member 10 Years

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    Ah, that's helpful. I'd really hate for this to be leading you in the wrong direction, but the paleness of the leaflets show it's not a happy camper overall. There's also silvery patches on some of the leaves at the left of your first photo in this batch. When I got mine, small and forlorn and price cut in half, it had sun-scald, whiting the leaflets that received direct sun. Those leaves never recovered, and still remain attached. That seems to be a red herring in your ZZ and unrelated to why the fronds droop. The black/gray marks seem to be normal on this plant. Mine has them, and it's not a disease process of any sort.

    I think you should take Wendy's advice and check the root system, which should be stout white to tan and firm to the touch. At the same time, check the planting depth. You don't want the tuber stuck down under as you would Holland bulbs. It's just below the surface of the soil/mix. If you have it sticking out of the soil as you would with a cycad, that's not good, or below the frost line: also not good.

    So now we're left with watering and the troubling longitudinal wrinkles. This looks like underwatering, and may be the key. ZZ's are very forgiving, but they actually do need some water and light if they are to grow. They'll remain in stasis for a couple of years if they are kept dark and dry. As in nothing will happen. If drying out is really the problem, it has been going on for a long time. I'd suggest watering it more generously, but don't let it sit in water. Sometimes, super dry potting mix will be hydrophobic, so you may have to water it several times over a few days to get the soil to hydrate.

    And, Wendy, give Plants are the Strangest People: Stoner (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) a read. He's an amusing fellow in retail plants who sometimes has good observations on challenging plants. You and I can hope for new growth now, while gbell is coming into winter.
     
  9. gbell

    gbell New Member

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    I think I've confused things a bit with some weird lighting. The leaves look worse in the photo than they do in real life - I think it was a combination of dust and reflection. See below for a more representative photo of the leaves - still slightly pale, but maybe a light feed in the Spring will fix that.

    My wife is admonishing me to point out that this plant is 11 years old and flowers just about every year.

    I think we'll do the following:

    Now (Autumn):
    1) Start a stem cutting propagation. Saw good results from this on YouTube.
    2) Do a soak watering. Just one and not again until Spring.

    In the Spring:
    1) Leaf propagate.
    2) Repot (give up on the 'high wall fix' we're trying now that looks bad). Taking care with tuber depth, and checking roots as per above.
    3) Light liquid fert.


    Going forward: More frequent, and/or more thorough watering. Annual, springtime, light liquid fertilizer.

    Does that sound in-line with the above advice?

    I'm also contemplating building a greenhouse because growers seem able to get these things to go crazy, and I "need" one anyway for other projects. Right? :)
     

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  10. wcutler

    wcutler Esteemed Contributor Forums Moderator VCBF Cherry Scout 10 Years

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    I would still be curious to know what's going on under the soil. The article that @thanrose linked to shows a picture of what the roots and tubers should look like.
    And @thanrose, thanks for the link. That was very interesting.
     
  11. Lion-in-the-garden

    Lion-in-the-garden New Member

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    This thread actually prompted me to register. My husband and I noticed last year that our ZZ started thriving and sending up new shoots like crazy (even during winter) once placed right beside my husband's hot espresso machine. The change is unbelievable. My husband keeps the machine on for several hours a day, so it's a significant source of heat.

    So from my personal / anecdotal experience, warm temperature makes all the difference. I had a ZZ a few years ago that floundered. This new one was an experimental purchase that has been a pleasant surprise.

    My ZZ now needs repotting and I've taken several cuttings for propagation.

    Laura
     

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  12. gbell

    gbell New Member

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    Thanks Laura - that's pretty interesting. I'm not sure what to do with that information though! From an ecological standpoint, I'm not too interested in spending energy to heat this thing.

    We don't have any source of waste heat like that that I can think of. A woodburning stove keeps part of the house warmer for at least a few hours in the winter... maybe I should try putting it in that room.

    Yours is also fairly young, vs. our 12-year old gangly monster.

    And, your experience jibes with the reports that they do really well in greenhouses.
     

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