Why Are The Leaves Of My ZZ Plant Turning Brown?

If you are an indoor plant enthusiast, you most likely find ZZ plants lovely.

And you have every reason to do so. ZZ plants, or Zanzibar Gems as they’re also known, brighten up any room with their glossy green leaves and curving stems.

Zamioculcas zamiifolia, zanzibar gem or zz plant

Although they like almost any environment and don’t need much to be happy and healthy, this doesn’t make ZZ plants unbreakable. On the contrary, there is more than one reason for them to require your assistance. And when their leaves turn brown, it’s a clear signal that they need help.

Luckily, today we will discuss most of the ZZ plants’ problems. Plus, you will learn how and when to act so you can prevent leaves from turning brown.

Reasons Why Your ZZ Plant’s Leaves Turn Brown

ZZ plants’ leaves will turn brown to communicate any discomfort. This can be due to a variety of reasons. Before taking action to fix the issue, you need to determine exactly what the cause is. Otherwise, you risk doing more harm than good.

Once you’ve identified the problem, you can take the necessary corrective steps to restore your ZZ plant back to full health.

Here are the most frequent factors that cause brown leaves in ZZ plants:


If you notice that your plant’s leaves have turned brown and have a more pulpy texture, that could mean that you have overwatered it.

If the plant sits in too much water, its roots will become unstable. Therefore, it won’t get the necessary nutrients from its root system.

Truth be told, overwatering is one of the most frequent reasons ZZ plants die. Why? Because you don’t usually notice this when until it’s too late.


Are your ZZ plant’s leaves turning brown, dry, and crispy? If the leaves’ color changes starting from the tips, then it’s a clear sign that you should be watering the plant more often. Now, forgetting to water your ZZ plant for a week or so won’t kill it. But if you make a habit out of it, it will affect its health in the long term.

When I first bought a Zanzibar Gem, it came with a sign that said ‘thrives on neglect.’ The instructions said watering once a month at most. I took this a little too literally and only watered it every 6 weeks or so. The leaves started to turn brown and droopy, there were black marks on the stems, and there was no new growth even when spring came along. We inspected the roots for signs of pests, and it seemed healthy.

Around the same time, one of my other plants became infested by fungus gnats. To solve this problem and stop the gnat spreading to other plants, I soaked all of them in water mixed with neem oil. To effectively kill off all gnats and their larvae, I had to do this drench every 2 weeks. Then, lo and behold, the ZZ plant came back to life. It started to look perkier, the leaves regained that beautiful glossy green color, and new growth started popping out from the soil.

Lack of humidity

Zanzibar Gems are very hardy plants that can survive both high and low humidity levels. However, humidity levels between 40-50% are optimal and will help your plant thrive.

Brown leaves can actually be a sign of an environment that is too dry. So if you see this happening and can’t figure out why, you may want to check the humidity levels of the room where you keep your ZZ plant.

You can get a digital hygrometer that will tell you the humidity in your room and the temperature. That way, you’ll be able to tell more precisely if your plant is getting too much heat or if the humidity level is inadequate.

If the humidity is below 30%, you may want to mist your plant regularly or use a small room humidifier.


Too much sunlight can also be the cause of your ZZ plant’s leaves turning brown. And if you are wondering how plants can get sunburned, well, it’s quite similar to how we humans do – overexpose yourself in the sun, and there will be repercussions.

Prolonged and direct light will discolor the outermost tissue of ZZ plants and leave light tans or even burns. In addition, the leaves will turn brown after this happens, as they cannot stand ultraviolet rays from the sun.

The Wrong Type Of Pot

The leaves of your ZZ plant can also turn brown if you keep it in a pot to which it is poorly suited. Both the size and the material of the pot impact the plant’s healthy growth. Roots need to extend correctly so they can take the necessary nutrients.

A terracotta pot is ideal because it can absorb excess water. This reduces the chance of the ZZ plant developing root rot. Since moving my plant to a terracotta pot, it’s thrived. It also looks great because the color of the pot contrasts with the beautiful green leaves.


Fertilizer issues can also discolor the leaves of a ZZ plant and prevent growth. Adding too many fertilizers can damage the roots and stop the plant from developing.

Only use liquid fertilizer on your ZZ plant, and use it sparingly. A few times a year will be more than enough to give it a good boost.

Pest Infestation

A pest infestation can cause discoloration problems, so do not underestimate it. From what I could tell, my ZZ plant had brown leaves because I was underwatering it. However, it’s also possible the neem drench may have killed some pests on the plant and helped it come back to life.

Should I Cut Off Dead Leaves From My ZZ Plant?

Yes, it would be best if you cut off the dying, brown leaves, and here are the main reasons to do this:

  • It will allow healthy foliage to get the necessary nutrients
  • It will encourage new growth
  • It will improve the plant’s health and appearance

Although cutting off dead leaves may seem relatively straightforward, you should not do it randomly as you may hurt the plant.

Here is the best approach for you to follow:

  • First, gently tug the brown leaf; this should make it fall off easily.
  • If it doesn’t come naturally, wait a couple of days more and repeat the process.
  • If it still resists, you can use a pair of garden shears.

How To Save Your ZZ Plant

Brown leaves don’t necessarily mean your ZZ plant is dying. However, if left unchecked, it can create irreversible harm to your plant.

Here are the signs of the most common causes of brown leaves and how to fix them, so your ZZ plant flourishes.


Common Signs Of Overwatering:

  • The roots and bulb feel spongy.
  • Brown leaves are falling off.
  • The soil is damp and has a musty smell.
  • The roots release a bad smell

How To Solve Overwatering

  • Always check the soil moisture and adjust watering accordingly.
  • Use a moisture meter to measure soil moisture.
  • If the soil is full of water, replace it immediately and don’t wait for it to dry out.

Lack of Humidity

Common Sign Of Low Humidity:

  • Besides the brown color on the leaves, they also look dry.
  • The moisture in the soil isn’t overly dry, meaning you are not underwatering.

How to Increase Humidity

  • Use a small humidifier if you have one.
  • Use a pebble tray under the pot, so the water evaporates and elevates the humidity around your Zanzibar Gem.
  • Move the plant to more humid environments like your bathroom.


Common Signs Of Underwatering:

  • The leaves become crispy, dry, and brown, starting from the tips.
  • Leaves can also turn yellow.
  • You may also notice new leaves turning brown and wrinkly.
  • Dried-out roots.

How To Fix Underwatering:

  • Lift the ZZ plant to check its weight; if it feels too light, you should water the plant.
  • Determine a watering schedule to make sure your plant is getting water regularly.
  • Use a moisture meter to measure the soil moisture.


Common Signs Of Sunburn:

  • Tans and burns on the leaves.
  • It’s receiving more than 4 hours of direct sunlight.

How to avoid sunburn:

  • Although ZZ plants do well in dry environments, too much direct sunlight can turn their leaves brown and yellow. Move your plant away from direct sunlight. For example, I have mine near a window but not against it. That way, it gets some light, but it’s not directly under the sun.
  • You can also move it around during the day, so it gets direct sunlight but not for too long. This helps if you don’t have an ideal spot to leave it permanently, and your ZZ is getting too much or not enough sunlight.

Inadequate Pot

Signs You Should Change The Pot:

  • You see the roots growing through the draining holes.
  • The pot is bulging and getting deformed.
  • The soil stays moist when you’re watering sparingly.


  • Use a larger pot to avoid root bounding and waterlogging.
  • Repot when you start seeing the roots coming out of the holes.
  • Use a ceramic or clay pot rather than a plastic one to prevent water excess.
  • Choose a pot with draining holes.



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