How to grow and care for Lucky Bamboo Indoors

houseplant, Lucky Bamboo, Dracaena sanderiana

Botanical name: Dracaena sanderiana
Synonym: Phleomele sanderiana
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae

Dracaena sanderiana is a popular houseplant due to its tolerance to shade conditions and its ability to grow in water. The plant is also popular with feng shui enthusiasts as it is believed to bring good luck and hence the common name "Lucky Bamboo". Lucky Bamboo is known by many names like Curly Bamboo, Ribbon Plant, Ribbon Dracaena, Chinese Water Bamboo and many others. Though called a Bamboo, it is a Dracaena. It has highly twisted arching leaves of grey-green color about 9 in. long. It grows to a maximum height of 2-3 ft. The stems are slender, soft and upright. The roots are red. Although thought to be from China or Belgium, Lucky Bamboo is native to Central Africa. It is named after a German-English gardener Henry Frederick Conrad Sander (1847-1920).

How to Grow Lucky Bamboo

Lucky Bamboo can be grown in water or in soil. The light, temperature and humidity requirements are similar in both cases.

Light

Lucky Bamboo prefers light shade, a west-facing window is ideal. Too low light will cause the leaves to turn pale-green. Keep the plant away from direct sunlight as it leads to scorching of leaves. The plant can also thrive under flourescent light. Learn more on how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

Temperature

Average warmth with a minumum of 150C is ideal for Lucky Bamboo. Protect the plant from cold draughts. Find out more on temperature for houseplants.

Humidity

Average room humidity is adequate for Lucky Bamboo. Mist the leaves occasionally. If the temperatures are very high, mist the leaves more frequently or set the pot on a wet pebble tray to raise humidity. Brown leaf tips is an indication of low humidity. Clean the leaves by damp-wiping to get rid of dust.

How to Grow Lucky Bamboo in Water

Use an opaque container to prevent the growth of algae in the water as sunlight through a transparent container will promote the growth of algae. Fill the container with pebbles to about a third. Set the Lucky Bamboo cane in the center of the container and continue to fill the container and leave about 1-1.5 in. from the top rim unfilled. Before the roots develop ensure at least 3 in. of cane are submerged in water. Once the roots develop ensure that the roots are always covered by water to prevent rotting. Change the water every 7-10 days. Use distilled or filtered water only.

As the Lucky Bamboo grows, increase the water level as the higher the water level goes up the stem, the more the roots that will grow. The more the roots the Lucky Bamboo has the more lush the foliage will be. To enhance growth of foliage, add a drop of liquid fertilizer whenever you change the water. Always ensure that the leaves are out of the water to prevent rotting.

Snip off slimy or dark roots; the roots should be red in color. If the roots become mushy, cut the stem just above the roots and start a new plant. Clean the container and pebbles if they become murky and refill with fresh water.

Pruning and Training a Lucky Bambo growing in water

To encourage a bushy and compact Lucky Bamboo that is growing in water, prune it by cutting the offshoots about 1-2 in. from the main stem. This will encourage the plant to produce new shoots at a point below the cut. The shoots can be used to start new plants.

To make the twists and the curves, curl the stems with wire to hold them in place or block the light on three sides of the plant to force it to grow towards the light source. Keep turning the stem as it grows to make the curves and the twists. This requires constantly checking on the plant and may take a long time to twist the stems.

Propagating a Lucky Bamboo growing in water

Lucky Bamboo that is growing in water can be propagated from stem-tip cuttings (shoots).

Lucky Bamboo propagation from stem-tip cuttings (shoots)
On removing the shoots during pruning, dip the lower cut-end in a rooting hormone and stick it in moist free-draining rooting soil or water propagate. Place the set up in a cool shaded place. Maintain the soil moist until the plants are well established.

How to Grow Lucky Bamboo in Soil

When grown in soil, the plant loses its bamboo-like look and fills with a leaf-like shape like other Dracaenas.

Water

Water Lucky Bamboo thoroughly and allow the top 1-2 in. of soil to dry out between waterings. Reduce watering in the cold months and maintain the soil slightly moist. Avoid waterlogging as it can lead to root-rot. Use water that is at room temperature that is free of chlorine, flourides and other chemicals to prevent brown leaf tips. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

Feeding

Feed Lucky Bamboo every 4 weeks during the growing period with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold feeding in the cold season as growth is minimal and feeding at this time can lead to fertilizer burn. Regularly flush out accumulated salts in the soil by running a stream of water through the soil until the water comes out through the drainage hole. Allow it to run for a few minutes and repeat several times. Find out more on feeding houseplants.

Repotting

Repot Lucky Bamboo at the beginning of the growing season when roots begin to grow through the drainage holes; the plant prefers to be slightly root-bound. Use a pot one-size larger than the current one and one that has drainage holes. The soil should be free-draining and rich in organic matter. Never allow the roots to sit in waterlogged soil as it may lead to root-rot.

Pruning a Lucky Bambo growing in soil

Pruning a Lucky Bamboo growing in soil involves removal of yellow and dead leaves to maintain the plant neat and tidy and pruning thin or bare-stemmed plants by cutting off the top crown of leaves along the stem during the growing season. This will encourage new shoots to sprout just below the cut making the plant more bushy and compact. The crown of leaves can be used to propagate new plants. Learn more on how to prune houseplants.

Propagating a Lucky Bamboo growing in soil

Lucky Bamboo that is growing in soil can be propagated at beginning of the growing season from stem cuttings or from crown of leaves of leggy plants.

  1. Lucky Bamboo propagation from stem cuttings
  2. Take 2-3 in. long stem cuttings, dip the lower cut-end in a rooting hormone and stick it in moist free-draining rooting soil. Cover the pot with clear polythene sheet to create a greenhouse effect for faster establishment. Place the set up in a warm shaded place. Maintain the soil moist until the plants are well established.

  3. Lucky Bamboo propagation from the top crown of leaves
  4. Remove the top crown of Lucky Bamboo leaves bearing about 3 in. of stem, apply a rooting hormone and stick it in moist free draining rooting soil. Place the set in a cool shaded place. Maintain the soil moist until new growth emerges. Allow the plant to be well established before transplanting.

Common Problems in Growing Lucky Bamboo

  • Leaves with brown tips and yellow edges
  • There are four reasons for these in Lucky Bamboo. One is dry air; raise humidity, by more frequent misting or set the pot on a wet pebble tray. Two is underwatering; maintain the soil fairly moist and do not let the soil to dry out. Three is chemical accumulation in the soil; use chemical free water and regularly flush out salts from the soil. Four is cold draughts; place the plant away from draughts.

  • Soft and curled leaves with brown edges
  • If the temperature is too low Lucky Bamboo leaves become soft and curled and the edges turn brown. Maintain an average room temperature and protect the plant from cold draughts.

  • Brown leaf spots
  • Lucky Bamboo will form brown leaf spots if it is underwatered. Maintain the soil slightly moist at all times and never allow the soil ball to dry out completely.

  • Bleached dry patches on the leaves
  • Direct sunlight will cause bleached dry patches on the leaves of Lucky Bamboo. Move the plant to a shadier spot or protect it from direct sunlight.

  • Plant death
  • Lucky Bamboo is prone to Root-rot disease if allowed to sit in waterlogged soil for long. Ensure there is free drainage of both the soil and the pot and also reduce watering in the cold season. Keeping Lucky Bamboo too cold will also kill it; maintain an average room temperature and protect it from cold draughts. Another reason for the death of Lucky Bamboo is accumulation of salts in the soil; regularly flush out salts from the soil.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Lucky Bamboo are Mealy Bugs, Scale Insects and Spider Mites. Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread to other plants.

Toxicity

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is toxic to both humans and pets. The leaves contain a substance which is toxic. If ingested they can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, loss of appetite and depression.

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