How would you like a nice green plant thriving in that dim & colorless office of yours or how about adding a touch of modern to your home decor? Here’s a popular option that even the most beginner of green thumbs can make flourish, and it’s believed to bring good luck too!
Awhile ago I was introduced to Lucky Bamboo by a family member and although it’s been a very popular houseplant for a few years now, this was totally new to me–so of course I had to investigate. Here’s what I’ve learned about growing and caring for it…
What Is Lucky Bamboo?
Guess what–it’s not bamboo! It’s a member of the lily family (Dracaena sanderiana) and grows in rainforests located in parts of Asia. This is favored because it’s so easy to grow and take care of. No need for potting soil, Lucky Bamboo is happy to grow in just water (Hydroponics). If you have a windowless office, this is one plant you should try–it thrives in both natural and artificial light.
When determining which stalk is healthy and good to purchase, here are a few tips:
- Both the water and the plant should smell fresh. If there’s a funky odor, don’t buy it.
- Look for a firm stem and healthy white roots, black or brown spots on the tips are not good.
- Choose a stalk with leaves that are bright green in color.
- You may notice wax on the cut end of the stalk, this is to prevent fungus from getting into it.
- If you want one that’s curly (some believe the luck is stronger if it is), your best bet is to buy it already curled since it’s so time consuming to train it to grow that way. They can get quite expensive the more elaborate the growth so you may opt to grow your own lucky bamboo this way. It can be done, but you’ll need a patient nature since it’s very time consuming–I have some tips towards the bottom of the page for you.
- Keep in mind that the height of the stalk you buy is as large as the stalk will get. The shoots that develop off it (on the sides) will grow taller, but not the stalk.
How to plant:
- Take the stalk and rinse the stem and roots, look for any signs of decay and snip those off. Pinch off any yellow leaves.
- Fill the container you wish to grow it in with rocks or marbles (or a mixture of both) at least 2″ deep. The container can be anything from a tall glass, a dainty vase or a decorative jar.
- Place Lucky Bamboo in the container and settle it into the rocks for support. Add room temperature distilled water about 1″ deep.
- Lucky Bamboo can be placed anywhere but in direct sunlight, direct heat or chill.
- You can arrange several together in one container if you wish.
- You can use tap water instead of distilled but it’s important to let the water sit uncovered for at least 24 hours before allowing the stalks to sit in it, this will help remove the chlorine, fluoride and other minerals from the water (it will suffer from this otherwise).
Choosing a container:
- Clear glass containers are popular because you can see the stones or marbles and the fresh water. However, direct light encourages algae growth. If you choose a clear container, be diligent with changing water regularly. If you want less hassle, choose a solid colored container. The disadvantage of this is that you won’t be able to see the rocks or monitor the water quality and amount as easily.
Can soil be used?
- You can grow lucky bamboo in soil, but you need a good draining mixture to help it stay healthy. Use a mix of sand, peat moss and soil (equal ratio) and keep it moist rather than sopping wet. Keep the stalk at least 2″ deep. Make sure to have a few drainage holes in the pot as well as shards of pottery or rocks underneath the soil to ensure good drainage. Prevent root rot by allowing the top 1/2″ of the soil to dry out between watering.
Caring for this plant really couldn’t be easier, a few points though:
- It needs to have fresh, clean water on a regular basis to prevent bacteria growth. Change it weekly, some suggest even a bi-weekly change is fine. Keep an eye on the water, if it gets murky or cloudy or starts to smell–you know it’s definitely time for a change.
- When changing the water, inspect the roots and snip any that are starting to decay. Wash the container and the rocks well. Maintain the same level of water each time you fill the container, the water line is where the roots will form.
- Give it a treat by occasionally misting it with distilled water, this will help the leaves from getting too dry as well as simulate it’s natural habitat.
- Keep it out of direct sunlight, direct heat and cool drafts.
- You can trim it to keep it neat and from getting top heavy, but don’t cut the stalk. When doing any trimming or cutting, make sure to use sterile scissors. You can wipe them clean with rubbing alcohol then once dry, use to snip. Trim shoot growth to about an inch from the main stalk.
- You can occasionally feed with a mild fertilizer (every other month or so).
How To Propagate:
- Lucky Bamboo propagates very easily, simply take a cutting that has at least one leaf node and place in a cup of distilled water, new roots should appear after a few weeks. While waiting, make sure to replace the water frequently to keep it clean.
- Once the roots have appeared and the cutting looks healthy, place it in the container with the other stalks or on it’s own using the instructions above.
- If you want the main plant to grow another shoot where you cut it, spray the cut daily with water. If you want to prevent growth, apply a bit of melted paraffin wax to seal the cut.
Cutting the stalk: In some cases it may be necessary to cut the top healthy part away from the sick or rotting bit at the bottom of the stalk. You can try rooting the top healthy stalk by the method above, roots may appear for you after some time (no guarantee).
How To Make It Curl:
Lucky Bamboo naturally grows straight up, to get it to curl is a test of patience and some skill. When you buy one with a curl, it’s been trained to do so by expert growers. It will naturally grow toward the light, so the trick is to expose it to light from one direction only (curling will only happen with new growth). If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s a common method:
- Keep it in the container you have been growing it in.
- Select a box which is large enough to cover it and give it some room for growth.
- Cut out the bottom and one side of the box.
- Place the box over the plant, this will cover it in darkness except for the one side you cut out.
- Position the opening of the box to face the light, after some time it will start growing towards it (forming a bend).
- Once you notice a bend, rotate the box one inch. The plant will adjust and grow with a deeper bend.
- Continue until the desired curl has been achieved.
It will take about a year to achieve a single curl, sometimes longer (that’s why they can get so expensive!).
Why is it considered lucky? They are associated with the practice of Feng Shui and because it’s so hardy, it symbolizes good health. It’s considered luckiest when received as a gift. A curling plant is also believed to hold great luck.
Meanings For The Number Of Stalks:
Lucky Bamboo grows in single stalks, some believe that arranging a certain amount of them together in a container holds special meaning and levels of luck. I’ve come across many lists, some suggesting different things for each amount but they generally follow this guide:
- One: Simple Life
- Two: Love; Double Luck
- Three: Happiness; Good Luck; Longevity
- Four: Death (avoid). The word four sounds nearly the same as the word death in Chinese, that’s why it’s avoided.
- Five: Wealth; Health; Creativeness; Excitement
- Six: Health; Happiness; Harmony
- Seven: Health
- Eight: Growth; Wealth; Prosperity; Abundance; Prospering Business
- Nine: Good Fortune; Most Lucky
- Ten: Perfection; Complete
- Twenty-one: Powerful Blessings
- Leaves Turning Yellow: Remove leaves immediately before it spreads; Too much light, move the plant; If you are using tap water, change to distilled; Too much fertilizer, stop feeding for awhile.
- Leaf Edges Are Brown: The air is too dry, occasionally mist with distilled water; Water is not filtered enough; Too much fertilizer, stop feeding for awhile.
- Stalk Turning Yellow: Too much fertilizer, stop feeding for awhile; Remove from container if growing with others and let it grow on its own for awhile, return if it regains health. This is to prevent affecting the others in case it’s dying.
- Stalks Mushy Or Brown: It’s rotting, remove from container immediately and change container water if holding others (prevents spreading); You can try saving the top by cutting it off and rooting.
- Algae Water: Too much light or fertilizer, move and stop feeding for awhile.
- It’s Thin & Spindly: Not enough light, move to a brighter location.
Careful: Lucky Bamboo does need to be kept out of reach of children and pets since it is toxic when consumed.