The lucky bamboo is one of the quintessential houseplants for enhancing your living space. It’s not hard to see why, either. Their stems naturally grow straight but can also be trained to grow in sweeping curves or tighter spirals. Several long, thin leaves grow out of the end of these stems, making for a visually dynamic plant even without the flowers that only occur in nature.
Named for its connection to feng shui and the belief that the plant offers good fortune, the Chinese name for the plant (fu gui zhu) means bamboo with fortune and power. Yet, this houseplant is not a true bamboo but is instead a member of the plant genus dracaena. The botanical name for the lucky bamboo species is dracaena sanderiana.
Indoor Size and Growth Habits: Around three feet tall. Grows straight up but can be trained into different patterns. The leaves are long, thin pointed ovals that emerge from segmented stems.
Light Requirements: 2-4 *
Water Frequency & Soil Moisture: 3 *
Potting Mix, Fertilizer & pH: Prefers fast-draining potting soil with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0-6.5. Often grown in water. Rarely if ever needs fertilizer.
Humidity & Temperature: Prefers a good amount of humidity but will tolerate drier air with temperatures that stay above 65 degrees.
Toxicity Level: Mild to moderate due to steroidal saponins.
Placement: Light, Size, and Décor
The lucky bamboo can grow in a wide range of lighting conditions, but generally prefers as much indirect light as you can give it. In low light conditions, the plant will grow thin stalks and stunted leaves as it reaches for more light. In the direct sunlight of south- and west-facing windows, the leaves may show yellow scorch marks.
This is a medium-to-large houseplant that should grow as tall as three feet indoors over a few years’ time, especially in good growing conditions. With younger plants, it’s a good idea to leave a little vertical space for the lucky bamboo to grow into. Mature plants grow more slowly.
In terms of home décor, the lucky bamboo can be as high or as low maintenance as you want it to be. You can buy plants that have already been carefully cultivated to produce spirals, heart shapes, or other design—or you can do this shaping yourself. For these reasons, the lucky bamboo is a favorite among home stagers, interior decorators, and houseplant enthusiasts.
Care: Water, Potting, and Soil
Like its preferred lighting conditions, the lucky bamboo has moderate watering requirements. It’s not one of those succulents that thrives on neglect, but it’s also vulnerable to root rot from overwatering. In many places, this means watering at least once a week in the summer and closer to every other week in the winter. Like most houseplants, the most common sign of underwatering is weak, brown, or dropped leaves. The most common sign of overwatering is yellow leaves.
For the purposes of choosing a potting soil, you can think of the lucky bamboo as a cactus. It will do best with a quick-draining, slightly acidic potting mix. Some people recommend against using a potting mix with perlite for lucky bamboo plants, but many people have found success even with perlite in the soil. More importantly, make sure the pot has good drainage; this will allow you to water more often with less risk of root rot.
Alternatively, you can grow your lucky bamboo in water, which is a popular way to make this an easy-care houseplant. When growing the plant in water, just make sure the water level doesn’t drip below the roots. It’s also not a bad idea to give this plant a weak fertilizer a couple times a year, but it’s rarely essential.
Pests and Other Problems
Lucky bamboo plants rarely suffer from pests if healthy, but there are a few pests that are known to attack this houseplant. Spider mites are the most common. If you notice a white web-like coating on the leaves, this is almost surely a sign of a mite infestation. Aphids and mealybugs may also infest lucky bamboo plants.
There are dire warnings out there about the consequences of using tap water for lucky bamboo plants because of the chlorine or fluoride in the water. However, the worst symptom you should expect to see is discoloration on the tips of the leaves. The most common advice is to let your tap water sit out for 24 hours, but this is a myth especially if your municipality has switched to a chloramine additive. Instead, we use filtered water which doesn’t remove the chlorine or fluoride but does remove some of the hard minerals that can otherwise cause the soil to become alkaline.
Cost and Availability
The lucky bamboo is one of most popular and widely available houseplants. You can usually get a starter plant for just a few dollars. They do get pricier, though, based on both the size and shaping. Medium to large plants that have been shaped into a pleasing pattern may cost $25 or more. And if the plant is already set up in a beautiful pot, this will also add to the price tag.
Propagation and Repotting
Lucky bamboo propagation is so easy the houseplant can be aptly described as a gift that keeps on giving. Whether in water or soil, you simply need to cut off enough stem to get one or more root nodes. Submerge in water or potting soil and begin your care routine while the plant grows new roots.
Over time, the lucky bamboo can also become pot-bound. Unlike most houseplants that have white roots when healthy, the lucky bamboo has orange-to-red roots when healthy. Repotting a lucky bamboo can be done by trimming back the roots and reusing the same pot, or you can put the lucky bamboo in a larger pot to grow a larger houseplant.
This top-heavy plant often needs physical support. Especially when growing in water you will need to use rocks or other means of keeping the root nodes submerged in water and the leaf nodes above the water. When propagating or for mature plants, it’s also common to tie multiple stalks together with ribbon or twine to provide stability and to further symbolize good fortune.
Similar Types of Houseplants
If you like the lucky bamboo plant and are looking for something similar for a different spot, you can look to true bamboo plants as well as other varieties of dracaena plants. Bamboo is a specialized kind of grass in the subfamily bambusoideae. Of the dozen or so bamboo species that can be grown as indoor houseplants, the most popular is phyllostachys nigra, more commonly known as the black bamboo.
Other types of dracaena plants include dracaena arborea, dracaena fragrans, dracaena marginate, dracaena deremensis, dracaena warneckii, dracaena draco, and dracaena reflexa.