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You've probably seen the lucky bamboo plant (Dracaena sanderiana) many times in restaurants, offices, homes, and even grocery stores. Also known as the ribbon plant, this easy-to-grow houseplant has a long history in China and feng shui as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune.
Lucky bamboo grows in stalks with roots at the bottom, and tufts of elongated green leaves grow from the top. Despite its similar appearance, it's not closely related to true bamboo at all. In addition to straight stalks, you can sometimes find lucky bamboo with stalks that are braided or bundled together with wire. Lucky bamboo can also be curled and woven into various shapes. With just a little care, this attractive houseplant can bring beauty—and maybe even a little luck—to your space.
- Botanical Name: Dracaena sanderiana
- Common Name: Lucky bamboo plant, ribbon plant
- Plant Type: Flowering, herbaceous perennial
- Mature Size: 3 feet high
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light or shade
- Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
- Soil pH: 6.0–6.5
- Toxicity: Toxic to pets
First, examine your lucky bamboo to see if the stalks have been tied or bundled together with wire. This can damage your plant, so it's best to remove the wire to let it grow freely.
Lucky bamboo shapes are created not by training the plant with wire—as is done with bonsai—but by carefully turning the plant to make it move toward the light as it grows. You can purchase lucky bamboo plants already trained into different shapes and patterns or train one yourself in several months.
Use a clear container with decorative pebbles to show off your lucky bamboo's soilless growth.
To train your plant to grow in a certain shape, find a cardboard box a few inches taller than your plant, and cut out one of its sides. Use another piece of cardboard to cover the top of the box, and then face the open side of the box toward the light source. Monitor your bamboo's growth over time, turning the plant in the box to shape its stalks accordingly.
This plant doesn't require any soil to grow to its mature size. If you're planning to go without soil, be sure to use distilled water instead of tap water and switch out the water every few months. Feed your lucky bamboo with a drop of liquid fertilizer every month, or use a fertilizer specifically formulated for lucky bamboo.
If you're planting lucky bamboo in soil, be sure to keep the growing medium evenly moist but not soggy. When you first plant it, check the soil moisture frequently to gauge how much water your plant needs. Use a pot with drainage on the bottom, and mist every few days. Be careful not to let your plant dry out between waterings—if the top inch of soil feels dry, it's time to add more water.
It's important to prune back your lucky bamboo periodically, as its rapid growth can make the plant top-heavy. Cut offshoots from the main stem with a pair of sanitized pruners or shears, and save them for propagating. Trimming your lucky bamboo allows you to control its shape and promotes fuller growth.
You may have noticed that the stems of your lucky bamboo have been dipped in wax. This is done to keep their shape, and it prevents new growth from forming. You can dip them yourself by using paraffin wax or colorless, unscented candle wax after cutting the plant to your desired shape.
If your plant came with waxed tips but you'd like to remove them, you can use clean pruning shears to trim them off. Cut below the wax tips roughly an inch above a growth ring—the tan lines along the stem—and then discard the tips.
Best Growing Conditions for Lucky Bamboo Plant
Part of the reason that lucky bamboo is such a ubiquitous indoor plant is that it needs very little light to thrive, making it a great option for low-light spaces like offices and hallways. Pick a space for your lucky bamboo in which temperatures don't drop below 65 degrees at night, and avoid drafty areas.
This plant actually grows better without direct sun, so choose a place with bright, indirect light for best results. If you see brown patches on the leaves, move your lucky bamboo to a shadier spot.
Planting directly in distilled water creates the best growing conditions for lucky bamboo, and potting in soil makes it more susceptible to drying out. To keep your plant healthy in a soil planter, ensure the container has holes on the bottom (use a plant tray to protect household surfaces), and plant with a well-draining potting mix.
How to Propagate Lucky Bamboo Plant
Lucky bamboo is easily propagated. With a fresh vase and a clean set of pruning shears, new stems from this plant can grow into a healthy, full-sized bamboo plant with little maintenance.
Step 1: Prepare a new vase of water (or a container of coarse sand or well-drained potting soil) to plant your cuttings in. Examine the mother plant to choose a healthy-looking leaf stem around six inches long with at least a few leaves present.
Step 2: Using a clean, sharp pair of pruning shears, remove the selected leaf stem from the mother plant by cutting it off close to the main stem.
Step 3: Use water to propagate new stems. Submerge the bottom three inches of the new cutting in distilled water. If using sand or soil, moisten the growing medium, and plant the bottom three inches of the cutting in the new container.
Step 4: Keep your new cuttings in a warm, draft-free space with bright, indirect light. When you see new leaves, you'll know new roots are growing as well. If you're propagating in water, check for new roots growing from the submerged shoots. Care for your new lucky bamboo plant as usual.
Common Growing Problems
It's important to change your lucky bamboo's water monthly to avoid root rot. While this plant doesn't need to grow in soil, it still has specific water needs: Use only purified or distilled water to grow your lucky bamboo plant, as the added fluoride in tap water can cause the leaves to brown.
Brown leaves are also common when the environment isn't humid enough, so misting regularly can bring the classic green color back in healthy stems. If your plant's leaves or stalks are turning yellow, it may be receiving too much light or fertilizer.
Water-logged or brown stalks are a sign of root rot. To keep the healthy limbs alive, trim the green tops of stalks, and propagate the cuttings into new plants in a fresh pot.