You’ve seen lucky bamboo, also known as ribbon plant or by its botanical name, Dracaena sanderiana, in homes and offices, gift shops and grocery stores. This cute, easy-to-grow houseplant has a long history in China as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune and in feng shui. With just a little care, this attractive houseplant can bring beauty—and maybe a little luck—to your space.
Lucky bamboo grows in stalks with roots at the bottom and tufts of elongated green leaves at the top. Despite its similar appearance, it’s not closely related to true bamboo at all.
In addition to straight stalks of lucky bamboo, you can sometimes find specimens in which multiple stalks have been bundled together with wire. Lucky bamboo stalks can also be curled, braided, or woven into a certain shape.
These shapes are created not by training the plant with wire, as is done in bonsai, but by carefully turning the plant to make it move towards the light as it grows. You can purchase lucky bamboo plants already trained into different shapes and patterns, or you can do it yourself over the course of several months.
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 face the open side of the box towards the light. Monitor your bamboo's growth over time, turning the plant in the box to shape its stalks accordingly.
Best Growing Conditions for Lucky Bamboo
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 such as offices or hallways. In fact, lucky bamboo doesn’t grow well in direct sunlight, so choose a spot to display yours that gets bright indirect light for best results. If you see brown patches on the leaves, move your lucky bamboo to a shadier spot.
Pick a space for your lucky bamboo in which temperatures don’t drop below 65 degrees at night, and avoid drafty spots.
Since lucky bamboo is toxic if ingested, be sure to keep it out of reach of children, cats, and dogs.
What’s most distinctive about this fast-growing houseplant is that it doesn’t need soil to grow. You’ll see it typically sold in glass vessels filled with just water or water and small decorative stones or pebbles to anchor the stems.
If you like, however, you can grow lucky bamboo in soil and a regular plant container with drainage using a well-drained potting mix. However, you’ll need to be vigilant if you choose to plant your lucky bamboo in soil, as it’s more likely to dry out between waterings.
How to Care for Your Lucky Bamboo Plant
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 so that your plant can grow freely.
While your lucky bamboo doesn’t need to grow in soil, it does have specific water needs. Use only purified or distilled water to grow your lucky bamboo plant, as your plant may take up too many salts and minerals from tap or bottled water due to its fast-growing habit. It’s also important to change your lucky bamboo’s water weekly to avoid root rot.
Use a clear container with decorative pebbles to show off your lucky bamboo's soilless growth habit.
If planting your lucky bamboo in soil, be sure to keep the growing medium evenly moist but not soggy. When you first plant it in soil, check the soil moisture frequently to gauge how much water your plant needs. Be careful to not let the soil dry out between waterings.
If you’re keeping your lucky bamboo in distilled water, you will need to add fertilizer periodically, as distilling removes essential nutrients your plant needs. Feed your lucky bamboo with a drop of liquid fertilizer every month, or use a fertilizer specifically formulated for lucky bamboo.
It’s important to prune back your lucky bamboo periodically, as its rapid growth can make the plant top-heavy. Trim back offshoots from the main stem with a pair of pruners or shears that you’ve sanitized in rubbing alcohol or bleach solution; it’s best to avoid cutting back the main stem. Trimming back your lucky bamboo allows you to control its shape and promote fuller growth. The cut shoots can then be propagated into new plants.
You may have noticed that some of the stem ends of your lucky bamboo have been dipped in wax. This is done to help them keep their shape and keep new growth from forming. You can do this yourself by cutting back the plant to your desired shape and dipping the stem ends in paraffin wax or colorless, unscented candle wax.
If your plant came with waxed tips but you’d like to remove them, you can use a clean pruning shears to trim them off. Cut below the wax tips roughly an inch above a growth ring—the tan lines that appear along the stem—then discard the tips.
How to Propagate Your Lucky Bamboo Plant
Step 1: Prepare a new, appropriately sized vase of water or a container of coarse sand or well-drained potting soil in which to plant your cuttings. Examine the mother plant and choose a healthy-looking leaf stem around six inches long with at least a couple of leaves.
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: 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 leaf growth, you’ll know new roots are growing; or, if you’re propagating in water, look for new roots growing from the submerged shoots. Care for your new lucky bamboo plants as usual.