Houseplant tips: How to take care of lucky indoor bamboo plants

Here’s how to take care of your lucky bamboo plants so it stays healthy and happy.
Lucky bamboo, so attractively exotic in appearance, is also attractively exotic in its needs. It doesn’t need direct sunlight; it doesn’t want fertilizer; it doesn’t even have a use for soil. All it wants is water. It’s one step above the pet rock.

Care instructions like this drive indoor gardeners mad. Water and a little indirect sun? That’s all? Are you sure there isn’t something else?

Yes and no. If you want to keep your lucky bamboo alive, give it water and sun. If you want to see it flourish, pay attention to a few extra (but remarkably simple) details.

How to take care of lucky indoor bamboo plants

First, the water. Water is twice as important to lucky bamboo as it is to ordinary houseplants because water is both hydration and growing medium. The wrong kind of water–water containing fluoride or chlorine, both of which the plant is sensitive to–can cause the tips of the plant’s leaves to brown. Since fluoride and chlorine are routinely added to municipal water supplies, distill your tap water or water your bamboo plant with unfluoridated bottled water instead. (Some brands of bottled water have fluoride added, in which case the label will say that the water is fluoridated.) If you can’t distill your water or get a hold of bottled water, leave tap water in an open bowl for a day to allow the chlorine to evaporate.

The water also needs to be fresh. Change the water every three to seven days and wash the lucky bamboo’s bowl or vase. If you find that your plant’s water becomes murky regularly, give the vase a thorough scrub in hot, soapy water and wash and rinse the ornamental pebbles well to kill the organisms that are making the water murky, then change the water more often. You may also want to wash the base of the lucky bamboo gently in room-temperature water, using no soap and being especially careful with the roots. (Don’t do this regularly, since you risk damaging the plant each time you do it.) Moving the plant from a clear glass container to a glazed pottery container may also help, since light encourages the organisms in the water.

Next, fertilizer. Lucky bamboo does want minute amounts of fertilizer–far less than any other house plant, so little that it can get by without any fertilizer at all. Some stores sell special lucky bamboo fertilizers that have been diluted to the strength the lucky bamboo needs; use these as directed. You can also dilute regular plant food to about a tenth of the recommended strength for houseplants and water your lucky bamboo with it once a month. Be careful not to over-fertilize–too much fertilizer will burn the plant’s roots.

Lucky bamboo also wants minute amounts of light. Direct light–that is, rays of sunlight falling directly upon the plant–will burn the leaves, causing them to brown. The best light is bright indirect light, meaning sunlight that has been filtered through sheer curtains or the leaves of another plant. This light reproduces the conditions of the lucky bamboo’s natural habitat. Low light–the reflected glow from a window, or the direct rays of a fluorescent lamp–is almost as good.

Last, temperature. As a tropical plant, lucky bamboo loves warm temperatures–ideally 65°F to 75°F. When you water it, make sure that the water is in that temperature range (it should feel cooler than your skin, but not cold), and keep the plant in a room whose temperature does not drop below 60°F. Resist the urge to put the plant in the sun to warm it! Sunlight will burn lucky bamboo’s leaves even when the ambient temperature is low. It’s better to allow the plant to become a little chilled than to burn.

…And that’s it! As you can see, lucky bamboo’s needs are simple. Give it pure, clean water, a tiny amount of fertilizer, indirect light, and a warm room, and it will flourish and bring you pleasure for many years to come.

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