Chances are, you have seen a Lucky Bamboo plant in a friend’s home, or own a plant yourself. This stuff is EVERYWHERE. It is sold in convenient stores on the corner, little gift shops in china town, the flower aisle of most grocery stores, I’ve even seen it being sold from a cart at the train station! It is a very easy plant to take care of, and because it has been called “lucky” and because of the embracing of Asian-influenced decor and feng shui, the plants are very often given as gifts.
The truth is, Lucky Bamboo is not bamboo at all. In fact, it is more closely related to the asparagus we find at the grocery store than to actual bamboo. The plant’s scientific name is Dracaena braunii. However, this plant is still a beautiful one, and very easy to take care of, even for those of us without thumbs of green.
I inherited my Lucky Bamboo when it was not so lucky. My brother and his wife were moving from their then apartment, and my mother was cleaning it for them to ensure a return of their security deposit. They had left items they wanted to throw away. A sad, dehydrated, yellowing bamboo plant in an dusty cream-colored pot sat on a table. My mother texted me a picture. “Do you want this?” she asked, knowing my affinity for nurturing things that are left unwanted. She brought it to me, and after clipping away one rotted stalk, trimming off dry leaves, and watering it weekly, the plant slowly began to thrive. After having the plant for nearly a year, it has grown almost a foot taller than it was when it first arrived, and the leaves became thick, dark, and plentiful. I wondered if I needed to trim the bamboo, or at least re-pot it, so I headed to the internet to do a bit of research.
I learned a few important things from my research of the plant.
1. Lucky Bamboo can survive in water, or soil. It is most often put in just water (with stones to hold it in place) due to aesthetics, but it flourishes best in regular soil.
2. Lucky Bamboo is also cut flat for aesthetic reasons. We are not used to seeing the leaves so thick, because people trim these. They cut the leaf shoots off the sides of the stalks, and cut the tops flat. This cutting isn’t always good for the plant, as sometimes it can cause infection near the cut.
3. It is easy to propagate lucky bamboo, by putting cuttings in water.
With this new knowledge, I thought about the possibilities. I could give this wonderful plant as gifts! I could grow new plants myself! Only once in my life had I ever successfully propagated a plant (some ivy I clipped from the wall of my old apartment building in Wrigleyville…Ivy is a very iconic plant in that neighborhood, for obvious reasons). Maybe it was because I was plant sitting about 20 orchids for my professor and her husband while they were on vacation, or perhaps because I live above a genius botony enthusiest/florist, but something in me decided that real adults have more than one house plant, and I needed to get to work on that.
(the photo above is of the parent plant)
The first thing to know about propagating Lucky Bamboo is that it is easiest to propagate if you cut a piece from your parent plant that has at least two nodes (nodes are where new growth begins, often at the lines segmenting the stalk), and a leaf or offshoot. When you cut, I’ve read that you should cut at a 45 degree angle, but I’ve cut at a 90 degree angle and have had success also. It is important you protect the parent plant after you cut, because it becomes vulnerable to rot once it is exposed. it is a good idea to dip the ends in wax. I took little beeswax pellets left over from my chapstick tutorial, and melted them onto the parent plant where the cuts were made. If you notice the parent plant starting to turn yellow near the cuts, be sure to monitor them. It might be necessary to make another cut, to remove the rot and save the plant. Once you take cuttings, you may end up leaving a leafless stalk. This is okay. New offshoots with leaves will eventually begin to grow from nodes near the top of the plant.
(In the photo above, note the rotting stem on the left, which needs to be recut and waxed to remove infection before it takes over the whole plant. Also note the waxed tops of the stems and the growth from the node on the stem to the right)
Place your cuttings in a few inches of water (with at least one of the segments fully submerged). It could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for a cutting to begin to sprout roots (it all depends on the cutting, I’ve had some take two days to start showing signs, and others take a month). The roots may sprout from the bottom of the cutting, or, sometimes, from higher nodes. Be sure to add water when it evaporates, and also to clean and replace the water every week or so (if the cutting bottom starts to get filmy or slimy, rinse it off under the sink before putting it back in the water). You can use root hormone if you feel the need, or dip the cuttings in honey (which acts as a natural rooting agent because of its antiseptic properties).
Once the cuttings have started to root you can either place them in a pot with pebbles (to hold them straight) and water, or you can pot them in soil. I usually wait a week or two longer until the roots are pretty well developed, and then plant them. I find cute teacups or pots from the thrift store for a dollar or two to plant them in (like the pottery mug pictured here), then place a few pebbles to cover the dirt on top. These make GREAT gifts, and you get the satisfaction of having bred/grown this plant yourself!
(Planted in a thrift store piece of pottery, planted in dirt which is then covered with decorative pebbles)
(Planted in a thrift store chalice, planted in dirt which is then covered with decorative pebbles)
Eventually, if you get really good at propagating, you’ll be able to have enough to move onto shaping your lucky bamboo using light. There are different ways to make it curl, bend, twist, etc. depending on the way it is getting sunlight.