Growing houseplants is a lot of fun – until problems arise! Part of what makes lucky bamboo an ideal houseplant is that it’s incredibly hardy. But even lucky bamboo can encounter issues from time to time, whether due to overwatering, not enough sunlight, or factors that are outside of your control.
Luckily, if you know what to look for and how to treat those problems, you can quickly get back to enjoying the best parts of plant care. Some of lucky bamboo’s most common problems include chlorine toxicity, root rot, and fertilizer burn. While pests are less common with houseplants, you may also encounter fungus gnats, mealybugs, or other small pests.
If you can identify the problems with your lucky bamboo early enough, you can take the appropriate steps to fix it. In most cases, your lucky bamboo should be able to recover quickly. Here we’ll examine the most common problems and diseases that can affect lucky bamboo, as well as how to prevent these issues from affecting your lucky bamboo in the first place!
Physiological and environmental problems for lucky bamboo plants
In the wild, plants receive everything they need from soil, water, and sunlight. While we can do our best to replicate those conditions in our homes, there are instances where our houseplants may encounter conditions that can cause harm.
Here are a few types of physiological or environmental problems that you may encounter with lucky bamboo:
Cold damage/chilling injury
Lucky bamboo is not a true bamboo but rather Dracaena sanderiana, a tropical, herbaceous plant also known as the ribbon plant. As a tropical plant, lucky bamboo prefers a warm, humid climate with temperatures above 65°F.
If exposed to cold temperatures, even for a short period of time, lucky bamboo can suffer from cold damage, sometimes called a “chilling injury”.
Mild cases of cold damage in lucky bamboo are usually a result of being placed too close to an air conditioner, which also tends to result in dry conditions.
More severe cases of cold damage are possible if you leave your lucky bamboo outside on a cold day or night, leaving a window open on a cold day, shipping the plant in cold temperatures, or leaving your lucky bamboo in the car in the winter.
If the chilling injury is mild and the plant tissue hasn’t completely frozen, you may just notice the margins of the leaves turning yellow.
In this case, it’s best to simply trim the affected areas and remove your lucky bamboo from the source of the cold immediately. Your lucky bamboo will likely recover without suffering major damage.
If your lucky bamboo has severe cold damage, such as from freezing, the symptoms will often start in the foliage since it is the most delicate part of the plant. The foliage will wilt and could even become mushy and wet. It can also turn black and have a foul smell, which is a sign that the plant is rotting.
Unfortunately, if this is the case, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to save your lucky bamboo. Still, you can try to save it by placing it in a warm spot, trimming off any part that appears dead, discolored, or rotting, and watching for new growth. If no new growth appears after several weeks, it’s probably too far gone.
Chlorine is often added to tap water to kill bacteria and other harmful microorganisms, making it safe for human consumption. While chlorine in small amounts is good for plants, excess chlorine can build up and eventually become toxic, resulting in yellowing leaves. Moreover, as chlorine is a disinfectant it can kill microorganisms in the soil that are actually beneficial for your lucky bamboo.
If your tap water is treated with chlorine, you can leave your water sitting overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate. You can also boil the water to encourage chlorine evaporation (but make sure it cools back to room temperature before watering any of your plants with it).
For a more permanent solution, consider investing in a reverse-osmosis water filtration system.
Lucky bamboo, like other plants in the Dracaena genus, is very sensitive to fluoride. In many places, fluoride is used to treat tap water to prevent tooth decay. While considered safe for human consumption, fluoride isn’t a mineral that plants like lucky bamboo are used to.
Fluoride toxicity can appear as discoloration or browning at the tips or edges of foliage. From there, it can slowly spread inward. New growth may be pale in appearance.
The best solution for fluoride toxicity in lucky bamboo is to switch from tap water to filtered water or rainwater. Unlike chlorine, fluoride does not evaporate from water, so leaving it to sit out for a few days will not help.
Lucky bamboo is susceptible to fertilizer burn, which occurs when roots are exposed to excessive fertilizer salts. While fertilizer burn typically attacks the roots, symptoms also show up in the leaves. For example, the leaves might curl and appear burned at the tip (a symptom known as leaf scorch). Roots suffering from fertilizer burn appear blackened and limp, which you might be able to see if you’re growing your lucky bamboo in water.
When you fertilize your lucky bamboo, it’s best to heavily dilute the fertilizer with water and follow the directions on the label carefully. If your lucky bamboo is planted in water, fertilizer can encourage algae growth, so I’d suggest giving your water-bound lucky bamboo even less fertilizer than recommended, or refreshing the water the next day once roots have taken up the available fertilizer.
If your lucky bamboo is experiencing fertilizer burn, the best thing you can do is remove it from the soil or water and prune any damage from the leaves and roots so your lucky bamboo can focus on new growth. Repot it in fresh substrate and give it time to heal. Refrain from giving it any fertilizer for a few months, and only then in an extra-diluted form.
Lucky bamboo pest problems
While lucky bamboo is a very hardy houseplant, they can get the occasional pest, from fungus gnats to mealy bugs. The sooner you spot pests on your lucky bamboo, the faster you can treat it without your plant suffering too much damage.
Most pests use their mouth parts to pierce the foliage tissue of lucky bamboo to feast on the nutrients inside. This can deplete a plant’s much-needed nutrient stores, causing leaves to turn yellow and die back. Eventually, the entire plant can die with no foliage or energy to battle the pests.
Another way pests can cause problems for lucky bamboo is by exposing them to fungal and bacterial diseases. Piercing the tissue makes that wound vulnerable to disease or fungi. A lucky bamboo plant that previously had a pest problem may also develop fungal issues as a side effect.
When growing lucky bamboo, keep an eye out for these pests:
Fungus gnats, the least problematic pest on this list, can still be a nuisance. These flying insects resemble fruit flies and prefer to lay their eggs in moist soil. These tend to be more common in lucky bamboo potted in soil than those plants kept exclusively in water.
Sticky traps are very effective for killing adult gnats, but you can also use decorative rocks on top of the soil to discourage them from laying their eggs in the soil.
Mealybugs are small white insects that almost look like cotton. Fortunately, they are slow movers and very easy to spot. They like to hide on the undersides of leaves, but with lucky bamboo, there aren’t too many hiding spots.
To get rid of mealybugs, you only need a Q-Tip and some isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to dab the individual bugs. They will turn a rusty orange color and die. Then you can simply wipe them away.
Persistence and perseverance are ideal for mealybugs. They have a life cycle of about 6 weeks to 2 months, so you may have to continue treating your lucky bamboo until they are completely gone.
Scale insects are slow-moving, brown insects that often look like scabs. If you have never seen scale before, you may not think they’re a plant pest at all until they have completely overrun your lucky bamboo plant.
They behave similarly to mealybugs and require patience and persistence to remove them. A scale infestation can be treated by manually scraping off the adults, but you can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
As with mealybugs, you may have to continue treatment for several weeks until you no longer see the adults.
Thrips are one of the more sinister houseplant pests to deal with. Although they are poor fliers, they are tiny and easy to miss until they completely infest your plant. They also will lay their eggs buried in the plant tissue, so even after several treatments, they can re-emerge which makes it an even bigger lucky bamboo problem.
You may not spot the thrips themselves right away due to their small size. Instead, you may notice sticky brown spots on your lucky bamboo, which are the adult feces, or you may notice the larva on the leaves and stems, which can often be mistaken for flakes of dust.
The best treatment for thrips is to take your lucky bamboo to the sink, shower, or garden hose and blast the adults off with water (without damaging the leaves). Then treat with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Unfortunately, thrips can become immune to certain pesticides, so you may need to change up your methods. If systemic pest treatment is available in your area, consider using systemics to treat your lucky bamboo.
Spider mites are another pest that can do a ton of damage to your lucky bamboo quickly. These incredibly small pests are often too small for the naked eye to see on their own. Collectively, they can appear like dust under the foliage. Also, keep an eye out for the fine silk webbing that they spin between stems and leaves.
Treatment for spider mites is similar to thrips. We recommend blasting the visible pests with water before treating the foliage with an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Repeat treatments are almost always necessary for spider mites to get rid of this lucky bamboo problem.
Disease problems with lucky bamboo
Lucky bamboo rarely experiences disease problems. But if your plant becomes stressed due to watering issues or a pest infestation, it becomes much more susceptible to infection.
If your lucky bamboo is growing in water or sitting in consistently wet soil, the roots can become deprived of oxygen and the outer layer of the roots will break down and form lesions. Those lesions in the roots can allow bacteria or fungi present in the soil to infect the plant, resulting in root rot.
Rotting roots can’t absorb water effectively, causing the plant to become dehydrated. Leaves may droop and turn yellow, which is why people often struggle to determine whether their lucky bamboo is overwatered or underwatered. Ultimately, the best way to identify root rot is to go to the source and inspect the roots themselves. Rotted roots will be dark and mushy and may even smell rotted.
To treat root rot, it’s best to immediately remove the plant from its container and trim the affected roots with sterile tools to prevent the rot from spreading.
From here, you have two options. If your lucky bamboo still has some healthy roots left, you can repot it in fresh soil. If very few healthy roots are left, you can place your lucky bamboo plant in water, submerging only the roots to encourage new root growth.
Keep your lucky bamboo roots healthy by watering your plant correctly. Water only when the soil is nearly dry.
A moisture meter (like this one) is a great tool if you’re unsure how to tell if the soil is ready for more water. Here are a few more ways to avoid root rot:
- If your lucky bamboo is kept in soil, make sure the soil is well-draining and your pot has drainage holes. Also make sure to water your plant evenly and thoroughly to encourage healthy, downward root growth.
- If your lucky bamboo is kept in water, avoid exposing the water and roots to direct sunlight, which will encourage algae to develop. Algae can coat the roots, preventing them from absorbing water or taking in oxygen.
- If your lucky bamboo is kept in water with decorative rocks, make sure they are not packed too tightly, which can also deprive the roots of oxygen.
Fusarium leaf rot and stem rot
Fusarium leaf and stem rot are some of lucky bamboo’s most common fungal problems. This often starts when water pools on the leaves or stems, causing lesions on the tissue that allow fungal spores to access the plant. New leaves are particularly vulnerable. However, the stem itself may be affected when exposed to wet conditions, such as being buried under soil.
The injured area will develop reddish-brown spots with a yellow border. While your lucky bamboo won’t be able to heal the affected areas, you can prune those leaves back and treat them with a fungicide to prevent the spores from spreading further. If it’s a problem on the stem, you can prune that portion away if there are still healthy nodes left over.
Avoid fungal problems with your lucky bamboo by keeping it dry. Lucky bamboo loves higher humidity levels, but misting the leaves constantly will allow droplets to sit on the plant tissue, inviting fungal issues.
If you have other plants hanging over your lucky bamboo, sometimes water will drip down onto your lucky bamboo, which is also how these lesions can form.
General prevention tips to keep your lucky bamboo healthy
Preventing pests and diseases as much as possible will ultimately save you a lot of headaches. First and foremost, isolate any new plants you bring home for 4-6 weeks to protect your lucky bamboo from outside pests or diseases. Do the same for any plants (including your lucky bamboo) that you bring outdoors in the summer.
Fresh-cut flowers and fruit from the grocery store often attract thrips, so it’s best to keep your lucky bamboo houseplant away from both.
The more frequently you check your lucky bamboo for signs of disease or pests, the quicker you may spot a problem with your lucky bamboo and can address it.
With pests, it’s easy to control a few individual adults. If there’s a physiological problem such as chlorine toxicity, identifying it early on can help you change your habits and prevent major damage.
Lastly, plants experiencing stress are vulnerable to pests and disease, so take proper care of your lucky bamboo by watering it appropriately and giving it enough light. Cleaning the leaves and stems regularly will also help manage any stray pests on your plant while giving you a chance to observe your lucky bamboo up close.