One of the best parts about lucky bamboo houseplants is their versatility. Did you know that they can be grown in either water or soil? But with flexibility come difficult decisions. If you just purchased some lucky bamboo, you may be unsure about whether it’s better to grow your new plant in water or in soil.
When cared for properly, lucky bamboo can thrive in either water or soil. Growing lucky bamboo in water has a lot of benefits, but it also exposes your plant to a greater risk of rotting. Soil, on the other hand, better mimics the natural environment of lucky bamboo and allows lucky bamboo to grow bigger with minimal care.
Ultimately, choosing the method that works best for your care habits will ensure that your lucky bamboo thrives in your home. To help you decide, we’ll go through the pros and cons of keeping lucky bamboo in soil or water so you can make the best decision for yourself and your plant!
Where does lucky bamboo grow naturally?
Despite its name and appearance, lucky bamboo, or Dracaena sanderiana, is not a true bamboo. Found natively from West Central Tropical Africa to Northeast Angola, it grows best in tropical conditions with filtered sunlight.
In its native environment, lucky bamboo grows in soil. However, as it is adapted to wet conditions, its roots can thrive even in water. As a result, lucky bamboo has been widely cultivated as a low-maintenance houseplant. The fact that it resembles true bamboo also makes it a great option for cultivating feng shui in the home.
How to grow lucky bamboo in water
If you’ve ever propagated houseplants in water before, you’ll be happy to learn that growing lucky bamboo in water is much the same. Lucky bamboo is often sold growing in water because it’s a novelty in the plant world. When you bring a lucky bamboo plant home for the first time, even if you plan to keep growing it in water, you should provide it with a clean environment and clean water.
You can do this by simply taking the lucky bamboo out of its container and putting it in a new one or washing the old one. Then, place the lucky bamboo in the container, adding rocks for stability if you want, and refilling with distilled water. If you don’t have distilled water, you can use water that’s been sitting out for at least 12 hours (so the chlorine evaporates).
You want to make sure that all of the roots are covered with water, but avoid completely submerging the stem. Change out the water weekly, and completely wash the container (and rocks if you have them) on a monthly basis.
Pros of keeping your lucky bamboo in water
With hydroponics growing in popularity recently, you may be tempted to say goodbye to soil and switch to growing all of your plants in water. Fortunately, there are many benefits to keeping lucky bamboo in water:
Overwatering is less likely
If you are new to caring for lucky bamboo, it can be difficult to wrap your head around keeping a plant in water, as overwatering can be a huge issue for many plants. When a plant’s roots are kept in wet soil, the roots become deprived of oxygen and start to decay. The decaying roots form lesions and are unable to defend against rot-causing bacteria. As a result, the overwatered plant develops yellow or brown spotting, and can even die if the soil isn’t allowed to drain.
When grown in water without soil, lucky bamboo can get everything it needs, including oxygen and nutrients. Instead of focusing on growing roots for soil, the lucky bamboo grows sturdier roots that are adapted to wet conditions. This way, lucky bamboo as well as other tropical houseplants can adapt to living in water without the risk of overwatering.
Easier to spot and treat issues
Roots are vital to your plant’s overall health. One of the benefits of keeping lucky bamboo in water is that it’s much easier to get a sense of the overall health of the roots. Instead of removing your plant from the soil whenever you suspect an issue (which can make a mess and cause shock to the plant), you can simply pull it from the water and then place it back in the water when you’re finished. This can help you identify and treat problems much faster.
If you grow your lucky bamboo in water, you’ll be happy to learn that it requires very little maintenance. If remembering to water your houseplants is a struggle, keeping your lucky bamboo in water helps simplify plant care. Instead of monitoring the soil, you can visibly see when your lucky bamboo is low on water. When that’s the case, simply top off the water.
To be clear, there’s no such thing as a zero-maintenance houseplant. You will still have to care for your lucky bamboo by changing the water periodically and keeping an eye out for issues.
Cons of growing lucky bamboo in water
While easy to do, there are some risks associated with keeping lucky bamboo exclusively in water:
Greater risk for stem rot
Your lucky bamboo may be susceptible to stem rot if the stems sit in water. Unlike the roots, the stems of lucky bamboo are not adapted to absorbing significant amounts of water. If submerged for long periods, the stem can start to form lesions, allowing bacteria to enter the plant, which can lead to stem rot.
Unfortunately, once stem rot is present it’s almost impossible to cure. The best way to prevent stem rot is to keep your lucky bamboo in shallow water (with only the roots submerged) and refresh the water regularly.
While they can adapt to wet growing conditions, the roots of lucky bamboo can still rot. Though not caused by the water, rot can occur if the roots are deprived of oxygen in other ways, such as using decorative rocks or gravel. Many people will use rocks or gravel to prop up the lucky bamboo plant so it is upright and centered in the pot.
While this practice on its own does not result in rot, having tightly compacted stones can deprive the roots of oxygen. If you use rocks for your lucky bamboo, make sure they are loose enough that there is plenty of space for the roots to breathe.
Algae on lucky bamboo
When the sun beats directly onto the water, algae can start to grow. While small amounts of algae are harmless, larger amounts of algae prevent the roots from absorbing water effectively. Light is the primary cause of algae developing in plants growing in water, but overfeeding can also contribute to this.
The best way to avoid algae in the water is to keep your lucky bamboo plant out of direct sunlight and use an opaque container. Roots don’t require sunlight to survive in water, so keeping your water in a solid container will help keep the algae at bay. In addition, only fertilize every 1-2 months with a diluted fertilizer to prevent excessive nutrients in the water.
To get rid of algae:
- Wash the container and any contents (if you have stones, for example).
- Rinse the roots and the stalks of your lucky bamboo with water.
- If there are roots starting to rot, trim them away with sterile pruning shears or scissors.
- Once everything is clean, place your lucky bamboo in a plastic or ceramic pot with clean water.
Excessive minerals in the water
One of the pitfalls of growing lucky bamboo in water is that there’s no filtration for excessive minerals. Soil does a great job at preventing the buildup of toxins as water trickles from the top of the pot down to the roots and through the drainage holes. If your lucky bamboo is sitting in a container of water, that protection isn’t there.
Depending on where you live, your tap water may have minerals like chlorine or fluoride that can turn your lucky bamboo leaves yellow or even brown. The Dracaena genus is especially sensitive to fluoride which is commonly added to tap water in a process known as water fluoridation. You can leave your tap water sitting out overnight to help evaporate chlorine, but fluoride will not evaporate, so we recommend using filtered water or spring water instead.
How to grow lucky bamboo in soil
Growing lucky bamboo in soil is fairly easy to do, though it requires a little extra care to prevent the soil from drying out. When you bring lucky bamboo home, it’s likely growing in water. You can transplant it to soil without any issues, as long as you keep the soil moist for the first few weeks.
Start by choosing a pot and partially filling it with a well-draining soil mix. Next, take your lucky bamboo plant and gently place it in the pot, covering the roots with more soil. Firmly press the soil down to anchor the roots, then water thoroughly and allow to drain. Keep your lucky bamboo in indirect light and make sure to keep the soil moist, but not soggy!
Pros of growing lucky bamboo in soil
Just because you can grow lucky bamboo in water doesn’t mean you have to. Many people prefer to grow their lucky bamboo plants in soil and see tremendous success.
Better nutrition for your lucky bamboo
Soil contains plenty of nutrients that will help your lucky bamboo plant thrive. If you use a high-quality potting mix, you’ll know that there are a host of beneficial nutrients that will help your lucky bamboo grow larger and healthier than if it were grown in water.
You can also feed your lucky bamboo plant fertilizer without worrying about algae building up in the soil. When grown in soil, the fertilizer gets diluted and washed away with water, so over-fertilizing is less of a risk. However, it’s still possible, so don’t fertilize more than once every 2-4 weeks with a diluted solution.
Flushing the toxins
Soil serves the very important purpose of filtering toxins to protect the roots. Excess fertilizer or hard chemicals can be flushed out of the drainage holes when watered. This is why bottom watering versus top watering is often debated among gardeners and houseplant enthusiasts alike. While bottom watering is a great way to encourage roots to grow deep in the pot, top watering can help flush excessive minerals.
Cons of growing lucky bamboo in soil
Lucky bamboo is a very hardy houseplant, so if you have had success growing other plants in soil, you may not experience any struggles whatsoever. However, there are some inherent struggles with growing any plants in soil, and lucky bamboo is no exception.
Overwatering and underwatering lucky bamboo
Understanding when to water a houseplant is one of the most common struggles for new (and even experienced) plant owners. While underwatering is pretty self-explanatory, overwatering can be particularly challenging to identify.
When lucky bamboo is overwatered, it will develop root rot. If the roots have been compromised, your plant won’t be able to absorb water from the soil. So not only is it experiencing rot, but it’s also thirsty, which is why yellow or brown leaves are a symptom of both problems. The best way to tell is to check the soil or inspect the roots.
If you struggle to determine whether your soil is dry, moist, or wet, a moisture meter is an excellent way around this. It’s also imperative to choose a chunky potting mix with plenty of drainage as well as a pot with drainage holes. Not only will this prevent excess water from sitting at the bottom of the pot, but it will also help flush toxins, fungi, and bacteria from the soil.
If you’re not sure what pH level your soil has, you can simply test it with a tool. It’s the easiest way to find out if you need to work on your soil before planting your bamboo.
You can find pests on your lucky bamboo even if it’s living in water, but soil adds an extra layer of complication when it comes to pest management and prevention. Soil provides an excellent home for houseplant pests to lay their eggs. Many lucky bamboo owners will think they have eradicated the pest infestation, only for the next generation to emerge from the soil hungry as ever.
Using sticky yellow traps to catch pests like gnats is a great way to keep the population at bay and make it easy to identify when pests are present.
Does lucky bamboo grow best in soil or water?
Lucky bamboo is a unique plant that will grow fine in either soil or water. Unlike other plants, lucky bamboo can survive almost indefinitely in water as long as the water is refreshed regularly and doesn’t contain large amounts of chemicals or minerals.
But just because it can grow in water doesn’t mean that it’s the best solution.
If you want your lucky bamboo plant to live a long life and produce lots of new growth, you’ll want to have it potted in soil. In soil, lucky bamboo is better able to absorb a wide variety of nutrients that allow it to grow bigger. But take care to not let the soil dry out completely, as lucky bamboo prefers moist, well-draining soil!