If you’re on the hunt for a plant to provide some beauty and a touch of sophistication to your fish tank, there are few options better than lucky bamboo.
The increasingly popular houseplant only requires a few inches of water to survive, and is suitable for both beginner and experienced aquarists.
Unlike traditional bamboo which typically rots when placed in water, lucky bamboo provides far greater resistance. It also exhibits a similar look to the authentic version of the plant.
Commonly known as “Dracaena sanderiana”, lucky bamboo can either be fully or partially submerged in your aquarium, with the vast majority of fish safe to be housed in bamboo-filled tanks.
Furthermore, bamboo is efficient for lowering nitrates, making it an extremely popular and valuable plant amongst those who know how to grow it.
This guide will take an in-depth look at lucky bamboo, providing you with all the information you need when looking to grow the plant in your home aquarium.
While bamboo is often associated with Asian countries, lucky bamboo is native to Central Africa. It’s similarities to authentic bamboo have led to a close association, albeit an inaccurate and confused one.
Moreover, this misconception extends far beyond its name. Lucky bamboo is often used in practices associated with Asian origins such as feng shui.
Even when used in aquariums, it’s common to see the native African plant interspersed with various buddha and shrine decorations.
Lucky bamboo is a plant characterized by a green central stalk with waxed tops and leaf shoots that grow up its sides.
The plant’s leaves are slightly twisted and exhibit the same color green - ranging from dark green to a lighter shade of green that almost borders on yellow.
It very rarely flowers, and is typically grown straight or in twisted varieties. The latter provides a unique look, with the stem cultured into stylish spirals.
In terms of appearance, it closely resembles real bamboo. The only significant difference being that lucky bamboo will usually have fleshier stalks. As noted earlier, they’re also far more water tolerant.
Planted equally effectively in either dense clutters or individually, lucky bamboo can grow up to four inches in height. It’s usually bought either a few inches tall, or nearly mature and close to its maximum height.
The rate of growth can be slowed down or sped up depending on the plant’s environmental conditions. For example, with excellent light and nutrients, the plant can quickly shoot up, whereas in typical conditions, it’ll grow at a more sedate pace.
The general lifespan for lucky bamboo is believed to be around ten years. However, this is often contested due to the controversy surrounding how to grow it properly.
On one hand, some aquarists believe that lucky bamboo only truly thrives for a few years, while others have proudly reported that they’ve kept their plant for longer than a decade.
Due to its versatility and height range, the plant can be positioned just about anywhere in your aquarium. Shorter stalks are best suited in the foreground or midground, while taller stalks are ideal for blending into the background of your tank.
Growing lucky bamboo is relatively straightforward, making it a popular plant amongst both beginners and experienced aquarists. To stabilize the water, a minimum of five gallons is required.
As lucky bamboo isn’t a true aquatic plant, there’s plenty of discussion about whether it has to be grown partially or fully submerged in water.
When grown partially submerged, it’s important to ensure that the leaves and at least a third of the steam are above the waterline.
To be grown whilst being fully submerged, there are a number of specific requirements that need to be met in order for the plant to survive and continue growing.
Ultimately, as long as the roots are submerged, the plant should thrive either way.
Unlike true bamboo plants, lucky bamboo can’t cope with dry roots. So, if it’s planted in soil that’s allowed to dry out or if the water suddenly starts to evaporate from the area around its roots, the plant will almost certainly die.
The plant requires excellent levels of oxygen and aeration to survive and prosper. This means that you’ll need to implement a bubbler or a similar device and moderate water movement. Also beneficial are filters with powerful outputs.
Moderate to high levels of carbon dioxide are essential for growing lucky bamboo. With frequent enough additions, liquid dosing is a reasonable means of achieving this, but it’s far more effective to install a pressurized or canister CO2 system.
In order for lucky bamboo to root well and establish a solid root system, the plant requires a high-quality, nutrient-rich plant substrate. It also needs to be planted at least three inches deep to be anchored firmly in place.
Lighting is the easiest requirement to cater for. All lucky bamboo needs is a few hours of bright, indirect light each day and it’ll be just fine. It’s important to note that direct sunlight will burn the bamboo leaves. Other intense light such as LED light fixtures will have an equally detrimental effect.
Be mindful that most of these requirements are for lucky bamboo that’s being grown fully submerged in water. If you’re looking to grow the plant partially submerged, lower CO2 and oxygen levels are acceptable.
Water Type and Temperature
Beyond having freshwater and the equipment explained above, the plant is fairly hardy and can cope with a wide range of water parameters. In truth, water temperature is the only variable that needs to be monitored regularly.
This parameter itself is reasonably broad, with lucky bamboo able to survive in temperatures ranging from 59℉ to 80℉. With such a vast range, the plant is equally useful for both cold water and tropical aquariums.
Like the majority of plants, lucky bamboo won’t flourish in tanks with consistently poor water quality. High levels of nitrates and ammonia prove particularly problematic.
While lucky bamboo is great for absorbing nitrates, it can only handle so much. Therefore, changing at least 25% of your tank’s water on a weekly basis is recommended to help preserve water quality.
Lucky bamboo is suitable for just about any tank inhabitant. Its wide growth parameters allow for a higher number of compatible inhabitants than most other plants.
Perhaps the most unsuitable inhabitant for bamboo are burrowing fish that look to eat and uproot plants. Even in this case, the plant is usually planted deep enough to make the problem a very minimal one.
Some of the most common and popular tank mates include Barbs, Angelfish, Mollies, Guppies, Discus, and Goldfish. Lucky bamboo can just as easily be accommodated with other members, such as snails and shrimp.
In paludariums, bamboo is also often planted in tanks with frogs and toads.
With time, lucky bamboo will grow progressively taller and continue to sprout more shoots along their sides. Furthermore, these shoots can grow to a girth of up to half the diameter of the initial stalk.
This natural growth pattern, however, won’t produce other plants. Instead, the original plants will just grow in size. Therefore, to propagate lucky bamboo, cuttings are the recommended method.
With this method, it’s important to keep in mind that your bamboo plant must be healthy in order for it to successfully recover and for the new cutting to survive and flourish. Each cutting should have at least one leaf joint on it, but ideally more if possible.
Prior to cutting, you’ll need to trim the existing leaves back. This helps to expose the growth node, so you can cut off a shoot cleanly and more easily. For maximum effect, it’s best if the cut has precise edges, rather than jagged or torn ones.
Once you’ve got your trimmings, you have a couple of options. You can either root them in the water with the primary plants, or start them in soil before later transferring them into your aquarium.
In general, embedding them in water tends to be a little more successful. So, if you have enough room in your tank, we recommend this method.
Your cuttings can either be kept above the surface but temporarily anchored, or planted directly in the substrate along with the parent bamboo.
There are, however, a couple of important considerations to take into account before planting your cuttings in substrate.
- Firstly, whether or not the cutting is big enough to be placed at least 3-4 inches in the substrate and still have a significant portion in the open water.
- Secondly, whether the substrate is fine enough to allow the new and delicate roots of the cutting to grow and form a network.
Roots should begin to develop from the bottom of the stalk within 2-3 days. You’ll be able to see them if your cutting is anchored easily, but it may be a little more difficult if your stalk has already been placed into the substrate.
Needless to say, it’s important to regularly check your cuttings to ensure they’re growing well, and not experiencing any rotting.
If you encounter any problems with growing cuttings, there’s always the possibility of adding a rooting hormone to your propagation routine.
If lucky bamboo isn’t given the correct growing conditions, the plant will soon begin to show signs of health issues.
Many of the common problems will show in the leaves of the plant first of all, rather than the stalk. These include:
- Yellow leaves
- Brown spots
- Small leaves
- Stunted growth
If you notice any of these issues with your bamboo, you’ll have to take a few steps in order to try and properly identify the problem.
Firstly, test your water parameters to see if ammonia, nitrates, or nitrite are present. You can also examine the substrate, CO2 and dosings to ensure your lucky bamboo is receiving a sufficient amount of nutrients.
Direct sunlight often proves to be a problem for the plant, so make sure the light isn’t too strong. Likewise, oxygen levels and aeration need to be suitable within the aquarium.
Unrelated to the bamboo itself, another step you could take is to check the health of your other tank inhabitants. This may have an effect on the health of your bamboo, as well as any other aquarium plants you may have.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between lucky bamboo and authentic bamboo?
Despite its name which suggests otherwise, lucky bamboo isn’t a type of bamboo. There are over 1,000 species of bamboo across the world, but lucky bamboo isn’t one of them.
Because lucky bamboo and true bamboo aren’t related, there are several significant differences between the two.
In terms of growth, real bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world - growing up to four foot a day. Lucky bamboo, on the other hand, grows at a similar rate to most houseplants.
Another notable difference is that all bamboo species require soil to grow, however, lucky bamboo can grow in water alone.
Finally, the stem of a lucky bamboo is much fleshier compared to the stem of true bamboo. This is a useful distinguishing feature for beginners.
Can you use tap water for growing lucky bamboo?
Lucky bamboo isn't sensitive to water hardness, so yes, you’ll be able to use tap water for your bamboo aquarium. However, it’s worth noting that there are a couple of issues which may prove problematic.
Firstly, chlorine in the water can lead to root stress. So, if your plant has extended exposure to the chemical, there’s a chance that its growth may be negatively affected.
Secondly, fluoride is toxic to lucky bamboo. Therefore, if your tap water is fluoridated, it’s probably best to opt for either filtered or bottled water in your tank instead.
How long can lucky bamboo live in water?
Lucky bamboo can typically survive and flourish in water for anywhere between 1-3 years. After that, it’s possible that you won’t see any significant growth unless you transplant it into the soil.
It’s worth noting that the lifespan of the plant can vary, with many reporting that they’ve kept their bamboo for up to a decade.
Where can you find lucky bamboo, and is it expensive?
The plant is commonly found online and in regular stores, as well as in aquarium shops and plant nurseries.
In terms of price, this usually depends on a number of factors, including the number of stems on the plant and the maturity of the bamboo. Generally, though, lucky bamboo is very affordable.