It doesn’t take long for an indoor-gardener to outgrow the plants they first start out with. Eventually, we begin to notice more of the plants growing in the world around us and wonder if we might be able to cultivate it in our own garden! And given the beauty, utility, and sustainability of bamboo along with its propensity for being found near water, and it begs the question – “Can I grow bamboo hydroponically?”
In this article, we’re going to dive into growing bamboo hydroponically and find out which species are best-suited for hydroponic growing (if any), what the best hydroponic methods for growing bamboo might be, and explore the ins-and-outs of growing bamboo indoors versus outdoors.
Before we take another step further, we feel it would be remiss not to talk about “Lucky Bamboo”. This species of bamboo, Dracaena sanderiana, actually belongs to the Asparagaceae family. Just like Garden Asparagus.
Athena’s Garden Classic Live Bamboo Arrangement with Ceramic Tower
Despite not truly being a species of bamboo, the plant is commonly (and successfully!) marketed as “Chinese water bamboo,” and sold in small gravel-filled pots designed to decorate dreary office spaces and otherwise liven-up drab rooms by way of improving their Feng Shui.
Unfortunately, the “Lucky” part is likely because it would indeed be miraculous to grow bamboo in nothing but a bowl of stones and water. Then again, “Lucky Asparagus” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, either, so we’re not saying we blame them.
Whatever you call it, learning to cultivate Chinese Lucky Bamboo isn’t difficult at all, and could even prove to be profitable with the right motivations in place. And while it may prove less challenging to grow it in soil, it is possible to find a good balance that sustains healthy growth in hydroponic gardens as well.
Finding the right balance of hydroponic nutrients is one of the most important things in keeping your sanderiana healthy in form and color. The most common problem people have when growing Lucky Bamboo hydroponically is the yellowing of stalks and leaves, which is almost always a result of either too much sunlight or not enough nutrition. It can also be the result of too much chlorine in the water, so if you’ve been using tap water, don’t.
Super Green Lucky Bamboo Fertilizer (3 Bottles)
These plants are so often grown indoors that even windowsill-occupying sanderianas are rarely at risk of getting too much light. It is possible, but you might also consider using Super Green, which is designed to work specifically with lucky bamboo. Only use fertilizers after ensuring that your regular waterings are draining off properly.
Pea gravel is a popular grow medium for store-bought specimens, but this is more for looks than optimal plant growth. Consider something with a texture closer to that of soil, or even one of the specialized soil mixes made for the plant. One important function that the stones do provide, however, is supporting the mature plant’s root structure. Understand that replacing the medium may lead to needing an alternative means of supporting the mature plants.
Specialized Soil Mix for Lucky Bamboo Plants
How To Properly Care for Lucky Bamboo
To be clear, Lucky Bamboo is incredibly easy to care for. That being said, stalks that have been transplanted to a bowl and indoors are inherently going to depend on you to ensure they remain healthy and vibrant.
If you’ve bought your plant in a stone-filled pot, removing the stones is likely to reveal that the bottom is wrapped in wire. This prevents it from growing or swelling and ensures conformity to the chosen vessel. For the healthiest plant, however, you’ll want to remove this wire and simply transplant it to a bigger pot as necessary.
Sunlight & Temperature
Lucky Bamboo does enjoy an ample amount of sunlight, but prefers indirect sunlight. This is why they do so well when placed strategically within certain rooms of a house or building, as it allows them to take advantage of those portions of the day when light fills the room without being cooked by it.
Too much sunlight will first be indicated by a distinct yellowing of the stems and leaves, with the leaves eventually turning brown and withering. Moving the plant during the yellowing stage can often save it, but if you wait too long you’ll be forced to wait for the dead leaves to fall off and start over.
Chinese Lucky Bamboo, or Dracaena sanderiana, is a tropical plant by nature, no matter its hardiness for surviving in other conditions. As such, it prefers temperatures of 60℉ or warmer, with moderate humidity. Warmer temperatures will encourage more prolific growth – something worth keeping in mind if aiming to grow in bulk for profit.
Water Quality and Lucky Bamboo
Lucky bamboo is sometimes sold in clear vessels, which not only show off the beauty of whatever stones or beads are within, but also helps to see the water level. If you’re currently growing in standing vessels, try not to let the water get below halfway. Use clean, distilled water, and you might even consider adding a small aeration stone (bubble-stone) to help keep the water circulated.
Small Air Pump for Aquarium with Accessories (Air Stone, Check Valve, Air Tube)
A small setup like this one can be used in combination with any vessel, but even if you stay with a standing vessel the water can be carefully poured out and replaced at regular intervals. Just take caution not to damage the plant when doing so. This does provide a good opportunity to clean the stones, which should be done in a mild soap and water solution. Rinse them thoroughly, but avoid using bleach or other chlorinated cleaners.
Growing Lucky Bamboo in Soil
While there is a touch of controversy at the surface, savvy horticulturists will discover that Lucky Bamboo can be grown in soil or hydroponically with comparable success. There is a solid line in the sand between surviving and thriving, however, and a skilled hydroponic gardener will always be able to deliver nutrition to their plants more effectively. Still, hydroponics isn’t for everyone, and while we are huge fans and might push it at every chance, some gardeners (that are just as savvy) simply find it easier to grow in soil.
If you do decide to grow your Lucky Bamboo in soil, ensure it is well-draining enough for regular waterings to keep it moist, but not saturated. Using bottom layers of gravel and sand beneath the topsoil make this an easy accomplishment, and can still be used in clear or translucent vessels for aesthetic effect. You might also consider using a special-purpose soil – one bag will last forever, and is specially designed for optimal sanderiana growth.
Fertilizing Lucky Bamboo
When preparing a fertilizer solution, it’s best to always start out small. A weak solution that uses 10-12 parts more water than normal will generally be safer than stronger concentrations that risk killing your plants. The chosen hydroponic method will also have an impact on the delivery of nutrients and how you prepare a fertilizer mix.
Pruning & Propagation
Learn how to prune your Lucky Bamboo to produce the desired look you want. There are a number of techniques for pruning and training the plant to grow in interesting positions, and they generally are not harmful to the plant in any way!
Lucky Bamboo propagates easily, making it easy to create thoughtful gifts for anyone and everyone in your life. To propagate a new piece of Lucky Bamboo, simply use a sharp, sterile tool to cut a segment around 4” – 6” long. Place this fresh clipping into its own vessel of water, with stones propped around for support, and watch the roots begin growing within 48 hours!
Other Water-Loving Bamboos
If you’ve already looked into it, you’ve probably realized that there is very little information available on growing bamboo hydroponically. The gurus over at bambooweb.info forum discussed it all, and the gist of it is that while it might be possible it is a bit removed from being practical.
One of the biggest obstacles you face is similar to what you’re looking at with growing almost any tall-growing species – support. True species of bamboo are actually a kind of giant grass, and sprout up from incredibly strong rhizomes that depend on soil to remain upright. This support can be provided artificially, as is done in greenhouse environments to grow corn, tomatoes, and other tall-growing or heavy-fruited plants.
Another problem with growing bamboo in an indoors hydroponic system is that aside from supporting the growing plant, many strains of bamboo can reach incredible heights. This can be compensated for to some degree by recessing the root wells for the plants down below the floor level, or by raising the roof, respectively.
Still, there are over 1200 strains of bamboo, specifically, and not all of them grow to be 30’ tall. If you’re determined to experiment with growing bamboo hydroponically, we suggest starting with some of the smaller species that are grown more for decoration than the utility.
Fargesia, also called “Robusta” is known in China as “arrow bamboo”, owing to the long, slender poles it produces. And while it does normally grow between 12’ and 15’ outdoors, it can be pruned effectively to grow shorter and bushier for indoor gardens. Fargesia is a popular screening bamboo, due to the closely-growing culms and the robust nature of its foliage.
Also known by its scientific name, Phyllostahcus aurea, this species of bamboo is incredibly hardy. In fact, it is the only species occurring naturally in the United States that is considered invasive. Invasiveness can be seen as a matter of perspective, however, and when you consider the potential benefits that derive from cultivating your own bamboo, the steps needed to contain this plant don’t seem bad at all. Besides, this one comes in its own pot – it can only get as big as you let it!
So, What About Real Bamboo?
Bamboo, scientifically known as Bambusoideae, is an evergreen perennial plant, and some species of it are among the fastest growing plants in the world! Many people are also surprised to learn that bamboo is technically a type of grass (Poaceae).
It is hard to say where the word “bamboo” first originated, but the Oxford English Dictionary traces it back to the Malay language (mambu), where the Dutch later adopted it in the late 16th century as bamboes.
Bamboo is considered a grass because of its structural formation, which is typically hollow, and more consistent with reed grasses than the more woody species that grow to comparable heights.
Select species of bamboo can grow as much as 3 ft. (91 cm) a day!
This, of course, is the extreme – most bamboo strains grow at a rate closer to 1-4 in.per day. Still, bamboo is a fairly unique plant that develops into one out-of-two groups of species.
Bamboo Species Groups
We mentioned that bamboo is a grass, but we didn’t go into a lot of detail about the significance of what that means. You see, bamboo is actually an arborescent grass, which simply means that it has characteristics resembling those of a tree.
There are certain characteristics of bamboo, such as its growth, structure, or appearance, that can all be said to be similar to those of trees. Bamboo grows to great heights, grows branches with vegetative leaves, and even develops a hard, protective sheathing around the plant fiber’s primary support structure.
However, you can also find quite a few differences between bamboo and your common variety of woody tree species.
The tree will grow from a slender, delicate sapling to possess a wider trunk as the tree continues to grow in height. The inner “meat” of a tree that resides beneath the bark is called the cambium, and as the plant accumulates this, the tree expands in girth (diameter around the trunk).
Image Credit: U.S. Forest Service – USDA.gov
A shoot of bamboo stalk, technically called a culm, will only grow in height and diameter for the first 60 days or so. After that, it may look like it’s done growing but is actually focusing on thickening its walls with lignin – the stuff that makes it “woody”.
Bamboo is indigenous to the tropical, subtropical, and mild-temperate regions of the world. East and Southeast Asia and certain islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans have the highest concentration of bamboo species. It can be found growing healthily at altitudes ranging from sea-level all the way up to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) in elevation. You know, the snowy-top part of the mountain? Yep, way up there.
Bamboo grows freely in the wild with as little as 30 in. (76.2 cm) or as much as 250 in. (635 cm) of rainfall each year. The few species of bamboo (genus Arundinaria) that are native to the southern United States are generally found along riverbanks and in other marshy or wetland areas.
The Best Hydroponic Method for Growing Bamboo
So, you’re probably wondering at this point – “Why the science lesson?”
Well, we figure if you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to figure out whether or not bamboo can be grown hydroponically. The short answer to that question is both yes and no, and “the science lesson” is to help illustrate why that is so.
Any experienced hydroponic grower will tell you that any plant can technically be grown in the proper hydroponic setup, however not all plants take to it as well as others. Generally speaking, tall-growing plants, creeping vines, and those plants yielding large, heavy fruits are the most difficult to grow in hydroponic gardens. Even so, where there is a will, there is a way – and plenty of you out there will.
So in this case, yes, it is possible to grow bamboo hydroponically.
However, most strains of bamboo simply grow too tall for indoor growing. This, of course, can be overcome with diligent pruning and conditioning, as just about any plant can be trained to grow shorter and fuller.
The real problem comes in the form of support. The rhizomes of bamboo are strong; so strong that they can grow through concrete! In their natural habitat, these rhizomes grow so fast that the soil around them becomes densely compacted and helps to support the great vertical heights that the bamboo plants reach.
And while support can be arranged via a trellis or support stakes, as is done in greenhouses everywhere, the significant number of culms that will grow up from a single clump will make this a taxing chore, to say the least. Having to tie off and support dozens of individual canes, per clump, several times each week at a minimum, will become bothersome quickly.
Even so, if you’ve considered the species and found one that is modest in height and is otherwise accommodating to being grown indoors, none of this may be enough to dissuade you. Good on you!
If you insist on growing bamboo hydroponically, you will probably find the most immediate success with the Kratky Method, or “bucket method”. This method has already been proven viable for growing other tall-growing plants like corn and sunflowers, and has even been used in modified form to grow heavy-fruiting tomatoes and eggplants as well!
Starting with a single clump in a single bucket will help ensure that you’re not overwhelmed right off the bat. Use the first attempt to discern which areas are going to give you trouble, if any, and you can always potentially propagate clones from that plant’s cuttings.
Indoors v. Outdoors
When we talk about growing hydroponically, we are referring to indoor growing so often that sometimes we’re guilty of getting “tunnel-vision”. We get so accustomed to growing indoors that we may not even consider growing outdoors as an option.
In the case of bamboo, that would be a major mistake. While it might be within the realm of possibility to force bamboo to grow indoors, just as some plants simply thrive in indoor hydroponic gardens, bamboo will thrive outdoors in one.
Growing hydroponically has everything to do with nutrient delivery, and once you get that optimized for the plants you’re growing, there is little need to change things. But the other things that plants need – light, moving air, humidity, etc., are all much easier to provide via Mother Nature than indoors.
Fortunately, the Kratky buckets can be easily daisy-chained together outside. This allows you to capitalize on the natural growing season while keeping all your plants well-contained and healthily fed.
In conclusion, it turns out that the idea of growing bamboo hydroponically is a bit more ambiguous than we originally thought. While it might be possible to pull off, it seems that it is rarely practical. And interestingly enough, our best option comes from a plant that is bamboo in its marketing presence only (even if it’s close enough that most people will never know it).
Ultimately, Chinese Lucky Bamboo is definitely the safest bet for growing hydroponically, and given the huge market for it that may actually be a good thing. For those “horticultural engineering” types that just have to know if they can do it, growing a clumping type of bamboo in a Kratky bucket is probably the best place to start.
Whatever you decide, we hope you found the information here to be helpful. It has always been our mission to help regular people grow pro-quality plants in their own gardens, so we always aim to provide content that helps our readers get where they want to be!
As always, thanks for reading! Until next time…