Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.
Q: Help! My son bought me this really big cane plant for Christmas 2015 and it is not doing well. It’s about 4 feet high and planted in rocks and water. Research online for the type of cane plant was very confusing. Because I’m not sure exactly what it is, I’m not sure how to care for it. It had four canes but I’ve lost one. It started by getting dry leaves and dry stripes around the stalk. It then turned completely yellow and when I finally pulled it out it was totally mush at the bottom. Two other stalks are starting to get the dry looking stripes around them also. It sits on a bar approximately 5 feet from a window, so it gets no direct light. One person told me to water it a tiny bit every day; another person says it lives in water, so to keep it where you can see about an inch of water above the rocks. What can I do to save it?
Pamela Thomas, Galt
Master gardener Cathryn Rakich: The Lucky Bamboo plant (Dracaena sanderiana or Dracaena braunii) has been used as a good luck symbol in Asian cultures for more than 4,000 years. Many believe that the plant will bring good fortune to both the recipient and the giver, and is popular in the Eastern practice of feng shui.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Lucky Bamboo is native to West Africa and is not a member of the bamboo family at all. Due to widespread propagation, multiple varieties are now on the market. The popular plant is desired for its curved canelike stalks that can be grown in water, as well as soil. The stalks’ twisted shape is formed by laying the plants down and directing light from the top while shielding each side so they grow in one direction toward the light. The plants are then rotated to encourage the spiraling form.
Dry and yellowing leaves can be a sign of inappropriate light conditions and/or too much fertilizer. Lucky Bamboo prefers bright indirect light. Too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves. Inadequate light will result in weak growth and poor leaf color.
If grown in water, the plant does not need a lot of fertilizer. Feeding every few months with a diluted water-soluble or liquid houseplant fertilizer will suffice. If too much fertilizer is the problem, the water should be changed immediately and fertilizer withheld for several months.
Too much fertilizer also can result in mushy, brown, rotted roots and can cause the canes to yellow from the bottom up. If this is the case, remove the affected stalks and replace the water. Cut off the healthy green portion of the cane and place it in water to grow new roots.
Clean, fresh water is essential, so it is best to replace it every one to two weeks, making sure the water completely covers the roots. Lucky Bamboo is sensitive to chemicals in tap water, so use only filtered or bottled water, or let the tap water stand for a day to allow chlorine to evaporate.
Brown tips on the leaves are a sign of too many chemicals in the water and/or lack of humidity. If the air is dry, the plant can be misted every few days. Lucky Bamboo does best in common household temperatures, 60 to 75 degrees.
It is interesting to note that those who practice feng shui believe that Lucky Bamboo represents the five essential elements for harmony: Water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Water is essential for the plant’s life; the stalk represents wood; a red ribbon often tied around the plant signifies fire; the plant is grown in a container filled with rocks or pebbles indicating earth; and the glass vase denotes metal. In addition, three stalks bring together the three components of life: Happiness, wealth and longevity.
Cathryn Rakich is a UC Cooperative Extension master gardener for Sacramento County.
Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to email@example.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:
- Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
- Amador: 209-223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; website: ceamador.ucdavis.edu
- Butte: 530-538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
- Colusa: 530-458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
- El Dorado: 530-621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
- Placer: 530-889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
- Nevada: 530-273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
- Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: 530-242-2219; email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Solano: 707-784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
- Sutter, Yuba: 530-822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
- Yolo: 530-666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned