Lucky Bamboo in the Aquarium. Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) in the Aquarium. Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is not just touted as a popular houseplant anymore. More and more aquarists start using this species in their terrarium, paludarium, and aquarium setups, owing to its attractive, tall fleshy stalks and bright green leaves and the ability to can survive under suboptimal conditions for a long time.

The plant is hardy, sturdy, durable, and easy to care for. Lucky bamboo can adapt to a range of water values, making it an excellent candidate for almost all kinds of aquarium setups. Also, the species can be placed in various areas of an aquarium to introduce vertical accents in the aquascape.

In this article, I will be talking about how to cultivate and care for Lucky bamboo in the aquarium. However, this practice can be easily used in paludarium setups as well.

Quick Notes about Lucky Bamboo

Common Name Lucky bamboo
Other Names Friendship bamboo, Curly bamboo, Sander’s dracaena, Chinese water bamboo, Goddess of mercy plant, Golden bamboo, Ribbon plant, Belgian evergreen, Belly bamboo, Pot bound bamboos
Scientific Name Dracaena sanderiana
Tank Size (minimum) any
Difficulty Easy
Optimal Lighting Moderate
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness Soft to moderately hard water.
Optimal temperature 60 — 80 °F (16 — 27 °C)
Substrate Any
Growth Rate Slow
Placement in Tank Midground and background 
Size up to 5 ft (about 150 cm)
Fertilizer
Not needed/low
CO2 Not needed
Propagation Cuttings 

Interesting fact: In some cultures, Lucky bamboo is said to bring love, health, luck, and many other positive things to anyone who owns it. Moreover, the representation or significance varies according to the number of stalks, for instance, two stalks represent love, whereas five stalks represent wealth and longevity.

Origin of Lucky Bamboo

The Lucky bamboo plant is a species of flowering plant in the family called Asparagaceae — which is native to Central Africa.

Lucky bamboo is predominantly grown in China and Taiwan, and it is associated with Feng Shui, an Asian culture or practice which dates back to 4000 years ago.

Generally, bamboo is a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants — that belongs to the family Poaceae, and subfamily Bambusoideae.

Despite the similarities, Lucky bamboo is a popular houseplant found in homes and offices. More so, it belongs to a different family from the true bamboo.

Lucky bamboo’s growth is quite slow, and it is relatively easy to cultivate and nurture as a houseplant or freshwater aquarium plant.

It is also known by many other names such as Friendship Bamboo, Curly Bamboo, Sander’s dracaena, Chinese Water Bamboo, and many others.

Here’s the scientific classification of the lucky bamboo:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Nolinoideae
Genus: Dracaena
Species: Dracaena sanderiana

Note: This species was named after a renowned German-English gardener, Henry Frederick Conrad Sander.

Habitat of Lucky Bamboo

Primarily, lucky bamboos are common in Central and West Africa and East Asia (India and China), but now, more than earlier are cultivated around the world as good houseplants.

This plant maintains its fresh, evergreen state if grown in proper conditions i.e. bright illumination, good substrate, soft water, and warm temperatures.

In its natural habitat, lucky bamboo grows under the canopy of trees which however makes it obvious that it could survive so well without exposure to direct sunlight — just like many other indoor plants, such as the Syngonium plants.

Description of Lucky Bamboo

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) in the Aquarium. Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationIt is an evergreen, thin, erect, upright shrubby plant. Lucky bamboo can attain a maximum height of 5 ft (150 cm) and leaf sizes up to 10 inches (~23 cm).

The plant often bears twisted leaves of green color. Seeing true bamboo trees that grow outdoors gives a peek of what lucky bamboo might look like.

Interesting fact: Dracaena spp. absorbs the chemicals (such as formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, benzene, and CO2) within the air and removes up to 87% of volatile organic compounds every 24 hours. These are the chemicals that are linked with health problems like
headaches, anemia, respiratory problems, marrow disease, renal disorders, etc.

Difference between Lucky bamboo and True bamboos

While they all have similarities, especially with the general name ‘Bamboo’, the Lucky bamboo plant has peculiar qualities that differentiate it from many other bamboo-like trees or plants.

  1. Appearance. Many other bamboos have their stems very tall and rigid, whereas lucky bamboo has its stems fairly tall and sometimes curvy or flexible.
  2. Structure. Unlike the thick and rough stem, every other bamboo tree has, ‘lucky bamboo’ has its stem fleshy and not too hard.
  3. Growth rate: One of the known facts about true bamboos is their phenomenal growth rate. Some species can grow as much as 4 feet (120 cm) in 24 hours. On the other hand, growth in Lucky bamboo is very
  4. Requirements. True bamboo species require soil to grow whereas Lucky bamboo plants can thrive in water alone. In addition, unlike Lucky bamboo, many true bamboo species need direct sun per day, and the more sunlight they get, the happier the plant.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Lucky bamboo is not specifically an aquatic plant, however, its adaptable nature allows it to grow and thrive in an aquarium very easily.

Just like other aquarium plants, Lucky bamboos also require a specific range of water conditions to aid their growth and make them happy. Here are some care guidelines to help you out.

Tank size:

There is no minimum tank size. Lucky bamboo can be kept in any tank, even in nano tanks as long as you can get it sticking out the top.

The water depth is subject to the size of the container they are to be planted in.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: Tropical temperatures ranging from 60 — 80 °F (16 — 27 °C) are ideal growth requirements for Lucky bamboo. So, in most cases, room temperature will suit them fine.

pH: pH should be provided for this plant in the range of 6.5 – 8.0.

Hardness: Although Lucky bamboo is a very sturdy plant, it will still appreciate soft water and GH between 1 – 5 GH.

Water type: Do not use tap water! Unfortunately, this is one of the main reasons why people fail to keep them. Lucky bamboo does not like the chemicals in the water (chlorine, fluoride, etc.). Use only RO or distilled water.

Salinity: According to the study, Dracaena sanderiana can tolerate even a low level of salinity but it is not recommended for brackish aquarium setups.

Humidity:

Lucky bamboo is pretty resilient to humidity fluctuations. This is another reason why they are easy to care for.

Nonetheless, it is still recommended to keep the humidity around 50% or higher for optimal conditions.

If you have very low humidity – mist the leaves of the plant every couple of days.

Lighting:

Lucky bamboo does not require a lot of light. In aquarium setups, they can adapt to a wide range of lighting conditions, but they will grow best in low to moderate, indirect light.
Actually, it can be a great advantage because in some cases, Luck bamboo can be so tall that cannot fit under the lighting system, therefore, the plant can get only ambient light in the room.

Substrate:

Lucky bamboo is a very versatile plant.

On the one hand, it has an extremely strong rooting ability. Therefore, this plant will thrive in a nutrient-rich substrate.

On the other hand, we can use pretty much any substrate. Lucky bamboo can be also grown as a bare-rooted plant in water or other root-promoting media without soil around their root system.

If the plant grows hydroponically, it will require a great deal of mineral nutrient solutions in water.

Important tip: Lucky bamboo gets nutrition through its root system. Thus, do not put it into the substrate that prevents it. For example, I would avoid putting Lucky bamboo in the sand. In most cases, sand is not well-aerated. In addition, it will not let the plant get nutrients freely. If you want to use sand in the aquarium, it should be mixed with the soil as the bottom substrate.

Some recommended soil substrates for this plant include (links to check the price on Amazon):

Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums”. 

CO2 and Nutrient Supplementation: 

CO2: Lucky bamboo does not require CO2 to grow and thrive in the aquarium if grown emersed (partial submersion).

Nonetheless, when grown in aquariums as completely submerged, they will require a high amount of carbon dioxide to survive underwater. So CO2 injection will help provide them with an adequate supply of carbon dioxide to grow optimally and thrive.

Fertilizers: Being a slow-grower, Lucky bamboo does not need frequent fertilization. So, only a few drops of fertilizer per month or two usually are all it needs.

Keep in mind, that it is quite possible that there is no need for fertilization at all. For example, if you have other animals in the tank (fish, snails, frogs, shrimp, etc.) their waste will be used for plant growth. This is a win-win situation.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with Lucky bamboo, I would highly recommend reading my articles:

The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.

Maintenance and Care for Lucky Bamboo

Lucky bamboo can be one of the easiest species to maintain in an aquarium, as it requires little attention to keep it healthy and thriving therein.

Ensure to place the plant in moderate but indirect light as it will surely burn if subjected to the rays of direct sunlight.

If grown in a freshwater aquarium, fill the bottom of the enclosure with the small granulated nutrient-rich substrate on the bottom and soft pebbles or sand on the top (as the second layer). Afterward, add enough water making sure that the water is completely covering the roots and lower part of the stalks.

When this is done, keep changing the water every week to prevent it from deteriorating greatly. You need to replace about 25% of the water with clean, freshwater to maintain excellent water quality for your lucky bamboo plant.

Use only RO or distilled water.

If you still decide to keep it in tap water, make sure to at least dechlorinate tap water first before using it for any aquarium purpose, else your lucky bamboo plant will turn yellow when it comes in contact with chlorine.

Since the plant grows slowly, trimming frequency decreases significantly. As a matter of fact, you may only need to prune the stalks a few times a year. The process is easy, make a cutting just above the defined nodes with sharp scissors and repeat for all the overgrown stalks in your aquarium.

Planting and Propagation of Lucky Bamboo

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) in the Aquarium. Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation 3The stalks can be placed as a bundle or spaced apart (about 3 – 4 inches (7 – 10 cm) from each other).

In my opinion, placing them apart will be better for their root system. In addition, the shape and form of Lucky bamboo will offer a beautiful contrast in aquariums. It can be an excellent decorative addition to many aquascapes.

Having understood a whole lot about the Lucky bamboo plant, it is essential that one equally has a clue regarding how it can be planted or grown.

This can be done in two ways:

  • Partial submersion (recommended): The leaves and upper growth of the plant are kept out of the water. This can be done by choosing a healthy, mature specimen of adequate length, and burying about 2 inches (5 cm) into the substrate. Then proceed to fill the aquarium to about an inch below the lowest leaf set).
  • Full submersion: This requires the entire plant to be completely submerged in water. The plant will survive underwater for many months; provided that it is getting ample nutrients and CO2 to thrive.

Lucky bamboo and Full Submersion in Aquarium

This is a lot of conflicting info online about Lucky bamboo. Some people may say that you can easily grow this plant fully submerged in the water.

Well, this is not so.

As I have already said, the plant can survive underwater, but surviving and thriving are not the same!

First of all, the leaves will get discolored and melt underwater because they are not fit for growing underwater. Second, the stalk will start rotting. Third, you won’t see any growth.

Yes, Lucky bamboo is a very hardy plant. It can stay completely submerged underwater for months but, it is not immortal. Eventually, you will see signs of deterioration.

 

Propagation

Generally, the Lucky bamboo plant propagates by vegetative means.

In the aquarium, to propagate the plant:

  1. Choose a healthy, dark green stalk and cut off the offshoots (at the nodes) with precision to prevent jagged edges.
  2. Remove the bottom leaves (the bottom part will be sitting in water).
  3. Place the stalks (partially submerged) in a water-filled container. These newly cut stalks will form red roots before 30 days, and you can now place them into the substrate.

Alternatively:

  1. Simply cut the main stem between the nodes
  2. Place the cutting (partially submerged) in a new container with water until it develops roots.

Tip: To protect the cut from pathogens, seal the end of the stalk with candle wax. You can drip it directly on the cut or drip the candle wax onto the dish and stick the end of the stalk into it.

Problems Associated with Growing a Lucky Bamboo plant

It is not unusual for most live aquarium plants to encounter poor health, and that’s why they require adequate care and attention. Despite how easy it is to care for the Lucky bamboo, it is prone to several health issues such as:

Yellow or brown leaf edges: This can be caused by too much nutrients, poor water quality (tap water) as well as direct sunlight.

Solution: This can be prevented by not over-feeding the plant with fertilizers and avoiding exposure of the plant to direct sunlight and/or chlorine.

Yellow or soft stalks: This happens as a result of unclean or impure water. The fact is that when this happens, the yellow part of the stalk is almost or already dead.

Solution: It hence should be removed from the other ones (green ones) as soon as possible, so it does not have the healthy stalks affected.

Fungal diseases: If you see a powdery white coat or small, dark spots with red margins spots on the stem and leaves it means that the leaves are contaminated with fungus. According to the study, after 30-45 days of inoculation, a bamboo plant became infected with a specific fungus that can grow either on stem or foliage.

Solution:  Cut off the infected leaves to prevent the disease from spreading. As for the stem, the healthy part should be separated from the rest as well.

Do not worry, sometimes in order to save Lucky bamboo, you need to cut and re-root it. It will survive. 

Tankmates

Lucky bamboo can be harmful to pets if ingested. The good news though is that it will not secrete any toxic chemicals in the water.

Because of its shape and structure, it is highly unlikely that any fish, snails, or shrimp can ingest the plant.

Therefore, we can safely presume it is possible to keep Lucky bamboo in tanks with other animals that cannot tear up the plant and eat it.

Avoid

Unfortunately, most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs species do not fit these criteria. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, unless you let it float, it is a no-go!

Quarantine Lucky Bamboo

Results of in vitro propagation indicated that commercial bleach is very effective for sterilization and the contamination rate was very low afterward.

Do not forget to quarantine Lucky bamboo before putting it into your aquarium if necessary, because:

  • The plant can have parasites, pests like snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It could also be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

To find out more, read my articles:  

How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

In Conclusion

With this guide, I believe you have gained insight into the use of Lucky bamboo in freshwater aquaria.

This species gives a unique and premium feel to the aquascape of freshwater tanks, and it also helps create a stunning forest look which your fish and invertebrates will love to navigate.

If you are able to get ahold of healthy specimens and provide the right water conditions — growing Lucky bamboo should be easy, fun, and fulfilling.

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