Lucky bamboo isn't bamboo at all, it's Dracaena Sanderia, a member of the lily family. And whether it will bring you luck is an open question. It is reputed to do so and is a popular house warming or wedding gift, but no follow-up studies prove or disprove its legend. However, it may be luck enough to own an easy-care plant that will grow happily in a vase of water and pebbles, brightening a room with its cheerful leaves. Lucky bamboo is one of the few plants that you can train to form loops, so, if the idea of teaching a plant new tricks enchants you, you may as well give it a try.
Picking a Healthy Plant
If you are going to go to all the time and effort to train your lucky bamboo to curl, you want to be sure you are working with a healthy plant. One sign of vitality is the plant's color. Look for bright green stalks and leaves without any yellowing or browning at the tips. Since most of these plants are kept in water, not soil, the roots can rot. Pull the plant out of the vase and inspect the roots. Slimy brown material in the root area is not a good sign. If the water has not been changed regularly and it smells musty, that may mean that the roots are rotting.
Schooling your Dracaena Sanderia
Some people love the slim, graceful look of a spritely lucky bamboo stalk in a slender vase. If you are one of these, you should probably leave it as is, since the legendary luck the plant is supposed to offer does not seem connected to it's shape. But if the idea of training the plant's stem to grow in a large "O" shape appeals to you, here's how you go about accomplishing it.
Lucky bamboo plants need indirect light to thrive, and at least some of their cells must know this because the stalk of the plant grows in the direction of the light. The trick to "curling" the stem is to manipulate it's growth pattern, using light, until it has wound itself into a circle. You can create a circle, a spiral or other shapes depending on how you position the plant.
To make the plant curl, first find a suitable cardboard box, like a shoe box, a little larger than the plant. Stand it on end with the plant inside. The lucky bamboo will be shaded on all sides but one. This open side should be turned in the direction of the source. Give the plant a few days and the stalk will start to grow toward the light. At that point, turn the plant so that the stem is tipping not toward the light, but to an area of shade just outside the lighted area. The stalks again try to grow toward the light, this time bending down and around. Keep turning the plant about one-eighth of a turn each time and you will end up with curly stalks. Since Dracaena sanderia grows slowly, this project is not for the impatient, but the waiting time makes success all the sweeter.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.