Bamboo (Bambuseae) can be a bit difficult to grow successfully in the house, but with a little extra effort, it can add bright, lush greenery to a sunny area. Stay away from large, fast-growing species -- these may quickly attain heights of 30 feet or more. Select a species or hybrid that naturally grows to only 2 to 6 feet.
Bamboo Plants for Indoors
Dwarf fernleaf bamboo (Pleioblastus distichus) and pygmy bamboo (Pleioblastus pygmaeus) are good houseplant options. Dwarf fernleaf is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 10, while pygmy is hardy in USDA zones 6b to 10. Both species grow to a height of only 2 feet. Dwarf whitestripe (Pleioblastus fortunei) and 'Albostriata' (Sasaella masamuneana 'Albostriata') are variegated bamboos that grow a little taller. Dwarf whitestripe, hardy in USDA zones 7b to 10, can grow to 4 feet. 'Albostriata', hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10, grows to a height of 6 feet.
Set the bamboo directly in front of a south-, west- or east-facing window where it's exposed to a few hours of direct sunlight each day. It can be placed in bright, indirect light, but it will grow more slowly. If direct sunlight is not an option, grow dwarf whitestripe. It does very well in medium- to low-light areas. Put the bamboo outdoors in bright shade or direct morning sun with afternoon shade in the summer when the weather is warm, if possible. The fresh air and higher light levels encourage lush, new growth.
Put a humidity tray made from a 2- to 3-inch-deep pan or dish beneath the bamboo. Pour a 1- to 2-inch depth of pebbles or marbles in the container, and fill it with water. Set the plant above the humidity tray, not in it. Mist the bamboo with room-temperature water in the morning every other day. Once each week, set a small oscillating fan a few feet away, facing the plant, and turn it on low for three to four hours after misting. It will help move stagnant air away from the bamboo.
Water indoor bamboo when the top 1 to 2 inches of potting soil becomes dry. Do not allow the soil to become completely dry. Pour the water evenly over the soil until it drains from the drain hole in the bottom of the container.
Apply high-nitrogen, slow-release houseplant fertilizer each spring when the bamboo begins growing new leaves. Use fertilizer with an eight- to nine-month duration. An analysis of 18-6-12 is good, but others can be used as long as the first number is higher than the other two. A typical application rate for 18-6-12 fertilizer is 1 to 2 tablespoons per 1-gallon plant container. Bamboo should not get fertilizer in the winter.
Prune bamboo with sharp, sterilized hand pruners at the end of winter or beginning of spring, just before it begins to grow again. The end of February or beginning of March is best. Sterilize the pruners with household disinfectant and rinse them off. Disinfectant can damage plant tissue. Prune off at least a few of the older, thicker stems at soil level each spring. Trim heavy branches back to the main stem for a neater appearance. All of the stems can be cut off at soil level -- and this is actually recommended for some varieties. Variegated bamboos like 'Albostriata' and dwarf whitestripe are mowed all the way to the ground with a lawnmower when grown outdoors. The new leaves emerge with bright variegation.
Repot bamboo in the spring if it outgrows its container. This is indicated by soil that dries out quickly and roots growing out of the drain holes. Pot it up in a new container (with drain holes in the bottom) that's 1 to 2 inches larger. Use houseplant potting soil with a pH of 6.5.
Indoor bamboo plants may get aphids, bamboo mites and spider mites. Prune off heavily infested leaves and stems. Seal them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. Aphids and spider mites can be controlled by spraying them off the plant with water from a garden hose. Monitor the bamboo and spray them off again if they reappear. Aphids, spider mites and bamboo mites can be killed with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Both can be purchased in premixed, ready-to-use spray bottles or concentrate.
- Mix 5 tablespoons of concentrate insecticidal soap or horticultural oil into 1 gallon of water.
- Take the plant outdoors to spray it, or set it on a protected surface.
- Spray the bamboo, thoroughly coating the tops and undersides of the leaves and stems.
- Rinse insecticidal soap off after one to two hours. It only kills the pests that are coated with it initially, and it might damage the leaves if it's left on them.
- Treat the bamboo again after 10 to 14 days if the pests return.
Bamboo will develop root rot when the soil is kept too wet. Symptoms of root rot are brown leaf tips or edges, yellow leaves, losing leaves suddenly and wilting. After bamboo develops root rot, it is not likely to recover.
- Remove the plant from its container and gently shake the soil from the roots. Rotten roots will be gray and slimy, mushy or wiry.
- Use sterilized scissors to trim off rotten roots, or simply pull apart the stems with rotten roots and throw them away.
- Repot clumps with healthy roots in a new container with drain holes, using fresh potting soil.
- Put it outdoors in a shady spot if the weather is warm, and water it more carefully.
Fungal leaf spots, rust and smut, and bacterial leaf spots can occur on bamboo plants.
- Trim off the infected leaves and throw them in the trash.
- Stop misting the plant for a week or two, and turn the fan on for an hour or two each day to keep the air circulating around the bamboo.
- Resume misting -- but watch carefully for any new spots. Always mist in the morning so the bamboo will dry before evening.