Vase-based bamboo is not only lucky but easy to care
How do I take care of lucky bamboo 'Snake
Lucky bamboo is the current marketing name for an old standard
houseplant, Dracaena sanderiana. It's been very visible recently in
florists and nurseries as cut pieces grown in water. Those called
Snake Charmer are the same species but are branches which were
coaxed to develop curlicue stems.
Although Dracaenas belong to the agave family and look a bit
like palm trees, their segmented stalks are reminiscent of some
bamboo. As for luck, that refers to how this plant is sometimes
used in the oriental design process of feng shui.
I've noticed lucky bamboo but grown it only as a throw-away
tropical in my outdoor gardens and in its old potted plant form. So
I asked about it. Cindy Kincead helped me out with stories of
how water-grown specimens fare over the long haul.
"It's a slow grower and very adaptable to growing in water,"
says Kincead. "You can keep it in water indefinitely. It likes
moderate light. That's not direct sun but good light. You can put
some fertilizer in the water every few months, and if the roots
become too gangly and unattractive, just lift it out of the water,
trim some off and put it back in. If you decide you want to
transfer it to potting soil, you should also trim off some of the
soft water roots before you pot it."
One problem with Dracaena is its tendency to drop lower leaves
over time and grow new foliage grows only at the top. Since the
plant rarely branches from its base a cute, leafy dwarf may in a
few years become an awkward giraffe -- one tall stem topped by a
few leaves. If a water-grown Dracaena becomes too tall you can
simply cut off the top plus a length of stem. Set the new, shorter
cutting into a vase to begin making its own roots.
I have a dwarf Alberta spruce that developed some brown
areas several years ago, and I had to cut them out. They have not
yet grown back in. These spots are on the side of the spruce that's
closest to my house and at this time of the year I see them
frequently. I am really beginning to wonder if they'll ever grow
On spruce, no new needles will develop from brown, leafless
wood. So if all the needles and buds die on a branch, cut it right
back to a side branch that does still have needles. Remaining limbs
that still have needles are what can fill the empty space. I've
watched very large gaps fill in over two to three years as live
tips nearby stretched into and branched to fill the empty space.
However, I've seen that happen in the sun. Your plant isn't getting
enough light on the wall side to support much growth.
I see this often along foundations, fences and in courtyards. As
a plant's sunny side becomes bushy and the dark side thins out, the
gardener keeps shearing the fuller side to keep it in check. The
sheared side becomes even denser, blocking more light from the
interior and far side. What we should do is thin the sunny side
regularly so light can penetrate.
This April, make some holes in your spruce's sunlit side. The
openings don't have to be large, just well positioned. Look at the
shrub in morning light, which is best for growing, and work to let
those rays through to the branches bordering your back-side holes.
The holes on both sides will eventually fill in.
We can help ourselves by planting further away from walls and
fences, so light will always be able to reach the back-side
foliage. Or we can hope for someone to invent a lazy-susan
in-ground pot device which will allow us to give a plant a quarter
turn every year, preventing the uneven growth in the first
Do landscape boulders encourage breaking?
Rocks at the roadside may seem like a good way to fend car tires
from lawn and garden but can do more harm than good. The tire that
slides off an icy road won't stop when it hits that rock but it
will push it, so you'll have not only compacted soil but a gouge to
repair. If your street is tough for cars to navigate in winter,
burlap bags of sand can mark the road edge at least as well as
rocks and are a better bet for absorbing the impact of stray
Green thumbs up
to the transportational qualities of fragrance. Clip a bit of a
fragrant plant now -- bruise the cutting to inhale a bit of spring.
Keep a sprig of thyme, sage or lavender or a twig of bayberry or
blue mist spirea in your pocket. Each time you touch it, the scent
that's released will take you away from winter and out into the
Green thumbs down
to those who scoff at a gardener's bird seed expenditures. Birds
pay it back in insect control. Lure a chickadee to a feeder each
morning and it will scour the shrubbery for aphid eggs all day.
Cardinals and others live on seed in winter but switch to insects
in nesting season, just in time to stem the spring flood of
Originally published 1/24/04