Bamboo Plants 101: How to Grow Happy Bamboo Plants Indoors

Bamboo Plants 101 How to Grow Happy Bamboo Plants Indoors

One of the most widely grown and practical plants on the planet, bamboo is used in food, art, architecture, and traditional medicine, and is even helping to tackle climate change. Despite having a reputation for being difficult to grow indoors, more and more of us are choosing to add bamboos to our houseplant collections.

Delivering the right care and achieving the right conditions for bamboo indoors takes a little effort, but once you find the right balance, you’ll be handsomely rewarded with its elegant appearance, tranquil aesthetic, and efficient oxygenating qualities. Our guide will teach you all you need to know to nurture your own beautiful bamboo indoors! 

What is Bamboo?

What is bamboo

Bamboos belong to a diverse subfamily of evergreen, flowering perennial plants consisting of 115 genera that are further divided into over 1,400 species. Despite many species having a decidedly woody and tree-trunk-like appearance, bamboos actually belong to the Poaceae family of grasses. 
Giant Bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) is the largest grass on the planet and can grow up to 100 feet tall and spread up to 50 feet wide, whilst the smallest bamboo species Raddiella vanessiae, reaches little more than a mere one inch tall.

The majority of bamboos are native to Asia, although there are other species native to Australia, the Americas, and Sub-saharan Africa.
Whilst most species prefer the warm, humid environments of tropical rainforests, there are other species that grow abundantly in the cooler climates of mountain ranges, and there are even some particularly cold-hardy species that can withstand temperatures of 29 degrees below freezing.

Bamboos are some of the fastest-growing plants on the planet, with some species able to grow around 36 inches per day! Bamboo shoots, or stems, are known as ‘culms’, and new culms emerge vertically from the rhizomatous underground roots of the parent plant.
Each culm takes just a year to reach its mature height, after which it will never grow taller but will begin to produce lush green foliage, whilst the rhizomes continue to spread and produce new culms. 

What does Bamboo symbolise?

What does bamboo symbolise

Bamboo has played a prominent role in mythology and symbolism for millennia, particularly throughout Asia where it grows most abundantly. 

In traditional Chinese culture, bamboo is thought to symbolise the model gentleman, exhibiting characteristics of uprightness, tenacity, modesty, longevity, flexibility, strength, and elegance. 

In Japan, bamboo is traditionally grown around Shinto and Buddhist temples as it is believed to form a sacred barrier that protects the temple against dark and evil forces. It is also thought to be a symbol of good luck. 

In Hawaiian mythology, it is believed that bamboo is the embodiment of the Polynesian creator god Kāne.

Bamboo Varieties

Bamboo Varieties

Bamboos can be split into two distinct categories depending on their growth habit; running or clumping. Both categories of bamboo have incredibly robust and powerful root systems from which new culms emerge.  

Running bamboos spread vigorously and quickly. They have strong and aggressive underground rhizomes which travel long distances laterally away from the parent plant, some as far as 100 feet, producing lots of new shoots as they go. Here are some examples of running bamboos:

Golden Groove bamboos are a running variety native to China. They are recognisable for the distinct gold-coloured stripes which adorned their pale yellow culms. 

Red Margin bamboos are popular in gardens since their running growth habit, dense foliage, and cold-tolerant nature make them perfect for hedges and privacy screens in colder climates. 

Tsuboi bamboo is a dwarf running variety, with dense, often variegated foliage, and a maximum height of around three feet, so it is often used as ground cover. 

Clumping bamboos have dense but compact root systems and spread slowly, usually only a few inches per year, and produce new shoots directly above the rhizome. Because of their slower and more manageable growth habit, clumping bamboos are much better suited to indoor cultivation and pots than running bamboos. Here are some clumping bamboo species: 

Chinese Mountain bamboos, as the name suggests, are native to mountainous regions of China. They have lush, dense foliage with vivid green canes. Chinese Mountain is one of the hardiest bamboos, able to withstand harsh winters and low temperatures. 

Jiuzhaigou bamboo is an ornate and highly decorative clumping variety. It has stunning variegated canes of red, green, orange, and gold which are topped with medium-sized, elegant foliage. Their canes become redder when they are exposed to more sunlight. 

Umbrella  bamboos have elegant pale green and yellow canes, often with a slight arch. Their clumping growth habit makes them popular in gardens since they aren’t prone to vigorous spreading. 

Best bamboo varieties to grow indoors

Best bamboo varieties to grow indoors

Growing bamboo indoors isn’t for the faint-hearted, as they have some very specific care requirements. Many bamboo species can reach dizzying heights and immense spreads in their natural habitats, so you will need to select your variety wisely.
Running bamboos aren’t advisable for indoor growth, since their extensive root systems will need a great deal of maintenance, and the plant will likely suffer from being pot-bound. 

Some species of bamboo simply won’t tolerate being indoors, whilst others are quite happy in the home. Any bamboo grown indoors will exhibit more moderate growth compared to its outdoors counterparts, although their robust root systems are trickier to manage than your usual houseplants.

We recommend opting for one of the following varieties to give your indoor bamboo garden the best chance at success:

Black Bamboo is a stunning and dramatic variety, named for its unique glossy black culms which create a striking contrast against its vivid green leaves. They are one of the more tolerant bamboos, although they like plenty of humidity so regular misting is a must! 

Buddha Belly bamboos are an interesting and quirky variety, so named because of their rotund sectional stems. They have a compact growth habit so are well suited to being grown both indoors and in pots, and can even be grown as bonsai plants. They grow best in full sun, so place yours on a sunny, south-facing windowsill.

Large Leaved bamboos are another species that are easily acclimatised to indoor growing conditions. They have long, wide, flat architectural leaves which narrow to a point. Large leaved bamboos grow best in dappled sun and part shade, so a north or east-facing windowsill is ideal. 

Mexican Weeping bamboos produce masses of whispery, feather-like pale green leaves which are reminiscent of the foliage of a weeping willow. They are a clumping variety that reaches heights of around four feet when grown in containers, making them an excellent small-scale option for indoor growing. 

Shiroshima bamboos have striking variegated green and white leaves which stand out against other bamboo varieties. It is a dwarf variety with a maximum height of just 10 feet even in the wild, and smaller still when grown indoors, although it is a running variety so it will need a strong, wide container.

Square Stem bamboos have fascinating angular culms, making them a unique addition to any houseplant collection. They produce bright green palm-like foliage and can grow relatively tall, even indoors. Although it is a running variety, its roots don’t spread as aggressively as others, so can be maintained more easily. 

‘Lucky Bamboo’ is a very common houseplant but, confusingly, it’s not really a bamboo at all. Whilst its stems do closely resemble bamboo, they actually belong to the dracaena family of palm-like shrubs and are completely unrelated to bamboos.
They are a really good, low-maintenance alternative to growing trickier, true bamboos indoors. According to the principles of Feng Sui, a well-placed Lucky bamboo will attract positivity and good fortune to your home!

How to care for Bamboo Indoors

Pots 

The main thing to consider when selecting a pot for your bamboo is strength. Choose a large, sturdy pot that will be able to safely contain the roots, whilst still providing them with plenty of space to grow as the plant matures.
Strong terracotta pots are a good choice because they are porous, facilitating airflow to the roots. Avoid plastic pots as the roots will soon burst through them. Make sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the base of the pot since bamboos won’t tolerate waterlogged roots.

You should also include a layer of pebbles at the bottom of the pot before adding any soil to aid with drainage. 

Because they grow so quickly and vigorously, you will probably need to repot your bamboo every couple of years. The best time to repot your bamboo is in the spring, just before it begins actively growing.

Although not best suited to being grown in pots, if you really want to have a go at growing a running bamboo, select a pot that is wider than it is deep to allow the runners plenty of room to spread.

Soil 

When choosing a potting soil for your indoor bamboo, drainage is key! Opt for a light substrate with plenty of added drainage materials such as perlite or vermiculite, and organic matter such as sphagnum moss at a ratio of around a third each.
Try not to compact the substrate too much, since the root systems need plenty of space and aeration in order to breathe. 

Water 

Getting the water requirements just right is crucial for bamboo, and these moisture-loving plants need plenty of it! But equally, bamboo plants hate waterlogged soil and are prone to root rot if overwatered. You should water your bamboo once or twice a week, allowing the top two inches of soil to completely dry out in between.
Younger plants will need to be watered more regularly, whilst mature plants are slightly more drought tolerant. Make sure that the soil and pot are allowed to drain thoroughly after each watering. If you notice your bamboos leaves are beginning to curl or droop, it’s a sign that they need a drink. 

Light 

Most bamboos love light. In their natural habitat, they grow to great heights to capture the majority of the sun’s rays at the forest canopy, and these bright conditions should be replicated as best you can. A sunny windowsill where your bamboo will receive several hours of bright, indirect light each day is best, although some varieties will grow best in direct light.
Lower light levels won’t harm your bamboo, but it will grow more slowly. 

That being said, some smaller bamboo species are much happier growing in semi-shaded or sheltered positions which mimic their natural growing conditions low to the forest floor where only dappled sunlight reaches through the canopy.
Make sure you check the individual light requirements for whichever species of bamboo you decide to grow indoors. 

Rotate your bamboo plant regularly to ensure that the whole plant gets even exposure to the light and it doesn’t begin to grow asymmetrically. Your bamboo plant will also enjoybeing placed outside for a few hours on warm, sunny days. 

Humidity and Ventilation

Most species of bamboo, particularly tropical varieties, like a warm and humid environment that is reminiscent of the rainforests from which they originate. They prefer humidity levels to be consistently above 50 percent.
You should mist the stems and leaves of your bamboo regularly, or consider setting the pot on a pebble tray filled with water to increase the ambient moisture levels but make sure the pot is not resting in the water. 

Bamboo plants love well-ventilated areas, so it’s a good idea to place them next to a window that is opened regularly. They need lots of air circulation to allow their roots to breathe and prevent their soil from becoming waterlogged. Placing them outside on days with a gentle breeze is a great way to increase fresh air flow to your bamboos.

Food

You should feed your bamboo on a monthly basis with a well-balanced fertiliser during spring and summer when they are growing actively. You can even use lawn food since bamboo belongs to the grass family. They won’t need any food during winter. 

Pruning 

Pruning 

For the most part, you won’t need to prune your bamboo very often, other than periodically getting rid of any fading or dead foliage. Older canes can also be carefully removed when they begin to die, but be careful as bamboos cannot regenerate culms once they have been cut. 

Since bamboo can grow very tall, it may be necessary to ‘top’ your plant to maintain a more manageable size. It’s best to do this in late summer and early autumn when the growth of your bamboo will naturally slow down.
If you want to constrain the size or shape of mature bamboo, cut any unwanted foliage just above a leave node. This helps the bamboo to redirect energy into its remaining branches and foliage for denser and healthier growth.

Don’t worry if your bamboo plant begins to drop its leaves as the growing season ends, this is perfectly normal. 

Propagation

Propagating your bamboo every two to three years is the most effective way to prevent its roots from getting out of hand, and is a relatively easy way to grow even more bamboo plants for free, either for your own home or to give as a gift.

It’s best to propagate in spring, just as new culms begin to emerge. Try to coincide propagation with repotting, which is also best done in the spring.

The best propagation method for your bamboo will depend on whether it is a running or clumping type. 

If you have a running bamboo, propagation is easily done by separating the extensive rhizomes. Remove the plant from the pot and shake off its soil so the root system is exposed. Select a healthy rhizome, far away from the parent plant which is already producing soft new roots and culms.
Carefully sever it from the rest of the root system with a strong, sterile blade. Place the cutting parallel to the ground in a container filled with the same potting mix as the parent plant, and position it close to the parent plant.

Cover the cutting with more soil and keep moist, but not wet, until your new plant becomes established.

Propagating a clumping bamboo is a little trickier since its rhizomes are so dense. Clumping bamboos shouldn’t be propagated until they are fully mature, around four or five years old. Remove the bamboo from its pot and shake off the soil so you can clearly see the rhizome.
Look for a healthy offset with its own shoots and roots which can be easily separated from the main clump. You may need to use a saw to separate the cutting, but make sure it has been cleaned thoroughly beforehand.

Once removed, treat the cutting in the same way as a running bamboo, covering it with soil and placing it close to the parent plant. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soaking until the new growth becomes well established. 

FAQs

FAQs

How long does bamboo live 

The lifespan of bamboo varies greatly from species to species. Some species can live for well over a century, whilst each individual cane will usually have a lifespan of between five to fifteen years. Bamboos tend to have a relatively shorter lifespan indoors, although they can still thrive for many years if they receive just the right care. 

Is bamboo a good oxygenator? 

Bamboo is an incredibly efficient oxygenator, absorbing high levels of carbon dioxide and releasing plenty of clean oxygen as it grows so quickly, so not only will a thriving bamboo plant create a calm and cool aesthetic in your home, it will make your home healthier as well!

Will my bamboo flower?

Most species of bamboo will flower, although it is very, very rare and usually only happens once in the plant’s lifetime, after which, it usually dies. Some species only flower once every 120 years! It’s highly unlikely that a bamboo plant grown indoors will ever produce flowers.  

Wrap Up

Wrap Up

How long does bamboo live 

The lifespan of bamboo varies greatly from species to species. Some species can live for well over a century, whilst each individual cane will usually have a lifespan of between five to fifteen years. Bamboos tend to have a relatively shorter lifespan indoors, although they can still thrive for many years if they receive just the right care. 

Is bamboo a good oxygenator? 

Bamboo is an incredibly efficient oxygenator, absorbing high levels of carbon dioxide and releasing plenty of clean oxygen as it grows so quickly, so not only will a thriving bamboo plant create a calm and cool aesthetic in your home, it will make your home healthier as well!

Will my bamboo flower?

Most species of bamboo will flower, although it is very, very rare and usually only happens once in the plant’s lifetime, after which, it usually dies. Some species only flower once every 120 years! It’s highly unlikely that a bamboo plant grown indoors will ever produce flowers.  

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