When you enjoy bamboo as much as we do, you want to be around it all the time. It has a certain relaxing and rejuvenating quality that’s hard to describe. And those who feel it, know it. But most of us don’t have all day to spend strolling through the bamboo groves listening to the delicate leaves rustling in the wind and the hollow canes knocking against one another. Chances are, you have to spend far more time indoors, possibly in front of a computer, or maybe some other work station. And it’s in these kinds of indoor work environments where an element of soothing, natural plant life is all the more necessary. So what about growing bamboo indoors?
It’s not easy growing bamboo indoors, but it is possible. Most varieties of bamboo, like any grass, prefer to grow outdoors in the wind and the sun. But it can be very nice to have some bamboo growing in your home or office. If you insist on doing this, there are a handful of bamboo species that are more suitable for indoors. Otherwise, you can try finding some plants that look like bamboo, or else rotating a few different pots of bamboo in and out of the house.
So in this article, we’ll discuss why people want to grow bamboo indoors, the kinds of challenges they run into, and some tips to overcome those challenges. And of course, we’ve included a lit of bamboo species more conducive to the indoors.
Better living with bamboo
People keep houseplants to improve the Feng Shui and freshen the air in their homes and offices. And one of the best plants for generating oxygen and positive energy is, of course, bamboo.
As you may have read, a grove of bamboo produces about 30-35 percent more oxygen than an equal area of mature trees. And what’s good for the earth’s atmosphere must also be beneficial for the air quality in your house.
Furthermore, no one who’s ever stood in a forest of bamboo, admiring the elegant canes and the cascading foliage, can doubt the plant’s restorative powers. It’s only natural, then, to want to capture some of that potent energy and bring it from the garden into the house.
But, like storing happiness in a bottle, it’s not quite that easy.
Challenges with growing bamboo indoors
The simple truth about bamboo is that it’s an outdoor plant. All varieties of bamboo, and there are around 2,000 of them, belong to the grass family (Gramineae or Poaceae). And as such, they prefer to grow outside, in the fresh air and sunlight. Alternatively, consider some of these indoor houseplants that look similar to bamboo.
Room for roots
Bamboo plants are notorious for their vast and fast-growing rhizome root systems. Now some varieties of bamboo will grow more aggressively than others, and you’ll need to take extra special care with running bamboos. But generally speaking, most types of bamboo are much happier in the ground where their roots can really spread deep and wide.
If you keep bamboo indoors, of course it will have to stay in a pot. And that’s already a challenge because of those tenacious rhizomes. Even if your bamboo is growing outdoors, keeping it in a pot can be tricky. For starters, you’ll probably want to stick with clumping bamboo. Check out our in-depth article on Growing potted bamboo for more details.
Once you’ve mastered the art of root pruning, you should be able to maintain a happy, healthy bamboo in a container. But bringing it inside will introduce another set of problems.
After dirt, the next most important thing for your bamboo is probably the sunshine. Sunlight, after all, is essential for the process of photosynthesis by which all plants produce food and convert carbon into oxygen.
Some plants thrive in the shade, and these are typically plants that grow in the underbrush beneath a taller canopy of trees. Mosses and ferns, for example, do just fine in the shadows of towering redwood trees.
But most bamboos can grow at least 8 or 10 feet tall, if not 40 or 50 or more. Plants with that stature are accustomed to getting a lot more direct sunlight. Even the amount they would get near a bright window indoors will simply not be enough.
Shorter, dwarf varieties of bamboo tend to be more shade loving, and therefore better choices for indoor settings. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Fresh air and rain
Even plants that do well in partly or mostly shady conditions will still need fresh air, passing breeze and occasional rain showers. The air in your home may not feel stagnant to you, but plants have different sensitivities.
Without enough wind and breeze passing through, small insects and pests are more likely to land on an indoor plant and lay their eggs. And without natural rainfall, or even the spray of a garden hose, the eggs and insects stand are far better chance of survival.
One of the biggest issues with houseplants, even the varieties that are best suited for indoors, is pest management. In a clean home that gets vacuumed and dusted regularly, those little white flies and spider mites can find safe refuge in the moist soil and under the leaves of a well-pampered calathea.
Part of what makes indoor plants so inviting to insects, besides the absence of predators, are the comfortable temperatures that we maintain in our homes and offices.
For most plants, however, this stable temperature range is a disadvantage. Flora are typically adapted to live outdoors where temperatures go up and down between night and day, through winter and summer.
If you study your average indoor houseplant, you’ll probably find that it is native to the tropical rainforest. Its natural habitat is in the shade of the jungle canopy (as described above) and with minimal fluctuation in temperature.
But these are very uncommon growing conditions for bamboo. So if you want your bamboo to thrive inside, you’ll need to get creative.
Best tips for growing bamboo indoors
As you can see from the issues spelled out above, keeping a bamboo plant indoors and happy is not going to be easy. From their expansive root systems, to their appetite for clean air and sunshine, bamboos are far better suited for an outdoor garden. But if you insist on keeping bamboo inside, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Once the bamboo goes into a pot, prune the roots regularly. That means removing it from the pot at least once, maybe twice a year, and dividing the root ball or cutting the roots back with a sharp set of gardening clippers. Also check out our advice on Growing potted bamboo.
- To better meet the need for fresh air and sunshine, keep your indoor bamboo close to a sunny window that can be opened easily. Direct sunshine coming through a closed window can result in a greenhouse effect that could cook the plant.
- Be careful not to over-water. Indoor plants usually don’t dry out as quickly in their climate controlled environment, so you have to keep a close eye on them and avoid watering them too often.
- For best results, and to avoid getting insects, rotate your indoor bamboo. In other words, keep a few shade-loving, potted bamboos in your garden and bring one in at a time. Every few months, bring a different one inside and put the other back outdoors. Keeping bamboo indoors all year round is not a good idea.
- Eliminate the hassles of growing bamboo indoors by planting it outside but close to the windows, so you can still enjoy its cheerful presence from the comfort of your kitchen, living room or bedroom.
- Consider some of the bamboo varieties listed below, which have proven to perform better indoors.
Best varieties of bamboo to grow indoors
There are a handful of bamboo varieties which tend to be more successful indoors. For the most part, these are dwarf varieties. That means they are smaller and more compact, so 1) they don’t have such extensive root systems, and 2) they are more accustomed to growing in shady areas beneath the forest canopy.
- Bambusa ventricosa “Buddha’s Belly”: One of the most popular species of bamboo, this is a clumping variety with unusually attractive culms that bulge out like little bellies and sometimes zig-zag. There is also a dwarf cultivar which is ideal for growing in pots. Take a look at our articles on Buddha Belly bamboo and Bamboo for bonsai.
- Bambusa multiplex “Tiny fern striped”: Like other Bambusas, this is a tropical clumper that prefers warmer conditions. As a dwarf variety, it does better than most bamboos indoors or in a container. The thin yellow culms have pretty green stripes. And as the name suggests, its delicate foliage resembles fern fronds.
- Pleioblastus fortunei “Dwarf whitestripe”: This is a running bamboo, but it’s short and bushy and looks great in a pot or as a ground cover.
- Otatea acuminata “Mexican Weeping Bamboo” is a larger option which can get about 4 feet tall when potted. This clumping bamboo grows bushy, with delicate, graceful leaves.
- What about Lucky bamboo? This plant grows remarkably well indoors in nothing more than a vase of water. It doesn’t even need to be close to a window. But “lucky bamboo” is NOT truly bamboo. It’s actually Dracaena sanderiana, from a common family of houseplants. Check out our list of Plants that look like bamboo for more ideas.
For more tips on bamboo gardening, check out some of these popular articles.
- The complete bamboo grower’s how-to guide
- 11 Cold hardy bamboos
- Dwarf bamboos and ground covers
- Bamboo for construction
- Bamboo with stripes
- Bamboo in water
PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Park (Unsplash)