Lucky Bamboo Plant Turning Yellow from Top to Bottom? Here’s Why


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You received a lucky bamboo plant from a friend, but admittedly, you don’t know a lot about this species. One thing you’re pretty certain of though is that the lucky bamboo probably shouldn’t be yellow. What’s going on here?

Why is my lucky bamboo plant turning yellow from top to bottom? Lucky bamboo plants turn yellow from top to bottom for the following reasons:

  • Watering with chlorinated and/or fluoridated tap water
  • Adding too much salt through fertilizer
  • Overdoing it on the sunlight
  • Elevating or decreasing the temperature too much
  • Natural aging

In this article, I’ll go through each cause of lucky bamboo yellowing one by one, as it’s easy to make some of these mistakes. I’ll also discuss whether plant yellowing is a sign that your lucky bamboo is dying.

First, a Quick Rundown of the Lucky Bamboo

The lucky bamboo is a semi-frequent topic here on the indoorplantsforbeginners blog, but assuming you’re brand-new to this plant and to our blog, you’ll want to know what you’re dealing with. That’s why I thought I’d start with a brief introduction.

The first thing about a lucky bamboo that you must know is that it’s not truly bamboo. It’s an Asparagaceae family member known as the Dracaena sanderiana. Unlike real bamboo, the lucky bamboo has fleshy stems, not woody ones.

Some people call it the Goddess of Mercy’s plant, the Chinese water bamboo, or the curly bamboo, but it’s all the same thing. Receiving a lucky bamboo as a gift is an incredibly kind gesture since the plant is supposed to represent prosperity, blessings, and a good life ahead.

If your lucky bamboo came to you potted, you can leave it in a pot or switch it to a bowl that you fill with water. Lucky bamboo, is known for thriving in soil or water. Either way, your lucky bamboo will be fine.

Why Is My Lucky Bamboo Turning Yellow?

Okay, so now you’re more familiar with your lucky bamboo, but you’re still confounded why its leaves and stems are yellowing. Although the lucky bamboo plant has the reputation of being quite durable, making the following care mistakes can affect its coloration.

Watering Your Lucky Bamboo with Over Chlorinated or Fluoridated Tap Water

Do you drink tap water? If I had to guess, probably not.

After all, tap water can contain all sorts of contaminants you don’t want in your body or that of your family’s. These contaminants include uranium, herbicides, pesticides, lead, iron, copper, arsenic, and aluminum, to name a few.

Another chemical in most tap water is chlorine. You know, like what you pour in swimming pools to clean them. Chlorine serves a similar purpose when added to the public water system.

The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA says it’s safe for us people to drink some chlorinated tap water, but you worry about your lucky bamboo.

Chlorine in small enough quantities can benefit plants, encouraging them to photosynthesize. Like anything in this world, there can be too much of a good thing.

By overexposing your lucky bamboo plant to chlorine, its leaves may look burnt (chlorine is a chemical, after all) or yellowed. The stems may wilt too.

Besides just chlorine, your local water supply also contains fluoride, as it’s naturally in water and soil. This mineral also appears in our teeth and bones, which explains why you see fluoride so much at the dentist’s office and in products such as tooth varnish, mouthwash, and toothpaste.

Okay, but if fluoride is in tap water anyway, then surely it’s okay for your lucky bamboo and other houseplants, right? Again, it’s the same story as with chlorine.

Normal levels of fluoride won’t affect plants, but by giving them too much, you can induce fluoride toxicity.

High levels of fluoride in the water your feeding your plants can kill the plant’s tissue, the dead spots of which appear brown or yellow.

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You could do a lot of advanced and expensive water testing to determine your levels of chlorine or fluoride. If that’s something you want to do, then more power to you.

But, a much cheaper and easier method to rectify this issue, can be to purchase a water filter or even a filtered water pitcher.

Don’t just consider using filtered water for your lucky bamboo and other indoor plants, consider drinking filtered water instead of tap water for yourself too! I know this might sound strange to some readers but we use a filtered water pitcher for our drinking water, for our pets water bowls and for all of our plants.

Adding Too Much Salt Through Fertilizer

Do you know why your skin smells and your eyes burn when you jump into a freshly chlorinated swimming pool? It’s because the pool water is very salty.

Per gallon, chlorine has about 1,000 particles per million or ppm of salt. Fluoride is not as salty, but it’s not exactly free of sodium chloride, either.

Now let’s say you fertilize your lucky bamboo because you’ve heard that’s what you’re supposed to do. Plant fertilizer, be it commercial or homemade, should contain three key nutrients: potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen.

This University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign bulletin breaks down the salt index for each of those three nutrients. Even if the data is a little complex, what we very quickly learn is that these nutrients are salty.

Look at nitrogen, for example. It contains 34 percent ammonium nitrate, up to 26 percent ammonium thiosulfate, up to 24 percent ammonium sulfate, 46 percent urea, and 82 percent anhydrous ammonia.

It’s common to find advice online that recommends fertilizing your lucky bamboo about every three weeks, which is basically monthly.

If you follow that advise the leaves and stems on your lucky bamboo will be yellow in no time, as you would have severely damaged them from the huge influx of salt you’ve fed your plant.

As I’ve stated previously in a related post titled, How Do You Save a Dying Indoor Bamboo Plant? , when it comes to fertilizing your bamboo, I recommend fertilizing no more than every six months, maybe even every 12 months. Yes, you’re reading that right, I recommend fertilizing your lucky bamboo one or two times a year, max.

When you go to fertilize your lucky bamboo, use a small amount of liquid fertilizer. I recommend fertilizing ahead of this houseplant’s growing schedule, so in the spring.

A second period of fertilization can occur in the summer if you feel it’s necessary. Most of the time, a second fertilization isn’t necessary.

We tend to love our plants to death”

~Fred Zimmer

What I mean is that we often associate how well we’re caring for our plants by how often we tend to them. Most of the issues our indoor plants experience are brought on by us over tending to them. Over watering, over fertilizing, too much sunlight, too much moving them around, too much pruning etc..

Giving the lucky bamboo Plant Too Much Sunlight

Plants need sun, and that’s exactly what you’re going to give yours. The thing is, especially for beginner indoor gardeners, is that they’re not as discerning about how much sun the plant gets.

The lucky bamboo is fine with bathing in light for a while. What’s more important to this particular houseplant is the quality of light it receives.

What do I mean by that? There are many different levels of light for plants. Some plants like one type of light exclusively and others prefer a mix. Here’s a quick rundown of the types of light a plant may require.

  • Direct light: As you might have guessed, direct light is pure, unobstructed light that comes straight from the sun to your houseplant. Southerly-facing or westerly-facing windows will deliver direct light all day. This is the most intense and pure form of light and not recommended for all houseplants.
  • Bright indirect light: Bright light is direct light, so what does that make bright indirect light? This means the light has first bounced off something else before reaching your plant. The light may have passed through a curtain as well.
  • Medium light: Much less severe than bright direct light, medium light is still sunny, but your plant isn’t getting the full brunt of the sun by any means.
  • Low light: If your plant is at least seven feet away from the nearest window, then the light it drinks in is low light. Windowless rooms or spaces otherwise lacking natural light will also produce low light.

The lucky bamboo does best in conditions of bright, indirect light. I would recommend playing around with its placement for a few days to find out where in your living space it responds best.

  • If your plant looks a little weak with yellow leaves or stems, then increase the light.
  • Should the leaves of your lucky bamboo be burnt and yellow, then your plant is getting direct light rather than indirect light.

Elevating or Decreasing the Temperature Too Much

The lucky bamboo is generous about its temperature requirements, preferring temps between 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a pretty wide range, so it’s hard to screw it up unless you put your plant near drafty air.

Whether it’s an open window on a breezy day, atop a radiator that blows hot air every hour, or by an air conditioner that chills it, the lucky bamboo is sensitive to these drafts. The hot or cold air affects its temperature, which in turn leads to the discoloration you’ve recently noticed.

Natural Aging

If you’ve reviewed your lucky bamboo routine inside and out and you can’t determine where you’re making a mistake with its care, you might not be doing anything wrong. Like we people go gray as we start to age, the lucky bamboo can naturally turn yellow, starting at the top of the plant.

It’s a process known as plant senescence, which is how a plant matures and ages. As plant senescence occurs, its levels of chlorophyll decrease more and more. Chlorophyll, as you probably already know, is the pigment that gives plants their green color, so without it, your lucky bamboo can begin turning yellow or brown.

Is a Lucky Bamboo Plant with Yellow Leaves Dying?

You’re a little concerned after reading the last section. Is your lucky bamboo going to pull through or is it dying?

The good news is that a little bit of leaf or stem discoloration on a lucky bamboo is not necessarily the death knell for your beloved houseplant. The bad news is that the above houseplant care habits are all bad ones to carry through.

If your lucky bamboo doesn’t die now, that’s not to say it won’t in a few months. While some plants seem to live forever, even the toughest houseplant species like the snake plant or ZZ plant have their limits.

That’s also true of the relatively hardy lucky bamboo. By exposing the plant to too much light or salt for months at a time, its leaves will scorch. This will stress the plant out, potentially causing its death.

Now that you’re aware of which habits work for your lucky bamboo and which don’t, you can remedy your care now before your plant is ever at risk of death.

I sincerely hope this has been helpful and the information you were looking for. Until next time, keep growing by nurturing.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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