Bamboos are actually classified as grasses and belong to the subfamily Bambusoideae. Hundreds of cultivars of bamboo exist, ranging in height from 100 feet tall to just a few inches. Many can withstand sub-zero temperatures while others are tropical natives. The shorter, tropical species make good subjects for indoor culture and will readily adapt to an indoor environment.
Choosing the Right Cultivar
The lucky bamboo, of Feng Shui fame, can be found in most grocery stores and garden centers, but many other cultivars make striking indoor subjects. Evaluate the environmental conditions your plant will be grown in. Many other cultivars thrive in moderate to low light situations and will make good indoor subjects.
Shiroshima bamboo makes a wonderful indoor subject with its variegated leaves. It can grow to a height of 10 feet. The top can be pruned and still maintain a good appearance in a room with lower ceilings. Find a local nursery that specializes in bamboo, to help you with your selection.
The Right Container
Bamboo are shallow rooted and will do best in a container that has a squat, tub-like shape. Bamboo have underground stems, called rhizomes, that spread out from the crown. It is important to choose a container that will allow for adequate spreading of the roots. The container must also have drainage holes. Bamboo won't tolerate wet feet. Place a few inches of pebbles or broken flower pots in the bottom of the container before planting. There should be at least 2 inches or more between the side of the container and the root ball.
Soil and Fertilizer
Bamboo are grasses and need a nutrient-rich soil. Add some organic material to the soil, such as compost, peat moss or manure. A high-nitrogen, low-potash fertilizer for foliage plants is best. Stay away from fertilizers formulated for flowering plants.
Water and Humidity
Allow the bamboo to dry out between waterings. Overwatering will result in root rot. Bamboo will let you know when it is time to water, because its leaves will begin to curl. Plants require less water in the winter. Maintaining the proper humidity levels is important. This can be achieved by placing the plant on a tray of pebbles. Keep the pebble tray filled with water. A few drops of bleach will keep the pebble from getting slimy.
All bamboo handle pruning well. To maintain vigorous plants, remove thin, weak culms (stems). This will also produce a neater, more elegant appearance. Removing the leaves from the lower third of the culms is also recommended. Plants that grow too tall for their location can be topped without damage. Remove the growing tips when the plant has reached the desired height.
Your bamboo plant will eventually need repotting. Turn the container on its side and slip the plant out of the pot. Prune away any damaged roots. You can trim the roots and repot the plant in the same container. Remove enough of the root ball to leave at least 2 inches between the edge of the pot and the plant. Add some fresh potting mix and you are done. Cut back the top and remove a third of the culms at the same time.