Growing Carnivorous Plants – Complete Guide
Most carnivorous plants have similar needs; bright light, high humidity, and a proper mix of nutrient-poor medium for them to grow in. In nature, carnivorous plants evolved in bogs and marshy areas that are very low in soil nutrients. They adapted by developing ways for their leaves to trap and digest insects. Therefore, any traditional fertilizing, or high nutrient potting soil is very bad for these plants. We recommend a mix of 60% peat moss and 40% white pumice or perlite. Washed sand can also be added to the mix, but stay away from any decorative rocks or bleached additives. Live sphagnum moss, or dry sphagnum moss once re-hydrated, are also an excellent growing medium for nearly all carnivorous plants. Do not use other types of moss, such as ‘Spanish moss’, as they are not suitable for carnivorous plants. Generally speaking, any store-bought potting soil will not work, you really have to use the peat/sphagnum based mediums.
Good Water is a Factor in Successfully Raising Carnivorous Plants
They are sensitive to chemicals and minerals in the water, and hard water or water treated with chlorine generally should not be used. Rainwater is excellent, and bottled water is second best, making sure it contains no added minerals. If you must use city water or hard well water, it is best to flush out your plants from time to time to wash out excessive buildups of anything harmful. If you have chlorine in your water, at least let it sit for 24 hours so that some of the chlorine may evaporate. It is best, especially for beginners, to stick to bottled or rainwater.
There Is Never a Need to Fertilize Any Carnivorous Plants
This can be especially stressful on them, and while they may show an initial spike in growth, in the long run, the fertilizers will most likely prove to be too much for the plant to digest. Some experienced growers will use fertilizers in diluted amounts, but only at their own risk. As a general rule, beginners should never fertilize their carnivorous plants.
Terrariums are great for growing carnivorous plants indoors, though some species are better suited to it than others. A terrarium can be as simple as a small fish tank with a plastic lid. The idea is to keep the humidity high for your plants this way. But, be careful that your terrarium doesn’t get too warm, especially if in sunlight. If you are concerned about having enough light, fluorescent lights work nicely when placed 6-12″ above the plants.
Some species, such as Venus flytraps and Sarracenia, require a dormancy period each year. During this time they will stop growing and may appear to be browning and getting a bit ugly. This is natural, as each year’s growth dies off, and the plant stores energy deep inside, waiting for the following spring to resume growth. It is best to provide 3-5 months of dormancy for your plants.
Carnivorous Plants Will Grow Flowers Like Many Other Plants
You might not expect some of the dazzling floral displays that sarracenia are capable of, or the charming tiny pink and white flowers common to sundews, but they do grow them. For beginning growers, it is best to remove flower stalks before they develop, as they will focus a lot of the plant’s energy into growing the bloom. By removing the bloom, more of that energy will go towards general growth, increasing the chance of success for your plant overall.
As tempting as it is, you really shouldn’t force-feed your plants. You do not need to feed them for them to survive, they do quite well on their own, even without eating many insects. You may be surprised by what they catch on their own.
Most All Carnivorous Plants
You can reproduce most carnivorous plant species through leaf cuttings or growth point division, just as with most house plants. If kept wet and in a proper medium, most leaf cuttings will take root and grow into mature plants. When taking leaf cuttings, try to cut it right down to the growth point, including a ‘basal portion’ or ‘rhizome portion’ if possible. Keep light bright and be careful of mold.
Specific Information Carnivorous Plants
These guys like lots and lots of bright light, and soil which is always wet during their growing season. It is best to use a saucer or tray to keep the plant in 1″ or so of water. If kept indoors, an east or southeast-facing window should provide enough light, but make sure your plant doesn’t get too hot. If kept outdoors, be very sure that your plant never dries out. Keep your venus flytrap in the nearly full bright sun all day if possible. In late fall your plant will begin to go into dormancy. Venus flytraps can survive freezing temperatures, but not extreme temperatures. It is best to protect your plants from freezing solid, or open exposure to frost for any prolonged period. During dormancy, they do not need any light as they are not growing, and they do not need a lot of water. Don’t let them dry out completely, but don’t keep them excessively wet. You can bring them into a shed or garage to protect them from freezing temps when necessary, but do not bring them into warmth as it will throw off their dormancy clock. In the spring they will be ready to grow again, at that time resume watering. A plant kept through the winter may need to be in a larger pot the following year, and venus flytraps will commonly split and divide into several plants during a year. They can be divided and repotted each spring before active growth resumes. Venus flytraps will produce flower stalks with clusters of white blooms. While experienced growers can get them to produce seeds, it is generally best for beginners to remove the stalks before they bloom.
If dormant venus flytraps are purchased offseason, then it is best to keep them in your refrigerator until you are ready to plant them. Keep them in a baggie or something similar so they don’t dry out, but they shouldn’t be wet either. If kept too wet they can succumb to mildew, use a fungicide powder to protect them, or check on them often to make sure they are not rotting. Venus flytraps can be grown during offseasons in terrariums, but will still need dormancy eventually. Many growers have flytraps that they will keep in terrariums in the wintertime, and provide an offseason dormancy in the refrigerator.
When planting bare-root venus flytrap bulbs, it is best to prepare and wet your soil mix, then add it to your pot. Tamp it down slightly, then take a butter knife and make a hole in the center in which to place the bulb. Do not plant it too deeply, only the roots and white lower portions of the bulb need to be beneath the soil, the growth point should not be buried. After placing the bulb in its place, tamp it down slightly again. Then place the pot in its saucer of water and put it where you want to keep it and leave it alone. It is so much fun to trigger those little traps, but they don’t appreciate it. It is best to let the traps be triggered naturally, where there is a chance of a reward for their effort.
ADDITIONAL CARE INFORMATION FOR VENUS FLYTRAPS
The most important things to avoid:
1- Excessive Heat
Keep indoor and especially domed or terrarium grown plants out of the direct hot sun.
2- Low Humidity
Keep well above 50%. If you live in a dry climate, you will not be able to grow these without a terrarium or humid enclosure.
3- Keeping your VFT too Wet for the Amount of Light It Is Getting
Plants that are kept too wet may rot. During the summer when kept outdoors, they can be kept very wet. Indoors they will require less water, but never let them dry out.
4- Excessive Handling
As much as they may seem like pets, the more you handle them the more stressed they will be. VFT That are showing signs of stress are not necessarily doomed. They grow from bulbs, which store a lot of energy for the plant. Leaves that have blackened and died are only leaves, and the plant can grow more as long as the bulb is healthy. The bulb should be a creamy white color. If the plant is having a hard time, un-pot it and check for fungus or any rotting that may be occurring for various reasons. Dust the bulb with a fungicide and re-plant it. Even if most of the rest of the plant has died back, the bulb can still produce new growth. Some plants will die back quite a bit while acclimating to new conditions. Never give up on a VFT plant until you are sure that the bulb has completely turned to mush, we have seen some amazing recoveries with these.
Sarracenia Pitcher Plants
While these plants can be grown in terrariums, they will get quite large eventually and can outgrow most setups. Mature Sarracenia Leucophylla, for instance, can get to be over 40″ tall when grown right. Younger sarracenia is very interesting to grow in terrariums, but for many reasons, it is best to grow sarracenia outdoors when possible. They have very similar requirements as Venus flytraps, same soil, same watering methods, same dormancy requirements. These plants also like the bright sun all day.
When planting a bare root sarracenia, only the roots and a lower portion of the rhizome need to be beneath the soil level. It is best to first prepare and wet your soil, then fill your pot 1/3-1/2 way up, and place the roots in, and center the rhizome. Then fill in soil around the rest of the plant until the pot is full, being sure not to bury the growth points. Tamp it all down slightly, and place in a tray of water, then put it where you want it to live and let it settle in.
These plants will also go dormant during the fall, some species of Sarracenia will begin to slow down sooner than others. They will also require the 3-5 month dormancy, and will resume growth in mid-late spring. They will also bulk up some from year to year and may require a larger pot.
‘Darlingtonia Californica’ is a very close relative of Sarracenia, and is native to North America’s northwest coastal and mountain regions. The same growing information as Sarracenia can be followed, but Cobra Lilies require higher humidity and cooler nights. In nature, Cobra Lilies experience cold nights even in the summertime, as they can grow at very high altitudes. When grown in captivity, it can be difficult to keep their roots cool enough, and most growers will fail with them for that reason. Growers that see the most success with Cobra Lilies will commonly use elaborate water recirculation systems or water by hand with very cold water daily. Cobra Lily blooms are stunning.
Nepenthes Pitcher Plants
These are tropical pitcher plants and will need warm temps and humidity year-round. They do not observe dormancy and will grow year-round. Nepenthes grow very well in pure live sphagnum moss, and will also do nicely in mixes similar to those used for venus flytraps and Sarracenia. If no live or re-hydrated sphagnum moss is available, a mix of 60/40 peat moss/pumice or perlite will work fine and can be amended with sand for better drainage.
Nepenthes like high humidity, but not excessively wet soil. This can be tricky, as they will not tolerate being in a tray of water like Sarracenia will. They will also not tolerate dry soil and can wither quite fast when unhappy. Therefore, they will need to be attended to more so than sarracenia or venus flytraps. As a rule, a minimum of 50% humidity is required for nepenthes and temperatures that never dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They can do nicely as houseplants under these conditions, though some may need to slowly acclimate. Generally, it is best to grow these plants in terrariums, keeping the humidity levels very high. They will appreciate more filtered light but still very bright. Direct sun can be harmful, especially if the plant is enclosed.
Nepenthes will vine upward and outgrow most terrariums if not carefully pruned from time to time, as new growth appears lower on the stem, trim excessive growth above it as needed.
Sundew plants get their name from the sticky dew drops that form on their leaves. They also like lots of sun. They will do great when grown in a terrarium with other carnivorous plants, as they have most of the same requirements. Some types of sundews will need dormancy, while some are tropical and will not require any dormancy period. Generally, a mix of peat moss/perlite will work nicely, but some types may benefit more from other mediums such as sand or live sphagnum moss. Many types of sundews will produce tall flower scapes with many many blooms, and some will even self pollinate producing hundreds if not thousands of tiny seeds. Fresh seed can be germinated on pots of pure wet peat moss, and small plants can be separated and replanted as they get established. Never let sundews dry out.
Also known as ‘butterworts’, these plants have most of the same traits and growth requirements of sundews, follow the same directions. Butterworts are also ‘sticky’ plants and can catch many soil gnats and small insects. Butterworts produce some of the nicest blooms of all carnivorous plants, let them flower and you will be in for a treat. They are more difficult to propagate than sundews, and getting them to produce seed can be tricky.
Germination of Carnivorous Plant seeds can be a slow process. Some species require cold stratification, meaning that they need an extended period of cold temperatures before they will sprout. Sarracenia and Darlingtonia seed will both require a minimum 2 months stratification in between 33 and 40 degrees temperature. One good way to do this is to sprinkle the seed across a moist paper towel, fold it up and put it in a plastic bag, and place it in your refrigerator for the required amount of time. Check on them from time to time to be sure they aren’t getting any mold, you might also want to use a light dusting of fungicide powder.
Some species will require no cold stratification, such as Drosera and Venus Flytrap seeds.
Start seeds when they are ready by spreading them evenly on the preferred medium, do not bury them, keep them damp, and in high humidity and bright light. It can still take some time for them to sprout, and they will grow very slowly. In the seedling stage, many CP can be overtaken by mold or maybe outgrown by the peat moss they are planted on. Be careful to keep the seedlings growing free of any such conditions. Fungicide powder can be used to combat the mold, and growing peat moss can be trimmed back.
These will have very fragile and very shallow root systems. Do not attempt to clean soil away from the roots, rather just fill your pot with appropriate soil mixture, wet the mixture, then make a shallow impression for the root system to set down into. Use a toothpick or similar narrow tool to push down into the soil around the base of the plant, gently push soil around the roots. Don’t tamp these down, just keep them wet and humid, and leave them alone, the roots will grow into the new pot.
Sundews can have a variety of root system types depending on the species. D. Adelaide or D.Binata will have wirey traveling roots, while D.Rotundifolia will most often form an elongated diminishing stem with not much-resembling roots. If the plants came in a cluster, leave the cluster intact and plant it as-is. Only bury the lower portion of the sphagnum moss clump, and keep the whole pot nice and wet while the plants grow and root in. All sundews will appreciate high ambient humidity, but most do not like to be directly sprayed when misting. This can cause leaves and tentacles to deteriorate before they would otherwise.
If received in a domed pot, carefully remove all of the plastic packagings. The dome will not be necessary in most cases, but if you live where there are very dry conditions, the dome may be necessary as humidity is crucial. It is best to move the plant into a terrarium on those cases, then the dome will not be necessary if humidity is high enough. If received bare-root, first fill your pot with wet growing medium(peat moss based), tamp the mix down slightly, then take a butter knife and make a div it in the soil wide enough for your plant to fit down into, roots and all. VFT Only grow 4 or 5 wire roots each year, and they will always grow straight down. Do not bury the bulb, make sure that the growing point is exposed, while the white lower portions of the bulb are underplanting medium. Tamp the soil in around the bulbs and put them in a good light.
These will have robust root systems. Fill an appropriately sized pot about 1/3-1/2 way up, then place the root system in and center your plant, hold it in place with one hand, and add soil with the other until the plant is supported. Tamp it down slightly, then add more soil around the top until the pot is nicely full. Do not bury the growth points, only the roots, and lower rhizome portion.
These can sometimes form small root systems compared to the size of the overall plant. Fill your pot to the top, then use your fingers to make a hole large enough for the root system, place the root system in the hole, and gently push the soil in around it until the pot is full. Tamp it down slightly, and put it in its new home and Leave It Alone. Nepenthes will like to grow into one spot that they can call their own.
After transplanting, leave your plants alone. They will need time to adjust and root in. Most all CP will appreciate tray watering, and Not top watering, especially when rooting in.
Carnivorous Plants DO NOT like to be top watered. This disturbs their roots and they hate that. Use the tray method, and keep up to 1″ of water in it at all times during the growing season. EXCEPT FOR Nepenthes, which most species of will not tolerate being in a tray of water, and also do not like top watering. We use a spray bottle of distilled water and take time to spray the Nepenthes plants each day, making sure the growing medium stays moist but not overly wet. For Heliamphora, only use about 1/2″ of water in the tray, and let them drink it all, then skip a day before adding more.
DORMANCY ALERT- Please be aware, if you purchased your plants out of season, they will need to complete dormancy before you can expect them to grow for you. Dormancy is typically from late fall to early spring each year.
TROUBLESHOOTING – Is my plant growing OK?
Time of year will mean everything when considering how much your plant is or isn’t growing. If purchased in the spring near the end of dormancy, it should begin to grow as soon as it observes warmer temperatures. Growth will be strong and steady through mid-summer when some species of perennial carnivores will begin to slow down. If a plant is purchased in mid-late summer, it may not grow much more before going dormant. Plants purchased during dormancy will typically have leaves trimmed and will appear as a healthy rooted bulb or rhizome. Failure to observe dormancy for plants that require it will certainly kill them, this is the leading cause of venus flytrap death in captivity.
Also, venus flytrap plants purchased mid growing season will probably do best in a bright window or a well-lit terrarium for the remainder of that growing season, even if you live in a humid (50%+) climate where they can be kept outdoors. Outdoor sun during re-acclimation can burn the leaves, although it may not kill the plant. If you do plan to keep them outdoors, introduce them to the full sun slowly, over 2 weeks or so.
Is my plant happy?
If your plant appears to be struggling, there are a few things to consider. Most concerns can be addressed by increasing humidity, which is a crucial element in raising carnivorous plants. Some growers will mist their plants daily. Strong light is also essential. While these plants will grow for you, they may need to acclimate to your growing conditions. This is common when transporting exotic plants between different growing zones.
Table of Contents
- 1 Growing Carnivorous Plants – Complete Guide
- 1.1 Specific Information Carnivorous Plants
- 1.2 ADDITIONAL CARE INFORMATION FOR VENUS FLYTRAPS
- 1.3 Seed Germination
- 1.4 Planting Instructions