Top 5 Secrets to Keeping Your Carnivorous Plants Alive, Healthy and Beautiful
By Jacob Farin
SECRET #1: Know thy plant.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but one that first-time growers overlook. There are many types of carnivorous plants occurring on every continent in the world, except Antarctica.
If you were to go on a world-wide expedition looking for as many types of carnivorous plants you can possibly find, you will discover carnivorous plants growing in Japan, China, Australia, India, South Africa, Spain, France, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and the United States.
If you were to explore the United States alone, you will find carnivorous plants in nearly all of the 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
So, the first secret in keeping your carnivorous plants alive, healthy and beautiful is to know what type of carnivorous plant you have. With thousands of species of carnivorous plants in the world, each type requires their own care.
Hopefully, your plant came with a tag that identifies its species. If not, visit Sarracenia Northwest for a list of carnivorous plants that are commonly grown in cultivation.
SECRET #2: Brighten their days with full sun.
Once you know what type of carnivorous plants you have, just duplicate their natural surroundings. This means giving your plants the type of sun exposure and water they might experience in the wild.
Lets start with sun. It often surprises many people to find out that the vast majority of carnivorous plants enjoy full sun. You see, carnivorous plants grow in bogs, which are open fields of wetlands.
Most people confuse bogs with marshes. Marshes typically are closer to the ocean and contain slightly salted water. Marshes are also overgrown with trees, making them shady.
Bogs, on the other hand, contain fresh water, usually bubbling up from an underground spring, and can be found on mountaintops and other places far away from the ocean. If you see a bog in nature, you will notice that there are no trees in it. So, all plants growing in a bog are exposed to full sun.
This is true for Venus Flytraps, North American Pitcher Plants and nearly all Sundews. As a result, these plants do best growing in 6-8 hours of direct sunlight during their growing season. Four hours of direct sunlight are definitely the absolute minimum. Anything less than that will cause your plants to struggle for survival.
The only types of carnivorous plants that are not exposed to full sun in the wild are Asian Pitcher Plants, Butterworts and some species of Sundews. These plants prefer bright indirect light.
Now you know what types of carnivorous plants you have, give it the proper sunlight. With US native plants, grow them outside during the growing season (spring through fall). With Asian Pitcher Plants and Butterworts, grow them in a window that receives bright indirect light.
If you do not have enough natural light, use 20-40W fluorescent light tubes or fluorescent compact bulbs that are equivalent to 100W. Keep the light source about 8 inches above the plant, and keep it on for 12-14 hours per day.
Avoid using incandescent bulbs because it produces too much heat and the wrong type of light.
Secret #3: Soak their feet.
After giving your carnivorous plants the right amount of light (full sun, partial sun or indirect light), now you need to make sure it gets the right amount of water.
Nearly all carnivorous plants grow in bogs, which are constantly wet. So, if you want to duplicate what they experience out in nature, you need to provide constantly wet soil.
Some people prefer to simply water their plants every day. Personally, I find this to be a real drag, especially when I have so many other things to do, like watch a good DVD or scratch my dog’s belly.
The easiest way to make sure the soil is constantly wet is to keep your plant in a bit of standing water. Use a tray, bowl, saucer or any container that holds water. Fill the container with water and place your plant right in. Allow the water to go half way up the pot. Just make sure you do not drown the crown or base of the plant. Remember, they are bog plants, not water plants (big difference!).
But, before your plants start soaking their little feet, make the water is relatively pure. It does not need to be blessed by a Tibetan monk, but it should at least have low levels of minerals (less than 100 parts per million). Check with your local aquarium supply store for water hardness kits.
You can use distilled water or rainwater, but this is feasible only if you have only a few carnivorous plants. If you are like me, you might have several thousand.
In that case, local tap water will do just fine. If the water has a lot of naturally occurring minerals or additives to make the water soft, consider hooking your hose up to a reverse-osmosis unit. Check your local hardware store for this type of filter.
Avoid using simple charcoal-filtration units. Although they are great in removing chlorine and other not-so-tasty chemicals, they are inadequate in removing minerals.
One more thing: some carnivorous plants prefer not to have their feet dunked in water. This is true with Asian Pitcher Plants. They prefer to have moist soil rather than wet soil. With these plants, water them once or twice weekly.
Secret #4: Season your plants.
One day while I was at the Farmers’ Market selling my carnivorous plants, a customer stopped by and said that she had the good fortune to see a type of carnivorous plant growing in the wild while visiting friends in Canada.
I immediately knew which plant she had seen, so I held up a Purple Pitcher Plant and she exclaimed, “Yes, that is the plant I saw!”
I then told her how easy it was to grow that plant outdoors all year round, to which she replied, “But during the winter, you have to bring them indoors, right?”
“Why would you need to do that?”
“Because it will get too cold for them,” she stated with authority.
At that point, I was very puzzled. So, I said to her, “If you saw them growing in the wild in Canada, surely they can live outdoors in Oregon. It gets much colder in Canada than it does in Oregon.”
It amazes me how often some people assume that just because a plant is carnivorous it is: 1) tropical, 2) delicate, and 3) difficult to grow. This is precisely why people kill their carnivorous plants. They treat them as a tropical, delicate carnivorous plant that is difficult to grow without knowing if they actually have a tropical, delicate carnivorous plant that is difficult to grow. This is definitely a recipe for disaster.
All carnivorous plants native to the United States and Canada are considered temperate plants, meaning they go dormant during the winter months, and come right back to life in spring and summer. Other non-carnivorous plants that do this are roses, daisies, daffodils and thousands upon thousands of other types of plants grown all around the world.
This is why Secret #1 is a very important secret. You need to know what type of plant you have to determine whether it requires winter dormancy or if it needs to be indoors during those cold winter months.
Temperate plants need to rest up for spring. Without their winter rest, they get very cranky and may fail to grow in spring. Think of how you feel when you do not get enough sleep. So, if you want healthy vibrant plants in spring, give them a winter rest. They might even reward you with flowers!
Secret #5: Hold the fertilizer, please.
If you want gorgeous looking carnivorous plants during the growing season, repot your plants right before they come out of dormancy. In most cases, this would be in March. Repotting your plants serves two purposes.
Firstly, carnivorous plants need room to grow. Depending on the species, some rhizomes can get quite large. Other species have long deep taproots. So, it is important that you give these guys enough root space.
Secondly, changing the soil yearly aerates the roots. With fresh oxygen, roots will grow more robustly, producing healthier plants.
Springtime is also a time when you should cut off dead leaves or any leaves that have turned brown. This will prevent fungal infections and increase sunlight to the base of the plant.
When repotting your plants, a standard soil mix to use is 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Peat moss adds acidity and retains moisture, while perlite provides drainage.
This soil recipe is sufficient for 80% of all carnivorous plants. You can adjust the recipe by adding more perlite or other inert matter to increase the drainage. Just make sure the soil is void of nutrients and fertilizer.
Fertilizer is toxic to carnivorous plants and will burn their roots. (Very painful.) Carnivorous plants will get all of their nutrients from insects caught in their leaves.
There you have it! You have just read the TOP 5 SECRETS TO KEEPING YOUR CARNIVOROUS PLANTS ALIVE, HEALTHY AND BEAUTIFUL.
Secret #1: Correctly identify the type of carnivorous plant you have. Remember, not all carnivorous plants are created equal. Some grow in temperate bogs, while others grow in hot humid jungles.
Secret #2: Brighten their days with full sun.
Secret #3: Soak their feet.
Secret #4: Season your plants.
Secret #5: Repot yearly and hold the fertilizer.
Each secret is an important part of the foundation on which you can grow beautiful carnivorous plants all year round.
Believe it or not, you now know more about growing carnivorous plants than you local nursery. Really, when was the last time you saw Venus Flytraps being sold in the outdoor plant section? In nearly all cases, you will find them in the indoor plant section, amongst the tropical plants.
When you follow these simple steps, your carnivorous plants will have no choice but grow into healthy and beautiful plants that you can be proud of!
Always start with healthy and beautiful carnivorous plants. Make sure the seller is growing them correctly; otherwise you will have an uphill battle trying to keep your plants alive.
For healthy and beautiful carnivorous plants direct from experienced growers, visit Sarracenia Northwest at http://www.cobraplant.com.
About the Author
Jacob Farin is co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest, a nursery specializing in the cultivation of beautiful carnivorous plants. Visit him at http://www.cobraplant.com.