Monday, July 10, 2017

Meat-Eater Monday

Growing Carnivorous Plants Part 2: Feeding, Planting, and Summer and Winter Care

As discussed last week, carnivorous plants' most basic needs are sun, soil, and water, but for successful long-term care, other aspects must be examined.

1) Feeding your plant.

The whole point of having a carnivorous plant is for it to eat your bugs, right?

Think again.

Yes, carnivorous plants will eat bugs -- and plenty of them if grown outside as they should be -- however, you cannot expect to suddenly not have flies buzzing around your house anymore. Different types of carnivorous plants eat different types of bugs. Venus Flytraps will catch anything especially daddy-long-legs, spiders, and flies.  American pitcher plants may catch hundreds of flying insects especially wasps. Sundews can only hold onto smaller victims such as gnats and ants.

However, in order to trap and eat bugs, carnivorous plants must first attract them. So you may find that more bugs are around because of your pant than the number they can catch.

After all, it is rather unfair to expect one or two (or even 50+) plants to catch all of the millions of bugs around your home.

2) Summer Care

Most cold hardy carnivorous plants grow in bogs along the south-eastern coast of America -- they can handle the heat. Most growers in America (up the east coast, midwest, etc) should have no trouble when growing their plants outside in the summer.

However, in drier, more desert climates, I've heard that the plants tend to struggle a bit more. Any potted plant is more susceptible to those in the ground. To help your carnivorous plant to survive in a hot, dry summer, ensure that it has plenty of water ALWAYS. On very hot days, I've top watered my plants with cold water (remember distilled, or reverse osmosis only) or placed a distilled water ice cube near the base of the plant and let it gradually melt. It is important to keep the roots cool.

To help stabilize the temperature of the plant, always plant them in a big pot -- the bigger the better.

If it still seems too hot for your plant, you could bring it inside to a sunny windowsill during the afternoons. Try to leave it outside for the morning and evening if possible to allow it to soak up plenty of sun.

3) Winter Care

The same rules for summer care apply to winter care. The bigger the pot, the better. Cold hardy carnivorous plants are used to winter -- in fact, it is vital to them. However, care needs to be taken for their more exposed roots since the plants are in pots.


Carnivorous plants go "dormant" in the winter. This is a well-deserved rest period. Carnivorous plants will live for decades, ONLY if this step is observed every year. When the days shorten and it gets chilly, carnivorous plants stop growing. They do not catch bugs, and many leaves will turn brown and/or fall off.

If you live in an area where it rarely freezes for more than a few days and only snows a little, you shouldn't have to worry about your plants except on the coldest days.

However, if it gets really cold where you live (several 10+ day stretches of 20 degrees Fahrenheit or less). You'll have to take special care. All my plants have survived for years in very frigid winters so I'll outline here the steps I use to keep them safe.

NOTE: The following instructions are ONLY for areas where it gets extremely cold. If you live in a place with mild winters, your plants will not need this, and it will only harm them. Just let your plants go dormant as normal.

1. In the fall, I leave them unprotected until at least 8 frosts have passed (at least 4 of those being hard and cold)  The leaves will be brown and flopping over and you will see no new growth. Most Sundews will have died back, loosing all their leaves and some species will form a tiny winter "bud"

2. I cut off all the leaves. ALL of them. I hate this part. All of the leaves on your American pitcher plants and sundews need cut off even if they look beautiful. Be ruthless. It will pay off next year. (Tip: you can make bouquets of the pretty ones, but they tend to smell pretty bad...)

(Warning: Do NOT cut off the leaves from your purple pitcher plants or parrot pitchers. These plants are so slow growing that cutting off the leaves will stunt their growth -- trust me. I've done it. Only cut off the black leaves on your Venus flytraps.)

The reason it is helpful to cut off all the leaves after your plants are dormant in the fall is to help your plants preserve water. By cutting them off, you'll help keep your plants from wasting energy and getting dehydrated.

3. Place your plants in an unheated garage or against your house. (This step if optional. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't.)

4. Cover your plants with weed cloth or fabric of some kind.

5. Bury your plants using straw, hay, wood chips, or mulch.

6. Check periodically for mold.

7. When the weather starts warming up in early spring uncover your plants, place them in clean water and let them grow.

4) Planting

In the spring, it is a good idea to re-pot your plants. This renews the acidic environment carnivorous plants enjoy and prevents the build up of fatal nutrients. I get best results when I do this in early spring before they start growing. All you do is mix up your peat moss and perlite(or sand) with distilled water until it drips water when you squeeze it. Place the mix in a pot and dig a hole to place your plant in it. Remove your plant from the old soil and gently remove the old soil until the roots are clear and mostly free from the old soil. Carnivorous plant roots tend to be rather short and sparse so be careful.

Place your plant in a bigger pot if it outgrew its previous one. American pitcher plants have rhizomes, which are kinda like massive roots stretching along the ground half on top and half in the soil. If big enough, this rhizome can be broken into pieces -- just be sure there are roots on each piece. These pieces can be planted in their own pots to get you identical but smaller plants.

If you chose to divide your rhizome like that make sure you do it very early in the year before your plant starts growing and cut off any flowers your plant produces.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Meat-Eater Mondays


Growing Carnivorous Plants Part 1: Sunlight, Soil, and Water

Carnivorous plants are like any other plants in how they grow. They need sunlight, water, and soil. However, you can't throw them in just any soil and water and expect them to grow well. 
If grown properly, carnivorous plants can be very easy to grow.  

To understand how to grow carnivorous plants properly you must consider where they live. I had the opportunity to visit Jackson Bog several years ago where carnivorous plants live in the wild.

 As a general rule, carnivorous plants live in muddy sphagnum moss bogs and fens. These areas are often so acidic and deprived of nitrogen, normal plants cannot grow there. Therefore, strong sunlight warms carnivorous plant leaves all day long. 

Cold hardy carnivorous plants do not live in humid jungles but can occur all over the world including the United States. Therefore these plants can survive winter. 

Due to their need of lots of sunlight, carnivorous plants are best grown outside.

1) Sunlight
Sunlight is the most important part of growing carnivorous plants. Because they must produce nectar to attract bugs, expend lots of energy trapping bugs, and must produce enough digestive acids to eat their prey, carnivorous plants need a TON of sunlight to meet the energy need their life demands. How much is a ton exactly? 8+ hours of FULL sunlight every day, preferably a full summer day of sunlight. There are exceptions, but most cold hardy plants will appreciate a generous amount of bright, unfiltered sunlight. 

2) Soil
Carnivorous plants grow in sphagnum peat moss. However, peat moss is often sold in forms that add fertilizers and nutrients that will kill your plants. The safest way to buy peat moss is in a bale, ensuring that the label clearly says sphagnum and that it is 100% pure.  Natural bogs have drain water constantly, therefore, the peat moss needs to be mixed with clean washed playground sand or perlite. This mixture should be about half and half. 

3) Water
Since their natural habit is a bog, Carnivorous plants need a constant source of water. The easiest way to ensure your plant has enough water is to plant it in a plastic pot with drainage holes in the bottom and place it in a slightly larger saucer or dish. (If you don't care about looks, Tupperware works great for this.) Keep that dish constantly filled with water

However, in most places you won't be able to water your plant straight from the tap.  Since carnivorous plants are used to living in an area where there are few if any nutrients, their water must be free of any nutrients or chemicals. Straight tap water that has too many chemicals and nutrients will kill your plants eventually.  This problem can be solved by using rainwater, distilled water, or reverse osmosis water. 

However, if faced with the problem of a thirsty plant and if you don't have any of the proper water to give it, use tap water for a short period until you can get more water. It is better to keep your plant wet than to let it dry out.

This is a brief introduction to growing carnivorous plants people argue over the best way to grow them and there is certainly merit in other growing methods, but I have found this method the simplest and it had great results. My plants have been thriving for over a decade by being grown like this. 

Here is a picture of my plants earlier this spring in their outdoor setup.