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Caring for Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants are fun and interesting to have around. Learn the best way to care for them below. Click here to learn more from Ashcombe about garden care.

Carnivorous plant needs are not hard to meet, but they are exacting!

Most carnivores enjoy acid media like sphagnum moss and peat moss (which is decayed
sphagnum). Sand may be added to both. Live sphagnum can also be used. For clay, plastic or glass pots or containers with drainage holes, use straight peat or long strand sphagnum. There are different useful media, but these principles must be followed:

Provide enough sphagnum or peat to retain plenty of moisture.

Allow enough drainage to prevent stagnation and rot of medium.

Don’t use any soil, leaf mold or loam unless recommended by a grower. When planting carnivorous plants, soak the planting medium thoroughly, then squeeze out excess water. Place plants firmly in soil and water gently. For the first two weeks, protect them from direct sun and keep very humid.

Carnivorous plants enjoy unobstructed sunlight part or all of the day. Direct sunlight or a first-rate substitute is essential. Strong light creates compact growth and good coloration as well as encouraging flowering and seed production.

Plants should have at least one and preferably two or more hours of direct sunlight daily, with as much indirect light as possible. Less light results in scrawny foliage and lack of pigmentation.

Incandescent lamps are only valuable as supplements, as they throw off too much heat. Full spectrum lamps are good.

Carnivorous plants need constant moisture and humidity. Plants in pots must be watered and misted frequently. They thrive under humid greenhouse conditions. In the home humidity must be provided by standing pots in or above water and/or covering with glass or plastic. The need for humidity cannot be over-emphasized.

Tap water in some areas is too alkaline for carnivorous plants. Rain, distilled, and deionized water are safest, and the latter two are available at most pharmacies. Use tap water if you like but be prepared. Salts may collect in the soil and sweeten it too much, making it necessary to replant frequently with fresh media. It’s good to replant annually anyway, in early spring, as the organic soil components will decay with time.

Fish tanks, goldfish bowls, glass jars and terrariums make ideal homes for carnivorous plants. They retain humidity which promotes lush growth, as well as being pretty display pieces. An entire collection of Sundews, Bladderworts and Byblis can be housed in a ten-gallon aquarium, or a few small Sundews will grace a fine glass bubble. Except for their flower stalks, these plants will not outgrow their containers but rather flourish within them.

A windowsill with 2 or more hours or direct sun in the morning or afternoon is a fine spot for a jar of
Sundews, or they can be grown and display under fluorescent lamps. Care must be taken to prevent overheating by too much direct sun, and occasional ventilation provided to prevent mildew.

To plant a container, sprinkle a layer of gravel or other drainage material on the bottom. Then create a landscape with carnivorous plant mix and cover with a sprinkling of sand or milled sphagnum, and plant. Add colored stones or sand and cover; or put a potted plant in a covered jar, or a plant in a mound of live sphagnum.

Carnivorous plants are quite capable of surviving without being fed. They can attract and capture their own food, or they can be hand fed. Most eat small insects, though the larger Drosera can handle house flies with ease. If hand feeding, capture bugs which will not overtax the plant, and don’t over feed; a few small insects a month during the growing season will be plenty. Don’t use hamburger or other mammalian meat as the plants will not be able to digest it. Large insects or meat will sit and rot, ruining the leaf.

Using fertilizers to encourage growth is risky since these plants are accustomed to low nutrient levels. Most commonly 1/4 strength solution of fish emulsion is used as a foliage bath. The wrong kind of fertilizers or amount will certainly kill the plants, so if in doubt, don’t.

Flowering requires proper care of the plant. When buds appear on weak or newly transplanted specimens, snip them off to save the plant’s energy. Failure to set buds or seeds is usually due to a lack of light, humidity or both.

All plants are accustomed to some seasonal changes. Grow climatic types together, especially if in group plantings. North temperate types are good for northern greenhouses and homes and require a dormant period of three months to thrive and flower more than one year.

Most trouble can be traced to one or more of the basic cultural elements – moisture, humidity, light, acid soil, drainage and ventilation. First, re-examine the growing conditions. Perhaps the soil has become alkaline (litmus or soil test kit will indicate this), or the humidity may be too low.

Milled sphagnum and sand help prevent mildew, but at times a fungicide may be necessary. Pests are rare but do occur. Kelthane will dispatch mites. Fungus gnats are common but usually no more than a good source of plant food.

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