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,
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 a
reputable website to find photographs to help you identify the plant you have.
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
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
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 to 40-watt fluorescent light tubes or
fluorescent compact bulbs that are equivalent to 100 watts. Keep the light source
about 6 to 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
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
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
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
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.
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