Growing Carnivorous Plants

Introduction

So you want to grow carnivorous plants, huh? Well, you will be happy to know that they are very easy to grow once you get everything set up. The first thing you will need to do is learn about the different soils that these plants grow in. If you have a garden at your house or you have grown plants before, you might want to try to grow these carnivorous plants like you grow your other plants. Sadly, this leads to the death of your little plants...in fact, this has even led to the rumor that carnivorous plants die very easy. If you follow a few easy steps, you will find that carnivorous plants are not only very easy to grow, but will thrive to a beautiful collection in no time!

Knowing Where Carnivorous Plants Grow

Although these plants grow all over the world, most of them live in similar places. Most of these plants live in wet places like swamps and marshes. Some, such as Bladderworts, live in lakes and marshes. Most, such as Purple Pitcher Plants, will live with other wetland plants downstream from beaver dams, in low valleys by rivers and streams, or other very wet places. All of these places have in common that there is lots of bright sunlight, lots of water, and very few nutrients. Those are the basic conditions that you will need to make for your plants. To make these conditions, the best thing to do is to construct a Terrarium, which is a tank made into a little contained habitat for your plants.

The Five Factors

The Five Factors
Use proper soil
Keep plants wet with pure water
Keep plants in bright light
Only use pure water and NO fertilizers
Keep temperature and humidity right

To keep your plants healthy, you will need to remember five things that I will call Factors. The first is to use a proper soil. While regular garden or house plant potting soil is best for normal house plants, you need to use special kinds of ingredients to make a potting soil for your carnivorous plants. The most commonly used and available part of the potting soil is called Long-Fibered Sphagnum Moss and you can buy it at garden centers. Other ingredients are listed below. The next factor is to keep the plants very wet, but it is important that you only use pure water. I will talk about the water a little later. The next thing to remember is that these plants like lots of light. A dark corner in the room will not give them enough light, but a single little light bulb will not work too well, either. These plants should get enough to eat that unless you are an expert, you do not want to fertilize your plants...this will often kill them. Water is also important. Many people have had a Venus Fly Trap that died before too long. The most common reason is that tap water will kill these plants. You need to use water this is purified in some way. You can buy distilled water at any grocery store. Many of the bottled waters are purified, but you need to read the label carefully, some are not pure! I use a cool 5 stage reverse osmosis water purifier for my water!

Soil

The major reason that you need to use special potting soil and not regular house plant potting soil is that carnivorous plants have different types of roots than most other plants. In most plants, the roots get both water and nutrients from the soil, so the soil needs to be able to hold nutrients as well as water. In carnivorous plants, the only thing that the roots do is collect water. Because of this, the soil for carnivorous plants needs to be able to hold a lot of water.

Many Carnivorous Plant growers use different types of growth mediums. I use mostly long-fibered sphagnum moss, which is kind of like long, spongy fibers that hold water well. There are other ingredients that I also use from time to time such as sand and vermiculite. Many people will also use perlite, lava rock, pumice, and I know of one grower who actually uses cedar chips! Use the table below to learn more about common carnivorous plant potting soil ingredients. If you are making carnivorous plant potting soil, please use gloves to mix everything up!

Name Description
Long-fibered Sphagnum Moss This is long, stringy, sponge-like moss that is harvested out of special bogs. In the wild, many carnivorous plants grow in this moss. The color can be light to very dark brown. This is often the primary part of any potting mix.

Sand You can buy sand from a gardening center. Your sand should always be washed very well with pure water before putting your plants in it. The best sand to use is that sold for soil mixes like Cactus sand. Sandbox sand can also work, but you should wash it a few times.

Vermiculite This should be used with caution because it often will contain minerals that are harmful to your plants. I still use vermiculite to lighten up some soils to provide better air flow. It is very light, golden-brown chips. I will add a small handful into a bowl of long-fiber sphagnum moss with water and mix the two together, squeezing the water out like a sponge, dipping into the water, and continuing until the mix is water-logged.

Perlite This is a mineral rock used to lighten the soil, hold water, and allow air circulation. Perlite is white and can come in a variety of sizes.

Shredded Tree Bark This is used for plants that like very light soil that does not hold much water. It is also used to put on top of the other soil in the pot to make the top look more decorative.

Water

When people know that I collect carnivorous plants, they always tell me that they had a Venus Fly Trap, but that it died. The first thing I ask them is, "Did you give it tap water?" And almost always, that is what happened! Tap water is the water that comes right out of the sink. The problem is that it contains minerals and salts dissolved in it. Although it is safe for you and me to drink, it is not safe for carnivorous plants. For these plants, your water needs to be pure.

Pure water is any water that is either distilled or purified by using a reverse osmosis filter. Purified water can be purchased from a grocery store, or you can get a small reverse osmosis filter if your collection gets too large. Once you have the water, you need to water the plants. The best way is to use the Tray Watering Method where you put your plants in a large tray and keep about 1 inch of water in the bottom. This also helps to keep the humidity at the right level! There are a few plants, such as Nepenthes sp. and Australian Pitcher Plants that do not like this method, but most others are fine with it. You can also water your plants by watering the soil like you do for regular plants, but often that takes a lot of time since most carnivorous plants like the soil very wet all the time.

Light

It is important that all plants get enough light, but in carnivorous plants, it is the proper light levels that give many plants the most attractive colors. For example, there are many varieties of Venus Fly Traps that will turn dark red color if they have enough light. In fact, even in a typical Fly Trap, you can tell your plant is getting enough light if the inside of the traps are pink in color. American Pitcher Plants also only get their striking colors if they are getting sufficient light. The same goes for most carnivorous plants.

To give your plants enough light, there are a few things you can do. If you live in the proper climate, you can grow some plants on a windowsill outside. The next way to get enough light is to use artificial lights. You do not need to get expensive grow lights, but instead, use combinations of lights. In my terrarium, I use eight 4-foot light bulbs. 2 are cool white, 2 are warm white, 2 are 6500K full spectrum, and 2 are 7000K full spectrum. In reality, many expert growers will say that you only need a combination of warm white and cool white. I also use twice as many lights as many other terrariums of the size that mine is.

Fertilizers

We have already talked about how minerals in the water can kill carnivorous plants. That is why it is important to only use pure water to give your plants. One other thing that needs mentioned is the use of fertilizers. While it is possible to successfully fertilize a carnivorous plant, it is extremely hard to do correctly and is even far better to feed the plant. Besides, feeding the plant is fun!

The reason that someone might fertilize a plant is that some plants do not always have traps. This is the case of a young or sick Nepenthes sp., whose traps are only on the tip of the leaf. Some young plants are not yet mature enough to collect insects as food. In most cases, you will not need to fertilize your plants and it might kill them if you try.

Temperature and Humidity

When you are growing your plants, you need to understand where they live in the wild so that you can give them the best temperature and humidity. If a plant grows on top of a mountain such as many Nepenthes sp., you will need to mimic the fast temperature drops at night time for your plant to be happy. Most plants are happy with being in a standard terrarium that is kept at about 70-85 degrees (F) and about 60-90 percent humidity. If you design a terrarium based on the directions on this site, you will most likely get these conditions if the terrarium is left out at room temperature.

When you are growing your own plants, keep in mind that a few plants do not like these conditions, so make sure that when you get a new plant, you check on the growing conditions to be sure you are growing them right. The table below shows a few plants that would like some special care. This list is not complete, but it gives you an idea of how to care for some plants.

Plant Different Conditions
Cobra Lily Needs to have its root cool, prefers shade instead of bright light.
Nepenthes sp. Does not like the Tray Watering Method.
Sun Pitcher Tolerates the Tray Watering Method, but should also be watered overhead.
Australian Pitcher Does not like the Tray Watering Method.
American Pitchers Often times too tall for a standard terrarium

Pots and Transplants

First about transplanting. If your plants are growing too much, getting too big for the pot, or have not been repotted in about 2 years or more, they may need to be repotted. The best way to do this is to spread out a large plastic bag, have a spray bottle of pure water, and lots of pure water handy. Get the roots of the plant extremely wet, get your soil mix prepared and into the new pot, and then move the plant from the old pot to the new one. In some cases, the plant will need to be split because the roots will be big enough to become two plants. Just remember to be quick and careful.

When getting pots, consider your watering method and where you will put the plant. First, most plants will do best in plastic pots. The reason is that you will be using the Tray Watering Method to water plants, and if you use clay pots, the water will seep out the sides and grow a slimy algae. There are a few plants that like the clay pots, and these would be plants that you will water overhead. The next thing you will want to consider is that some plants you will want out as decorative plants, so you might want some attractive glazed pots to grow some plants. If a pot is plastic or glazed, it should be good to use for your plants.


Now that you have read the basics of growing carnivorous plants, use the menu on the left to learn about how to make a suitable growing place for your plants. The next table will guide you in choosing what method to use when you grow your plants. I have included plans to make a few different sizes of terrariums. I have left out the plans for Bog Gardens and Greenhouses since you will probably not be building those and I have not built these before.

Name Type of Habitat Created
Cheap Used to grow one or two small plants. You can have many of these sitting on a bright window.

Small Used for growing a few plants in an easy growing condition where bright light is not available

Large These terrariums are used for growing a good sized collection, but not so many that you are growing a jungle!

Window You can grow certain types of plants with good success outside on a windowsill or on a patio.

All information on this site ©2006 State College Carnivorous Plants. Site designed and maintained by Tom Murosky. Last update January 22, 2007. I allow free use of all written materials on this site. Easy download PDF files availible in the resource link of each plant type. Photographs may contain copyrights from other organizations, you must contact them regarding use of photographs. -- We have had visitors.