How to Grow Carnivorous Plants:
- Plant them in Full Sun to Part Shade
- Keep the roots cool
- Build a bog garden
- Use lots of quality water
- Manage pests and diseases
- Use the best media
- Winter Care
- Have fun!
Plant them in Full Sun to Part Shade
North American Pitcher Plants, Sundews and Venus Flytraps enjoy bright light outdoors. My bog gardens are in full sun. I mulch with pine needles and keep them well watered and the plants couldn't be happier. My plants in pots are under shade cloth. Potted plants are subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations so a bit of shade makes them healthier.
They are perennials. Experienced gardeners choose plants appropriate for their climate and grow perennials outdoors year-round. You should too!
Keep the roots cool
Sarracenia, Drosera and Dionaea planted in a flower bed will be the healthiest. Bog plants in particular are very intolerant of temperature fluctuations and extremes. Being in the ground is what bog plants crave. Do your plants a favor. build a bog garden and mulch with pine needles.
If container gardening is your preference and you insist on growing bog plants, you will need to take special care to keep the roots cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Placement is key. You will need a summer spot and a winter spot at the very least (unless you live in a very temperate climate). Place your pot on something cool and in part shade for hottest part of the summer. Protect it in the winter; a potted Sarracenia is approximately 20 degrees less cold-hardy.
Pot choice is critical. Pots subject your plants to more temperature stress than being planted. Straight sided pots, small pots and dark colored pots are the worst. The best pot for carnivorous plants is a plastic or glazed ceramic bowl. Mulch with pine needles and sit your bowl in a shallow dish of water; your roots will stay cool. The bigger the pot the better, and avoid rolled lips! (see pests)
Build a bog garden
A bog garden is one of the best ways to grow North American pitcher plants, sundews and venus flytraps. All you need is a very sunny spot, a liner and some peat moss. During dormancy or in early spring is the best time to transplant.
First, choose a flower bed that is very sunny all year. If it regularly gets near zero degree Fahrenheit where you live then choose a location that is protected from wind.
Next, find a liner. It can be a plastic storage bin, heavy piece of plastic or kiddie pool. Dig a hole 10 inches deep and place your liner in. Then fill your liner with wet peat moss or a wet peat moss and sand mixture. Then plant your plants.
Because your new bog garden holds lots of water, maintenance is easy. As long as it rains every few weeks you don’t have to do anything. Water every few weeks in the summer if there is a drought. Remember, no fertilizer! The plants catch their own.
If the weather forecast is calling for sub-zero temperatures (in the negatives), then put six inches of pine needles around your plants. A layer of pine needles is a good idea anyway; it holds in the moisture during the summer!
Use quality water
Bog plants are not drought tolerant and are used to very pure water. Rainwater is mostly just water. It doesn't have dissolved solids or added chemicals. Rainwater is best; it is naturally distilled and transported right to your house via cloud!
Well water is second best. It has some impurities because it dissolved some of the rocks it has trickled through. Use well water sparingly, dissolved minerals can build up in the media.
Municipal water has added chlorine to kill bacteria and algae (which is a plant!). In a pinch, you can remove most of the chlorine from water by placing it in the sun for an hour. Use chlorinated "tap water" sparingly.
Manage pests and diseases
Warning! The following description of plant problems may be disturbing to younger readers.
Close observation and early detection is key in the battle against pests and diseases. Educate yourself about the common piercing/sucking bugs that plague ornamental plants. Take note of the time of year that you see foliar disease and be proactive next year!
Mealy bugs, aphids, scale, thrips, and spider mites are small enough that if you don't know what they look like and where to look, then they will go unnoticed. Mealy bugs are a chronic issue for gardeners who choose to grow their Sarracenia in pots. This is yet another reason to plant your carnivorous plants in the ground. Mealy bugs will lay eggs on the sides of pots, under rolled lips on "ornamental" pots, and under carry trays. Chemicals will not solve your problems if you have poor cultural practices.
Foliar fungal disease on carnivorous plants can often be remedied by good cultural practice. Good air flow and bright light is the enemy of mushrooms.
If your plants (especially Sarracenia) wilt on the first hot spring day, then your rhizome has died. Rhizome rot is sometimes caused by winter damage. Sometimes it is caused by fungus. Fungal pathogens responsible for rhizome rot are soil borne so keep hose ends off the ground and splashing mud away from your plants. Growing your plants in the ideal conditions is the key to prevention. Good aeration, even root temperatures and clean media is the best path to success. Chemicals won't save you. The word "fungicide" is a misnomer. With few exceptions, fungicide doesn't kill fungus, it only serves to make your plants immune for a short period of time.
Gardeners who choose to grow carnivorous plants in pots are at an extreme disadvantage in the struggle to prevent rhizome rot. Moving pots around will expose the plants to more pathogens. Temperature extremes and poor aeration that are inherent in container gardening will weaken carnivorous plants and make them more susceptible to pathogens.
Experiment with different media
Plant a few of your plants in experimental media to find what works best for you. I use 50% professional grade peat moss and 50% perlite by volume. No fertilizer. Because I irrigate from above and let my plants sit in water for a few days at a time in the summer, this is what works best for me.
Consumer grade peat moss is mined from deep in the bog. It is mostly dust and sticks, it's hard to wet and has very poor aeration. Find consumer-grade peat moss at any of your favorite big box stores.
There are a number of professional grade products mined from bogs. Long fiber sphagnum is on top. Directly underneath is the best stuff that is already spoken for. Under that is the professional grade fluffy, spongy good stuff that carnivorous plants crave. Buy it and mix in perlite for aeration, that's what I do! You can also try inert or acidic media like pine bark, pine needles, sand and vermiculite.
Whether you grow your North American pitcher plants, sundews and venus flytraps in a dish garden or in your yard, winter care is easy. They are cold-hardy to 20F in a pot and 0F in the ground.
Dish gardens need protection if it gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In Zone 7 and warmer dig a hole and put the planter in the ground. Mulch with pine needles if it gets below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternately, if you live in a colder climate, over-winter your dish garden indoors. Just make sure your plants aren't growing leaves in the winter; they need a rest!
If your plants are planted in a flower bed and the weather forecast is calling for sub zero temperatures (in the negatives), then mulch with six inches of pine needles. A layer of pine needles is a good idea anyway; it holds in the moisture during the summer!
Keep your experiments small and have fun!
Test new chemicals or growing techniques on a few plants. Wait at least a month to determine whether your experiment was a success. Don't get too bent out of shape, people garden for fun and you should too!