FEED ME…but not too much! Carnivorous Plant Care

 

You know you’ve thought about it, and maybe you’ve done it. Took home a venus fly trap. It was exciting and magical. You might have stuck your finger in the trap, maybe a fly that was, let’s face it, too big. You watered it. Suddenly, it went downhill in a hurry. You’ve killed it. But you’ll try again, and again.

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Open for business. A freshly groomed Dionaea sp. waiting for a little snack.

It happened to me once. I flirted with the idea of some ominously glowing terrarium filled with Venus fly traps. And yes, I’ve taken home at least 3 of them. They all died. But last year, I bought one, and I said, that’s it. I’m going to research it! And what did I learn? The biggest problem for me was watering.

WATER: Carnivorous plants do not like tap water! If you want to really succeed, you will have to come to terms with this fact first. Unless you have a reverse osmosis system in your home, don’t use tap water. You can water them with distilled, RO, or rain water. Well water, town water, treated water… Nope! The soil should always be evenly moist, they will suffer if they get too dry.

LIGHT: The next thing to address is light. They might be in a bog, but they don’t live in the darkness.  I found the best success when I put them in a southern room. I never say “put them in the window” but you can see that my Nepenthes (Pitcher plant) hangs right in the window in a southwestern exposure. It grows quite quickly here, and each trap gets larger than the previous.

FEEDING: The third thing you need to remember is to not overfeed them. They are not crawling with bugs all the time. I am emphasizing here on the Venus fly trap in this case. Many websites recommend using insects that are about 1/3 the size of the trap, so the trap will actually close and seal around the insect and digest it.

So what do I feed them? In early spring, when there aren’t many insects available, I use freeze dried bloodworms. They are in the fish food department. I’ll put a few pieces in a little cap filled with water, rehydrate them, then put them into the trap. You will probably have to stimulate the two trigger hairs for it to close. Once it’s closed, the “teeth” should lock together, and hopefully, it will digest that meal! MMMM! In a day or so you will find the trap open again, probably with the dried up worm inside. The same happens with flies. I’ve had a lot of sadistic fun with flies.

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The biggest pitcher so far is just slightly smaller than my hand.  I was told not to cradle the pitchers as it looks a little obscene. 

For flies, if I find them in the home, I will use my electronic tennis racket and smack them out of the air. Once stunned, you can pick them up by a wing and put them inside the trap. Sometimes they try to escape. Usually, they fail.

This year I also started feeding my pitcher plant live meal worms. They’re squirmy irmy and full of protein, and never put up a fight. If you had a huge grow op, I would suggest using them, however, these were purchased to feed the preying mantises that recently hatched. They’re a bit too big for the mantises yet, so it’s a feast for the Pitchers. However, do not feed them to venus fly traps unless they are tiny enough to fit completely and for the trap to close and seal around the worm.

NEVER use insects that have chewing mouth parts (for example, a cricket). You do not want them to damage the plant while trying to escape.

REPOTTING: So, say you followed all these rules, the plant has outgrown its little 2” pot. It’s time to repot them. You do not use soil. You would use a sphagnum moss. They are like hairy strands of moss. I will do two things before using it. 1: rinse it MANY times with RO, Distilled, or rain water. Unless it says on the bag it is safe for carnivorous plants, you should always rinse. When you’re done rinsing, rinse again. And 2nd: if the strands are really long, I usually chop it up with a pair of snips so it’s smaller in size. These two tricks worked for me.

I do not use fertilizer. Do not use fertilizer unless you are absolutely sure it is a good idea. Mine are thriving fine without it.

GROOMING: The next thing you will need to do is maintenance. As you can see20160508_091644.jpg in this picture, there are some shriveled old pitchers on my plant, and some of the traps on my Venus fly traps are shriveled or black. I use a pair of garden nippers to clip off the dead traps. Sometimes you can just gently tug the black ones out. Traps will die as the plant grows. As long as you see new fresh ones growing from the crown it’s okay. For pitcher plants, you can snip the pitchers off at the point where they attach to the leaf. I will only do this when the pitcher is shriveled up. Be careful when cutting off pitchers. They could still contain that appetizing liquid. Dump them out so you don’t make a mess. If the entire leaf and pitcher of a pitcher plant are brown/dry, I would cut the entire leaf off, back to the main stem.

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Full view of Nepenthes sp. Before I trimmed the shriveled trap. Make the cut just where the tendril attaches to the leaf tip. Don’t spill the contents! Every leaf should intend to grow a trap, if the plant is happy and well hydrated.

FLOWERING: And the last thing I will reccommend to you, to prevent loss of your Venus fly trap: They will try to bloom, usually in the late winter/early spring. This is very energy-expensive for the plant, and often results in its death. If you see a flower bud emerging, cut it off. This spring, I cut about 4 flower buds off. Now that spring is here, it has not attempted to bud again. And it is doing well again. I recently read in a thread that you can use these flower stalks to start new plants by sticking the cut end of the stalk back into the soil. It will root, and a new plant will follow. I haven’t tried this yet, but I plan to the next time I find a flower springing up. Try it for fun!

Hope this helps! I’m still a newbie too, but I am completely enchanted with Nepenthes! If I could find more varieties, I would have one hanging in every window. If you follow these tips, hopefully you have better luck than your previous attempts. If you have any tips I missed, speak up, I always welcome an opportunity to learn. Gardening is about sharing all things including knowledge.


And keep in mind, all these tips are what work for me. I’ve repotted both plants, and both plants are thriving wonderfully.

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