Caring for carnivorous plants

Carnivorous plants are easy to grow if you follow a few simple rules:
 1. Keep wet all the time
 2. Use mineral-free water
 3. Use mineral-free soil
 4. Provide lots of light

Keep the soil wet, or at least damp, all the time. The easiest way to do this is to set pots in a tray or saucer filled with water. Pitcher plants can grow in soggy soil with the water level in the saucer as deep as half the pot, but most carnivorous plants prefer damp to wet soil. Ideally, the water is about 1/4 inch deep and tray is refilled as soon as water level drops. Add water to the tray instead of watering the plant. This will prevent washing away the sticky muscilage of sundews and butterworts and keep flytraps from closing from the ‘false alarm.’

Use only rainwater or distilled water for your carnivorous plants. You can collect water with a bucket stored beneath the house downspout. Distilled water can be purchased at the grocery store, but avoid bottled drinking water, which has too many minerals. Another source of mineral-free water is the condensation line from an air conditioner or heat pump. Reverse-osmosis water is fine to use. Carnivorous plants grow best in nutrient-poor soils and minerals from tap water can over-fertilize and burn out the plants.

Carnivorous plants have adapted to nutrient-poor soil that is often rich in peat and sand. You can duplicate this environment with a mixture of sphagnum peat moss and horticultural sand. Check the peat label to make sure it contains ‘sphagnum moss,’ as other types won’t work well. Sand should be clean and washed. Playbox sand is great, or you can use horticultural sand. Avoid contractor’s sand, which contains fine dust, silt, clay, and other minerals. Never use beach sand or limestone-based sand because the salt content will harm plants. The mix ratio is not critical, but equal parts peat and sand works well for most carnivorous plants. Flytraps prefer a little more sand and nepenthes prefer more peat, but both will do fine as long as sand is clean and sphagnum peat is used. 

As a general rule, carnivorous plants grow best in sunny conditions, although many can do well in partial sun. You will find some carnivorous plants in soggy bogs, but they usually have stunted height. Full sun brings out the red pigmentation found in most carnivorous plants, and growing them outdoors or indoors in a bright, sunny spot works well. Avoid north light. Plants do well under artificial light with a timer set at 12–14 hours. Fluorescent tubes designed for plant growth work better than ordinary incandescent lightbulbs.

Do not feed or fertilize your carnivorous plants. If grown under conditions described in this info sheet, your plants will be able to collect enough insects on their own to survive. Most carnivorous plants need only an insect or two a month to flourish. You may use tweezers to carefully place a fly on plant’s trap if you want to demonstrate the plant’s unique trapping capabilities. Never use raw meat or cheese because large pieces will kill the traps. Freeze-dried insects from a pet shop or wingless fruit flies provide an excellent source of nutrition. Carnivorous plants grown with no insect supplemental feedings will not thrive, but be careful not to overdo feeding.

Note: Unless you’re an experienced grower of carnivorous plants, avoid using fertilizers because it’s too easy to over-fertilizer and burn out plant. When fertilizers are used, they are considerably diluted (a 1/10 dilution is common). However, if plant is treated as described, they should do fine on their own.