10 tips for growing carnivorous plants

Adding compost around carnivorous plants 6

Don’t feed with insects

Don’t feel you have to ‘feed’ your plant with insects – if it’s outside it will catch its own and even indoors there should be insects that it can feed on. If you have no insects in your home, put it outside for a few days every so often in summer so that it can catch its own.

Insects trapped in a Venus fly trap 7

Don’t fertilise

There’s no need to use fertiliser on your carnivorous plants – they get all the nutrients they need from the insects that they catch.

Frilly, red-veined tips of pitcher plant pitchers 8

Don’t tease your plants

If the traps on your Venus flytrap are no longer closing, it may be because curious fingers have poked at your plant too often. Each trap only closes around five times in its lifetime, so resist provoking your plant.

A closed trap on a Venus fly trap 9


Cut off the dead flowers with scissors – and in the case of Venus flytraps, cut off the dead traps if they go black – this often happens in autumn and winter.

Advertisement Deadheading a pitcher plant 10

Watch out for pests

Carnivorous plants are, surprisingly, not able to deal with greenfly, so use traps or biological controls. Carnivorous plants can also be susceptible to red spider mite, which thrives in hot, dry conditions. Improve air circulation in the greenhouse and boost levels of humidity by standing bowls of water on the benches between plants. If you are growing lots of plants, you could try releasing the predatory mite, Phytoseiulus persimilis on to your plants.

Greenfly on the back of a leaf

Indoor Pitcher Plant Care: Tips On Growing Pitcher Plant As A Houseplant

Pitcher plants are fascinating carnivorous plants that are surprisingly adaptable to the indoor environment. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many types of pitcher plants with many different needs, and some varieties can be a little on the fussy side. Read on to learn the basics of growing pitcher plant as a houseplant and pitcher plant care indoors.

How to Care for Pitcher Plant Indoors

Light – If possible, refer to the tag that came with your pitcher plant, as sunlight requirements vary depending on the species. Some require full sunlight and may need supplemental lighting year round, while types that originate in the floor of the rainforest may need filtered light. If you aren’t sure of the variety, place your plant in moderate to bright light and avoid, direct, intense sunlight. If the leaves turn yellow or the leaf edges look brown or scorched, move the plant into lower light.

Water – When growing pitcher plant indoors, water as needed to keep the potting soil moist, but not soggy. Allow the pot to drain thoroughly after watering and never let the pot stand in water, as wet soil can cause the plant to rot. Most importantly, pitcher plants are sensitive to the chemicals in tap water and benefit greatly from distilled water or rain water.

Temperature – Indoor pitcher plant care generally requires warm temperatures between 65 and 80 F. (18-27 C.) Read the care tag, however, as some varieties prefer very warm nights while others need cooler nighttime temps between 45 and 65 F. (7-18 C.)

Potting soil – Pitcher plants tolerate a wide range of potting mixtures as long as the mixture is relatively low in nutrients and provides excellent drainage. Many gardeners prefer a combination of half perlite and half dry sphagnum moss. You can also use a mixture of half sharp sand or perlite and half peat moss. Avoid regular commercial mix, which is too rich.

Feeding – Pitcher plants generally require no supplemental fertilizer, although you can mist the plants with a very dilute fertilizer solution during spring and summer (mix no more than ¼ to ½ teaspoon per gallon, using a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for bromeliads or orchids). Your adult pitcher plant will be happy if it can catch a couple of insects every month. If you don’t have bugs flying around your house, provide a freshly killed insect once in a while, (no insecticides!). Use only small bugs that fit easily into the pitchers. Don’t overfeed, and don’t be tempted to give your plants chunks of meat. Remember that carnivorous plants have very low nutrient requirements and too much food or fertilizer can be deadly.

How to Grow Pitcher PlantsA Beginner’s Guide to Sarracenia


Kept outside, Sarracenia will catch more than enough food for themselves. The taller trumpet species such as S. flava and S. leucophylla are particularly ruthless, and often fill to the brim with flies, wasps, ants, and moths by the end of the growing season.

If you keep your plants indoors, you can hand feed them with dried insects every few weeks. The foods I’ve recommended for Venus flytraps are all suitable, but dried crickets are particularly good.

The beautiful flowers of Sarracenia.

Further Reading & Links

If you’re interested in flowers & pollination, seed propagation, hybridisation, or any of the more advanced areas of cultivation, I’ve listed some recommended resources and expert blogs below. This list is obviously not comprehensive!

  • The Savage Garden, by Peter D’Amato. In my opinion, this is the single best book on carnivorous plants you can buy today. Its chapters on Sarracenia are brilliantly detailed yet still accessible by beginners. Available on Amazon.
  • My interview with Matt Soper. Hampshire Carnivorous Plants is owned and operated by Matt Soper, and it offers the widest range of carnivorous plants in the UK. I spoke to Matt about his incredible Sarracenia breeding program and his successes exhibiting these plants are flower shows – check it out here.
  • Sarracenia.com, by Barry Rice. It might be ugly, but Barry’s FAQ is one of the oldest and most authoritative resources on carnivorous plants on the web. Geared around science and conservation, it’s well worth bookmarking. .
  • Sarracenia Northwest, based in Oregon, are a carnivorous plant nursery with an excellent YouTube channel. Jacob offers seasonal growing tips and helpful tutorials, and I highly recommend subscribing.

If you’re looking to buy a pitcher plant, I suggest you check out my directory of recommended nurseries.

How to Grow Venus Flytrap

When I was a kid, I thought Venus flytraps really did come from Venus. Their gaping bifold jaws with spiky fringed “teeth” seemed alien enough, but when an insect landed on that enticing pink center and the trap closed with lightning speed, well, that was exciting! Growing Venus flytraps indoors seemed like a superhuman feat. Luckily, it’s not difficult if you know how to grow Venus flytrap.

Image zoom Ginny Weiler Ginny Weiler

Where Venus Flytraps Grow

Instead of originating one planet away from Earth, Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are perennials native to boggy areas of coastal North and South Carolina. They grow in moist, acidic soils in full sun, but only survive winter outdoors in Zones 8-10. Gardeners in colder-winter climates should grow Venus flytraps in a moist environment, such as a terrarium, that can go indoors during winter.

Growing Venus Flytraps

Venus flytrap care is pretty simple. The carnivorous plant thrives in poor, acidic soil with good drainage. Avoid planting it in regular potting soil: A blend of one-third sand and two-thirds sphagnum peat moss provides the best drainage and moisture retention. Do not add lime to the soil and never fertilize the plant.

Venus flytraps do best in bright light but can live in partial shade. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight in summer, especially if they live under glass, as plants hit with direct sunlight may get too hot and burn up. When grown inside under artificial lights, keep flytraps 4 to 7 inches away from fluorescent lights. If your Venus flytraps don’t show a pink interior or if the plants have long, spindly leaves, they are not getting enough sunlight.

For best Venus flytrap care, keep the environment humid and the soil moist but don’t let the plants stand constantly in water. Grow them in a pot with drainage holes. If you have a Venus flytrap terrarium, place gravel below the soil for extra drainage. Good air circulation is also important in growing Venus flytrap. Use rain or distilled water to take care of your Venus flytrap, because tap water is often too alkaline or may contain too many added minerals.

Image zoom Ginny Weiler Ginny Weiler

Feeding Venus Flytrap

What do Venus flytrap plants eat? The name says it all: The Venus flytrap eats flies (or other small insects). The prey must be alive when caught. Dead flies won’t work in Venus flytrap feeding; the insect must move around inside the trap or the trap cannot consume and digest it. The insect must be small enough to fit comfortably inside the trap so it can close tightly to keep out bacteria.

If you grow the plants in a closed terrarium, the easiest Venus flytrap feeding method is to release small flies inside the space. Eventually, the bugs will be attracted to the trap and be consumed. Although flytraps are carnivorous, they can go long periods—a month or two—without eating insects. If you grow them outdoors, they will get enough to eat naturally. If you’re growing Venus flytrap indoors, you’ll have to feed them dinner periodically.

Related: Growing Carnivorous Plants in the Garden

Winter Dormancy for Venus Flytraps

Venus flytraps, like many other plants, need a period of winter dormancy when they appear to be dead (the leaves may die back) but are merely resting. Keep the plant 35 to 50 degrees F. Don’t let terrariums freeze; the plants may die and the glass may break. At about the spring equinox, when days start growing longer, begin to increase warmth and light.

Venus Flytrap Varieties

Plant breeders have been working with Venus flytraps and have come out with a few varieties, such as ‘Akai Ryu’, which has large burgundy-red traps. These special varieties are available from specialty garden centers or online retailers, like this Red Dragon Fly Trap, $21, Plant Delights Nursery.

  • By Deb Wiley

More Information About Carnivorous plants

Carnivorous Plants for sale that eat insects and bugs: Sarracenia (Pitcher Plant), Drosera (Sundew), Dionaea (Venus fly trap), and more. Here at Plant Delights Nursery, we love insect eating carnivorous plants and we think you will, too.

Some of the most fascinating, exotic and bizarre organisms in the plant kingdom are the carnivorous plants whose leaves have evolved into traps that capture and digest animal prey…i.e. they are plants that eat meat, bugs, and insects.

A carnivorous plant such as pitcher plant and venus flytrap, catch and eat insects, small animals and protozoans for one reason…protein, and the nitrogen in it. Normally, a plant absorbs nitrogen from the soil through its roots, but certain environments such as acidic bogs and rock outcroppings lack chemically available forms of nitrogen. Carnivorous plants (insect eating plants) live in these areas and survive by capturing an animal in a trap (a modified leaf), digesting the prey with enzymes, extracting nitrogen from the protein, and absorbing the nitrogen into the plant. Insect eating plants may also extract the mineral elements phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron this way, too.

In order to be considered a true insect eating carnivorous plant, a plant has to both capture and digest its prey and there are over 600 species that fit this strict definition. Included in this group are some plants that we sell here at Plant Delights Nursery such as Venus Flytrap (Dionaea), Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia) and Sundew (Drosera). There are also quasi-carnivorous plants like Silene (Catchfly) and Puya that do not fit the strict definition of a carnivorous plant but do kill insects or birds and then obtain some of their nutrients.

Contrary to what Hollywood implies, there are no meat eating plants on the hunt for humans. Plants like Audrey, Jr (Little Shop of Horrors) and triffids (Day of the Triffids) are purely works of fiction.

How to grow carnivorous plants

  • The key is to grow plants that eat insects in bog garden conditions with damp feet, but dry ankles. Pitcher plants, Venus fly traps, and most carnivorous plants are easy to kill if they are kept too wet at the surface.
  • In containers, 100% peat moss is perfect…which is how we grow carnivorous plants here at the nursery.
  • Do not fertilize your carnivorous plant. Irrigating with tap water (which often contains heavy salts) can also be a problem for plants that eat insects. At Plant Delights Nursery, we use well water or recycled rain water.
  • Other than removing the dead foliage, insect eating carnivorous plants require little care and are perfect for the low-maintenance gardener.

When you are ready to buy carnivorous plants for your garden, check out our online list of unique bog plants and carnivorous plants for sale here at Plant Delights Nursery. And when you do buy a carnivorous plant, please choose an ethical carnivorous plant nursery (like us) that only sells ethically produced plants that do not harm the last remaining native habitats of these endangered beauties.

Check out our article on how to build a pitcher plant bog and our article on the carnivorous pitcher plant.

Discovering our insect-eating plants

30 years ago I had a pet Venus Flytrap. I say ‘pet’ because it was more like an animal than a plant. In my tiny boy brain, plants didn’t eat meat. They ate water. Only animals ate meat. So surely this strange creature was an animal too?

It certainly looked like an animal what with its ten enormous red mouths, fringed with dagger-like teeth. They’d sit there, motionless and open, waiting for flies to land on them before snapping shut.

I was never lucky enough to see Venus trap a fly, and because I’d never seen the traps close I used to tickle its mouths, trying to fool it into doing so.

It didn’t always work. Venus didn’t always want to perform. Sometimes it didn’t matter how much I tickled it or what I dropped into its open jaws, it just didn’t want to snap shut.

Truth be told my touch was too heavy and Venus knew full well that the offerings I brought weren’t things it could eat. It wasn’t going to expend precious energy and resources trying to digest a Lego man’s head. Otherwise it mightn’t have any mouths open when something genuine and juicy came along.

Nevertheless, despite its diva-like refusal to perform on demand, it kindled a fascination in carnivorous plants that never left me.

For the longest while it was a fascination that could only ever be fed by a steady diet of David Attenborough TV programmes such as The Private Life of Plants, for these strange creatures tended to reside in the kinds of places I’d be unlikely to visit.

Outrageously hot, humid places where every other creature can bite, sting, scare or infect you. Not the kinds of places this temperate cold loving individual would enjoy, and so I resigned myself to never likely seeing a carnivorous plant in the wild.

So, imagine my surprise and delight, much later in life, when someone told me that we have carnivorous plants here in the British Isles. I instantly went to seek them out….

Carnivorous plants in Scotland

A plant is considered carnivorous if it lures, traps, kills and digests its prey, and we have a dozen or so species in Great Britain that do this.

They’re split across three main groups (or genera…which is the plural of genus). Utricularia, Pinguicula and Drosera, or to give them their respective common names we have Bladderworts, Butterworts and Sundews.

Not all of the British species are found in Scotland but we do have all three of the groups represented. The ones I’m focusing on here are the two that you’re most likely to see whilst out & about in the hills: butterworts and sundews.

Bladderworts are aquatic rather than terrestrial plants so tend not to be encountered to the same extent.

Common Butterwort, The Gaick, May 2014


Of all the carnivorous species found in Scotland, Pinguicula vulgaris, or Common Butterwort is the one you’re most likely to see.

That’s chiefly because of its odd appearance when seen from above, when its star-like clump of lime-green, yellowy leaves stand out against the dark peat or vegetation. In summer it flowers quite beautifully on a long stalk with a purple flower, and even at a modest 5 to 10cm tall it can be hard to miss.

Also known as bog violet, it’s an alien-looking plant quite unlike anything else you’re likely to encounter during a day in the hills.


From the same family as the Venus Fly Trap, there are over 150 species of sundew worldwide. Scotland has three but the one you’re most likely to see is Drosera rotundifolia, the Round-Leaved sundew.

They’re very small and, from a distance they’re well camouflaged. As a result you’re unlikely to have encountered one unless you’ve gone looking for it or you’ve fallen in a bog. Mind you, if the latter has happened to you then you’ve probably had more pressing concerns on your mind than a spot of botany.

They like acidic, boggy environments and are often found in depressions or hollows among sphagnum moss. Though they’re difficult to spot individually they’re often found in large concentrations, where they form a distinctive red hue among otherwise green or brown mosses.

Personally, I’ve always thought ‘sundew’ is a rather beautiful name for a wildflower but some might argue it’s too beautiful a name for something so gruesome. The plant gets its name from the distinctive beads of ‘dew’ that form on its red hairs. Insects beware, though! Not all is as it seems!

Whatever you think, there’s no denying it has a strange other-worldly beauty all its own. That’s especially apparent when you get right up close and get lost in the amazingly vivid red & green jungle in front of you. You’re instantly transported to the set of a 1950’s sci-fi film with its improbable creatures and alien worlds, all shot ‘In Glorious Technicolor’.

Fly trapped on Round-leaved Sundew, Bankhead Moss in Fife, June 2014

The lure

Both the butterwort and the sundew secrete a charmingly-named substance called mucilage from their leaves. Mucilage is produced by most plants and it aids in seed germination and water retention, but some carnivorous plants secrete it and use it to lure animals.

On the butterwort the glands that perform this function are numerous and cover the surface of the leaf, but they’re so small as to be difficult to see unless you get very close indeed. The sundew leaf does the same thing but the glands are much larger and you can clearly see the bead of mucilage, or ‘dew’, at the tips.

Surprisingly, opinion is divided as to how the mucilage attracts insects to the plant but it’s either because it resembles nectar or water, or because it has a sweet smell. Whatever the reason, insects love it.

The trap

Luring the insects to the plant is, of course, only half the battle. Once there, the insect needs to be trapped and held, and the methods employed by carnivorous plants across the globe is wonderfully varied. Pitfall traps, snap traps, bladder traps and lobster traps to name but a few.

Butterworts and sundews use what is known as a flypaper trap, which is to say they both rely upon a sticky substance to hold their prey fast on the leaf. While the mucilage they secrete is attractive to insects, it is also highly viscous and sticky.

Once an insect lands on the leaf, more mucilage is released by the glands the insect is in contact with. The insect is stuck, but the more it thrashes about in an attempt to escape, the more glands it knocks and the more mucilage is produced. It really is a case of hastening its demise by trying to escape. But however much it struggles the end result is inevitable.

In both plants the leaf slowly closes around its victim, but this is more pronounced and faster in the sundew where the glands themselves will bend around the insect to bring as many as possible into contact with it.

Sticky beads and the remains of insects on butterwort and sundew

The meal

Once the insect is trapped, different glands on the leaf surface will release digestive enzymes similar to the ones we have in our stomachs. These break the insect down into liquid nutrients that can be absorbed through the leaf surface and be distributed throughout the plant. Lovely!

Digestion is a slow process and the time it takes obviously depends on the size of the meal, but most sources I’ve read seem to think it takes a few days for these plants to digest an insect.

Finally, once the insect has been fully digested the leaf opens up again, revealing the dried remains. These are then blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain.

Why such long flower stalks?

Of the two species I encountered recently only the butterwort had a flower, which it held aloft on a very long stalk. The sundew will follow suit this summer and, when it does, it too will grow its flower in this manner.

It’s an attribute most carnivorous plants share, and for good reason. After all, what’s the point of using your nice flower to attract a pollinating insect if you then ensnare said insect and prevent it from taking your pollen to another flower of the same species? You need to make sure that the insects you rely upon for pollination (and therefore reproduction) don’t suffer that fate.

The solution is to hold your flower aloft, high enough above your trap so that potential pollinators don’t get caught. Ingenious!

Why are plants carnivorous?

If you were a plant you’d probably think twice about becoming a carnivore.

While it sounds great having a ready supply of meat coming to you without you really having to do anything, a great deal of your energy and resources are devoted to producing the mechanisms and substances required to lure, trap, kill and digest your prey.

Expending all that energy could put you at a competitive disadvantage when set against non-carnivorous plants that can obtain plentiful nutrients from the soil with much less effort, and can therefore grow much quicker and bigger than you can. So why do it?

Like most other organisms on the planet, carnivorous plants are a product of their environment. They tend not to be found on soils where life-giving nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous are in abundance. Instead, they’re found in environments where those nutrients are in short supply, such as bogs and wet upland areas.

The distinctive red hue of sundew leaves in a Fife bog

Developing a taste for meat is a sound strategy in those kinds of places because while the soil in bogs and uplands is deficient in nutrients, life itself is rich in it. Insects, for example. And if there’s one thing our bogs and uplands aren’t short of, it’s insects. Just imagine how well you would do in Scotland if you developed a taste for midges?

Ultimately these plants are carnivores because they can’t get enough nutrients from the poor conditions they inhabit. But rather than being pushed out to somewhere more hospitable where they would undoubtedly face greater competition from other plants, they’ve instead developed ingenious methods of supplementing their nutrient intake, enabling them to stay put and avoid unnecessary competition.

They’re truly remarkable and intriguing things, and no less amazing to me than they were 30 years ago.


These are growing secrets that folks at your local garden center don’t know about. If you are new to growing carnivorous plants, use these 5 secrets to help you keep your plants alive, healthy, and beautiful!

Secret #1: Know Your Plant

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s one that first-time growers overlook. There are many types of carnivorous plants occurring on every continent in the world, except Antarctica. If you were to go on a world-wide expedition looking for as many types of carnivorous plants you can possibly find, you will find 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 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 over 600 species of carnivorous plants in the world, each type requires its own care. Hopefully, your plant came with a tag that identifies its species. If not, you can find a list of carnivorous plants commonly grown in cultivation by checking out the Care Guides.

Secret #2: Give Them Sunlight

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. Many people are often surprised when they find out that the many North American carnivorous plants enjoy full sun. You see, North American carnivorous plants grow in bogs, which are open fields of wetlands. Most people confuse bogs with marshes. Marshes typically are closer to the ocean, contain slightly salty water, and are shaded with lots of overgrown trees. Bogs, on the other hand, contain fresh water, usually bubbling up from an underground spring, and are 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.
Venus flytraps, North American Pitcher Plants and nearly all Sundews grow in bogs. So these plants look their best in 6-8 hours of direct sunlight during their growing season. Four hours of direct sunlight are definitely the absolute minimum.
Lack of sunlight is the main reason why people have a hard time growing Venus flytraps. They treat them as if they were shade-loving tropical plants, which they are definitely not. If you want healthy robust flytraps, grow them in full sun!
Other types of carnivorous plants prefer partial sun. These plants include Asian pitcher plants (Nepenthes), Mexican butterworts and some species of Sundews. They prefer a few hours of direct sunlight and very bright filtered light during the rest of the day.
We can’t emphasize enough how important light is to carnivorous plants. Remember, carnivorous plants are plants. They are not geckos sticking out of the ground. They are plants that require lots of sunlight. One of the mistakes growers make is thinking that they’re giving their plants enough sunlight. What you think is enough lighting is irrelevant. Your plants are always the final judge of what’s enough lighting!
For more information about optimal lighting and using artificial lights, watch the Grow Carnivorous Plants DVD series. We show you examples of proper lighting for various forms of carnivorous plants.

Secret #3: Use Low Mineral Water

Carnivorous plants require relatively pure water. It does not need to be blessed by the Pope, but it should be low in minerals (less than 50 parts per million). Some areas of the country are fortunate to have low mineral water right out of the tap. Portland, Oregon, for instance, has very low mineral water, about 20 parts per million. When we first stared our nursery in the Portland city limits, we used water straight from the tap. Lucky us!
Before using tap water, check its mineral levels. You can purchase test kits at your local aquarium supply store. Some stores will also check your water for free. You’re looking for test results of 50 ppm or less of dissolved solutes.
If your tap water is higher than 50 ppm, you may need to bypass the tap and use distilled water or rainwater. However, this is feasible only if you have a few carnivorous plants. If you are like us, you might have several thousand! For large quantities of water, use a revers-osmosis unit. Check your local hardware store for this type of filter.
Avoid using charcoal-filtration units. Although they are great in removing chlorine and other not-so-tasty chemicals, they are inadequate in removing minerals.
After you’ve checked your water source for appropriate mineral levels, keep your plants’ soil constantly wet. Never allow the soil to dry out. You can keep the soil wet by watering every day or letting your plants sit in a tray of water. Most carnivorous plants are bog plants, so they don’t mind getting their feet wet. Keep the water level no higher than half way up the pot. Avoid drowning the crowns or growing points of your plants.
Some carnivorous plants, such as Asian pitcher plants (Nepenthes), don’t like their roots soaking in water. With these plants, water them like regular houseplants and allow the water to drain through.

Secret #4: Season Your Plants

Many people have a false assumption that just because a plant is carnivorous it is: 1) tropical, 2) delicate, and 3) difficult to grow. This is definitely a recipe for disaster!
As mentioned earlier, the United States and Canada are home to over 50 species of carnivorous plants. These plants are cold hardy, frost tolerant plants. They go dormant in winter when the weather gets cold and come back to life in spring when the weather warms up. Common non-carnivorous plants that do this are roses, daisies, daffodils and thousands upon thousands of other types of plants grown all around the world in cold climates. This is why Secret #1, identifying your plant, is very important. You need to know what type of plant you have to determine whether it requires winter dormancy or if it needs to be protected from frost.
Cold hardy plants need to rest up for spring. Without their winter dormancy, 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, let them go dormant in winter. They might even reward you with flowers!
Many cold hardy plants can be left unprotected during winter in USDA zones 8-10. In colder regions, you will need to provide some form of winter protection to prevent dehydration. Watch Volume 1 of the Grow Carnivorous Plants DVD series for more information.

Secret #5: Hold The Fertilizer

Carnivorous plants are essentially self-fertilizing plants. To a carnivorous plant, bugs are really tiny packets of fertilizer. This is why carnivorous plants are found in nutrient poor soil. They adapted to this type of environment by producing leaves that capture insects. This is how carnivorous plants get their nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients. So avoid fertilizing your carnivorous plants. Fertilizer will burn their roots. (Very painful.) They will get all of their nutrients from insects caught in their leaves.
Believe it or not, after reading these Top 5 Secrets, you now know more about growing carnivorous plants than the folks at your local garden center! When was the last time you saw Venus flytraps for sale in the outdoor plant section? Local garden centers display flytraps in the tropical plant section with low lighting where they definitely do not belong! Because you know the secrets to growing beautiful carnivorous plants, your plants will be much healthier, grow more vigorously, and live for years!

Almost every time I go to Lowe’s I see Venus fly traps or pitcher plants for sale. Last week a colleague asked about mine—mainly how do I keep them alive? His son had convinced him to let him bring one home. Within weeks, the leaves were turning black, and no new leaves were forming. Unfortunately, other symptoms, such as rotting leaves, didn’t match those of a plant going into dormancy.

Left to Right: Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis), butterwort (Pinguicula primuliflora) ; Spoon-leaf sundew (Drosera spatulata)

I have been raising carnivorous plants for a few years now so after trial, error, and lots of research, I have found that the mistakes I made with my first fly trap (R.I.P. Chompy) are common with lots of people who buy these unique plants. I currently grow fly traps, pitcher plants, sundews, and a butterwort under a 4 ft. long T5 light. I have found that the right water, soil, and lighting has made my savage garden successful.


Ninety-five percent of the time, tap water will kill! I collect rain water or purchase distilled. The chemicals that are used to treat water can build up in the soil, harming the plant. Speaking of soil, one of the first things I learned in my research is that these plants do not grow in average house plant potting soil.


I have had success with 50/50 perlite and Sphagnum peat moss and—when I can get my hands on it—live sphagnum. These plants adapted to eat bugs to counter the lack of nutrients found in soils, so while this mix lacks the nutrients found in the potting soil, it is perfect for a savage garden to thrive in.



In the summer I leave my plants outside whenever the low temperatures are above 55°F to let them eat bugs and sun bathe. In the winter, some go into dormancy and others reside under a grow light. The long days here in the summer may cause a carnivorous plant to flower. I recommend cutting the flower off as soon as you see it. The plant puts all its energy into the flower and the remaining plant gets very little.

I put my plants outside in the summer to let them feed on bugs naturally and then almost never feed in the winter. In the past I have had success with feeding crickets purchased at the pet store if the plant shows signs of needing nourishment such as no new growth and older growth dying off. It is safer to feed the plant bugs than to fertilize most often. Being such sensitive plants, over fertilizing can be deadly. The few times I have chosen to fertilize them, I used a highly diluted orchid fertilizer and so far this has been successful.

Purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea)

I enjoy raising these plants and chose to share these few things because I almost gave up on growing them after my first one died so quickly. I am glad I stuck with it—especially when I see pesky mosquito’s or gnats sneak in my house only to be consumed by my little savage garden. Hope this little bit of information helps anyone with or considering purchasing carnivorous plants

About sjump

Twitter •

Q: Will carnivorous plants control my bug populations?
U. foliosa
One bug down,
1,000,000 left
Seven more down,
999,993 left
A: A pair of questions I get frequently are:

  1. Will carnivorous plants control the mosquitoes that plague my yard?
  2. Will carnivorous plants eat the flies in my house (or horse stall!)

Sorry, but carnivorous plants are not your answer for either of these questions.
First, the mosquito issue. Carnivorous plants just do not attract mosquitoes. Carnivorous plants have sugary nectars that attract insects that like sugar: flies, moths, butterflies, etc. Certainly, the occasional misguided mosquito may get caught, but the plants will not make a dent into your insect plague. Indeed, growing carnivorous plants might even worsen your mosquito problems because you must grow these plants with lots of water. Trays filled with water are great mosquito breeding grounds, comprende?
If you have an occasional housefly, a well-placed carnivorous plant may help (my prescription: a few Drosera capensis plants), but usually the people who have so many flies that they are looking for weird solutions like Venus flytraps have far too many bothersome flies harassing them for a few plants to do the job. If you are trying to get rid of the flies in your stables, definitely look to some other approach. Fly-bags at tack stores are a much better bet for you.
Also, remember that most people find they must put a lot of energy into trying to grow these bizarre plants, and even then may still fail to keep the plants alive. A carnivorous plant casually tossed into the corner of a shoproom or barn stall will surely die of neglect.
Orchid growers sometimes keep a few flats of large Mexican Pinguicula in their greenhouses, alongside their prized orchids. Apparently, the Pinguicula are useful in capturing fungus gnats. In this case, the Pinguicula are not serving as a very important control method; rather they are being used as sentinals for increasing populations of fungus gnats.
Long ago I read that some people or agencies have tried introducing the aquatic carnivore Utricularia into ponds where mosquitoes breed. It was not succesful (not too much of a surprise there), but I haven’t been able to find the reference for this study. However, do not introduce Utricularia yourself, because it could turn into an invasive weed that would cause more ecological harm than you intended. Barthlott et al. (2007) notes that Utricularia have been tried as controls for mosquitoes that carry certain diseases, but I have not read the source papers.
Page citations: Barthlott, W. et al. 2007; Pulver, E. 2008 (personal communication); personal observations.

Carnivorous plant

Major families

The largest carnivorous plant family, Lentibulariaceae (order Lamiales), is marked by bilaterally symmetrical flowers with fused petals and only two anthers. This family has a fairly cosmopolitan distribution and comprises more than 300 species in three genera: the bladderworts (Utricularia, about 220 species), the butterworts (Pinguicula, about 80 species), and the corkscrew plants (Genlisea, about 22 species). Employing a variety of trapping mechanisms, members of that family are predominantly herbs of wet or aquatic habitats and prey on insects and other invertebrates.

The family Droseraceae (order Caryophyllales) comprises three genera and about 154 species, nearly all of which are sundews (genus Drosera). The aquatic genus Aldrovanda contains only one species, the waterwheel plant (A. vesiculosa), which is sometimes grown in aquaria as a curiosity. Similarly, the genus Dionaea consists of only the Venus flytrap (D. muscipula), well known for its quick-acting snap trap and commonly sold as a novelty. Once classified within Droseraceae, the Portuguese sundew (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) is now placed within its own family, Drosophyllaceae (order Caryophyllales), of which it is the only species.

  • roundleaf sundewSticky gland-tipped hairs of the roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), which attract and digest insects.© Maslov Dmitry/Fotolia
  • waterwheel plantCarnivorous waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa). An aquatic species, the waterwheel plant uses rapid snap traps to ensnare and digest small invertebrates.© Denis Barthel
  • Venus flytrapClose-up of the carnivorous traps of the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula).© Jane/Fotolia

Despite their similar trapping mechanisms, pitcher plants can be found in five genera across three families. The species of New World pitcher plants are placed in the family Sarraceniaceae (order Ericales). About 10 of the 34 species belong to the widely known and much-studied genus Sarracenia, of eastern North America. The sun pitchers, also known as marsh pitcher plants (genus Heliamphora), are native to a limited region in South America and consist of about 23 species. The cobra plant (Darlingtonia californica) is the only member of its genus and is indigenous to northern California and southern Oregon. The approximately 140 species of Old World pitcher plants constitute the only genus of the family Nepenthaceae, Nepenthes (order Caryophyllales). Mostly native to Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Australasia, many members of Nepenthaceae are climbing plants, and some live as epiphytes in trees. The pitcher plant family Cephalotaceae (order Oxalidales) consists of only the Western Australian pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis).

  • crimson pitcher plantCrimson pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla). Its carnivorous pitchers attract and digest insects.Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Raffles’ pitcher plantPitcher of the carnivorous Raffles’ pitcher plant (Nepenthes rafflesiana).© rpiola/Fotolia

Known as rainbow plants, the family Byblidaceae (order Lamiales) contains a single genus (Byblis) of about seven carnivorous species native to Australia and New Guinea. Those herbs have narrow leaves that are densely covered with glandular hairs that serve as flypaper traps to absorb nutrients from insects.

The pineapple family (Bromeliaceae, order Poales) has at least three carnivorous species: Brocchinia reducta, B. hectioides, and Catopsis berteroniana. Those species have urnlike pitfall traps formed by the tightly packed leaf bases that are characteristic of the family. They are not known to produce digestive enzymes and instead rely on bacteria to break down their prey.

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