Summer is in full swing and that means that everyone’s in the garden stores buying up all the lovely plants that are now in stock. I have come to notice over the years that around July and August people purchase carnivorous plants for their unique looks and for general curiosity without looking into how to care for them. The Venus Flytrap is perhaps one of the most popular carnivorous plants, and also one of the plants that many say they have a hard time keeping alive. I’m going to share with you the simple secrets to keeping yours alive and how to care for your Venus Flytrap.
The Venus Flytrap is native to a small area in North and South Carolina in the United States where it grows in bogs. As of writing this article the Venus Flytrap is currently in a vulnerable state for risk of extinction. The intrigue for this plant and its rather small native habitat has added to the worry that one day it might disappear. While there is no direct need for alarm, I do feel that it is important for this reason to help educate others on proper care.
It Is A Bog Plant
This is very important to understanding how to care for your Venus Flytrap. It’s important to note that there is a difference between a bog, a swamp, and a marsh. While they are all forms of wetlands, both swamps and marshes contain nutrient rich soils which provide ample resources for both plants and animals. Swamps support more woody plants (think trees and other plants with thick, strong trunks) while a marsh will contain more grasses and reeds among other plants as well.
A bog, however, contains soils which are nutrient deficient and likely contains peat (a soil like substance which is comprised of decomposing organic vegetative matter) and mosses. Bogs are known for their lack of nitrogen and phosphorous which are rather important to the health and growth of most plant life. Carnivorous plants like the Venus Flytrap have adapted to these environments by obtaining these missing nutrients from the digestion of insects and small animals.
For this reason it’s very important to keep your Venus Flytrap in a nutrient defecient media at all times. As much as you might think that giving them regular soil with a lot of nutrients will help them grow stronger, you will be sad to discover that your VFT will actually die this way.
It’s An Outdoor Plant
This is probably the biggest heartbreak people have when they purchase their first VFT. They absolutely require a lot of full sunlight, fresh air, access to a food source, and a dormant winter period. This plant is a lot tougher than it looks and it is certainly not a delicate tropical plant that will die when the cold air rolls in. First, it is important to know your location’s climate well. North and South Carolinian winters are not very harsh, though the temperature can sometimes drop below 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). Without a winter dormant period, your VFT will weaken over time and eventually die. However, if exposed to too harsh of a winter period, your plant may not come back in the spring. If, like me, you live in a region where the winters can turn brutal you will need to find a safe space for your VFT during the winter. For mine, I am able to use a very sunny but drafty south facing windowsill. The plant will still require full sun (or as much as you can possibly give) during this time so if you do not have a cool, sunny space you may want to invest in full spectrum LED lights for your plant during the winter. Many people in colder climates have claimed success by placing the plant in a garage near a window. I have read about some people who have claimed luck by putting their VFT in a refrigerator during the winter, though I have not tried this and would only do this in a desperate, last attempt.
A Venus Flytrap can survive inside a home if placed in an extremely bright area with access to sunlight, though it will not thrive. Putting your Venus Flytrap outside is the best thing you can do for it. This gives it access to everything it needs to thrive with basically no effort on your part.
Never Use Tap Water
This might be the biggest rookie mistake people make when they first buy a Venus Flytrap. Remember, these are bog plants so the water that they receive is stagnant water collected from rainfall. Tap water and bottled waters all contain minerals which will build up in the media of the plant and eventually kill it. Keep the expensive bottle of Evian for yourself, let nature do the work for you. Collecting rainwater is the ideal way to go, but if you live in a busy city your rainwater might also contain pollution. A sure-fire way to make sure your VFT is happy is to simply use distilled water. Distilled water can be purchased pretty much everywhere and will cost around 50 cents to one dollar per gallon (depending on your local prices). When my VFT was the only carnivorous plant I owned, a gallon of distilled water could last me over a month.
Make sure your plant’s media stays moist not soaking, allowing your VFT to sit in a lot of water for a long period of time can breed bacteria and algae which can suffocate the plant’s root system, ultimately killing it. Obviously, since this is a bog plant it is better to err on the side of more water rather than less water, but do be mindful of stagnation. Your patio or home is not a bog and does contain things which can be potentially harmful to your plant. Also, still water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, and no one wants them hanging around.
Never Use Potting Soils
There is no soil mix or type of soil that’s best for Venus Flytraps. Unless you are creating an outdoor bog garden (which is something for a entirely different article), your plant only needs two things: perlite and moss. Honestly, I don’t even use perlite with my VFT, I just make sure not to pack the pot too tightly. If you do choose to use this mix, you can use a 50/50 raito to allow for good airflow. Sphagnum moss is the easiest and cheapest moss to find, you can get big bags of it for around $3 (and you won’t need to use a lot of it either).
Venus Flytraps do not like any nutrients on their roots, it will kill them. Do not fertilize them, do not add anything to the potting media, do not try to get too fancy. Trust your plant; it’s evolved over time in a harsh environment to live without anyone’s help.
Stop Putting Them In Terrariums
If you have a chat with someone who’s been growing VFT for a longer period of time, their advice is probably going to be to to stop putting your VFT in terrariums and glass. First off, glass doesn’t breathe. VFT, like most plants, require some airflow to their roots and glass simply doesn’t allow for this. Second, because they require full sun you are essentially putting the soil and (depending on how tall the glass is in comparison to the plant) the rest of the plant under a magnifying glass which can cook the roots. Also, because they require a dormant period and colder temperatures, glass is a poor option as you can likely shatter the glass while trying to care for your plant. Finally, glass is a breeding ground for bacteria, fungi, and algae which can take over or suffocate your plant. The glass also limits the amount of food sourced the plant will be exposed to. Frankly, terrariums and glass containers are just not worth it.
Keep your Venus Flytrap in a plastic or Styrofoam pot. Ceramics, glazed pots, and terracotta all pose issues to the health of a VFT. They can “leak” minerals into the potting media and they are also known for stealing moisture from the plant’s media as well. I have had the best luck with plastic pots and found that pots with a lot of drainage holes in the bottom work best, especially if you are going out of town and need to put your plant in a water tray.
A quick note on humidity too, these plants don’t require as much humidity as you might think. Again, they are not tropical plants and if you are keeping their media consistently moist than you should not have an issue with humidity at all. Unless you live in a desert area, in which case a water try can help you to keep the moisture where you need it to be.
They Need To Feed, But Not All The Time
Okay, it’s really cool to watch carnivorous plants consume their prey! But if your plant goes a couple weeks (to a month in some cases) without catching anything, don’t panic, it will be okay. That being said, they do get their nutrients from consuming prey. If you live in an area in which a food source is not in abundance for your plant you may have to feed it by hand. Do NOT give your Venus Flytrap meat regardless of if it’s been cooked or not. You can purchase crickets and various worms to give to your VFT if need be. Do not give them bugs which have been dead for a long period of time. No one wants to eat a rotting corpse, including your plant. However, if you managed to kill a fly (naturally, without chemicals) you can grab some tweezers and feed it to your flytrap. You will need to simulate a struggle though in order for the trap to close tightly and trigger digestion.
Sometimes, your VFT might catch a bug that’s a little too big for it, if this is the case allow the trap to digest what it can, afterwards it may turn black and begin to die off. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt the plant, it’s part of the natural process. Also, you may notice that not all of the insect will be gone when a trap reopens again. Venus Flytraps cannot digest exoskeletons of all insects (as seen in the first image). Again, don’t worry, it’s okay. The plant has gotten all of the nutrients it can from the insect. You can choose to try to remove the exoskeleton if you wish, but I usually just left it alone to come off naturally with the wind or rain.
Do Not Play With The Traps
I see this all the time; someone bought the Venus Flytrap for their kids to play with because they thought it was cool that there’s a plant that moves then they don’t understand why all of the traps have died off. Each trap has a finite number of times it can open and close before it will die off. In a healthy, happy plant that’s just a normal part of the growing process. But if you constantly trigger the traps, you can kill off the traps before the plant has time to make more. It takes a great amount of energy for the plant to close up like this, energy which they ought to be rewarded with when they digest their prey. If the traps are closing and getting nothing in return they are wasting energy which can be spent on growth.
Their Flowers Are Underwhelming and Not Worth It
It actually doesn’t take much to get a Venus Flytrap to flower. They produce tiny white flowers with little to no scent that are honestly, not very impressive compared to the rest of the plant. It seems to me that they like producing flowers even though they are not worth the plant’s time or energy. If you are new to growing Venus Flytraps, this might be one of the best pieces of advice I can give you: cut off flowers before they bloom. Producing a flower takes tremendous energy from the plant, which for younger VFT can mean certain death. They just exhaust the plant and it can struggle to recover. You can tell if the plant is producing a new trap or a flower by the bulbous shape of the flower bud (circled in the image above). You can see the traps have more of a linear look when forming. As your plant becomes more mature over time and you are more comfortable with caring for your Venus Flytrap, you can allow it to bloom if you so please. But for many beginners, flowers are a death bloom. Cut the flower spike down as much as you can and discard it.
This Plant Is Extremely Low Maintenance
The biggest misconception with Venus Flytraps is that they are very difficult to care for and require a lot of work. Honestly, most of my carnivores are my easiest plants to care for. They are used to growing in conditions where they receive very little attention, so having one in your home shouldn’t be much different. As long as you have them planted in the correct media, in a good pot, and are placing them in advantageous locations you can pretty much ignore them. The only thing I find to be difficult about these plants is that I cannot use tap water.
For a quick break down review:
Keep in a plastic pot. If you think your plant needs repotting, it probably doesn’t. They can live in their nursery pots for a long time.
Only use rainwater or distilled water
Keep their media moist
Do not fertilize.
Plant in a mix of sphagnum moss and perlite.
Do not play with the traps
Keep them outside. Full sun for at least 5 hours per day.
They need a dormant period over the winter.
Let them catch bugs.
Cut off flower spikes.
If you are going on vacation or live in a very dry desert climate, give them a water tray.
The only thing I have to do daily is just make sure my plants have enough water. Otherwise, I just leave them alone until the first frost when I have to bring them in for their winter period. The Venus Flytrap can be a great addition to your garden and they can help reduce unwanted pests. Just give them what they need to survive and watch it return the love in abundance.