Carnivorous plants are bold, beautiful and edgy - the perfect addition to the contemporary home or garden. The bonus? They're largely self-sufficient in a lot of ways. Having originated in boggy, swampy areas, they have adapted to their native low-nutrient soils in an innovative way - by trapping and digesting insects to gain all the nutrients they need!
Ready to add some of these brightly-coloured beauties to your collection? Read on for some handy tips and tricks.
Before you start a carnivorous garden it’s important to understand how they grow. Carnivorous plants need a growing media with a pH of less than 5 (acidic). This rules out any commercial potting mix or medium that contains fertilisers.
Most carnivorous plants are bog plants. The ideal medium is sphagnum moss which can be hard to find. The alternative is peat moss. Make sure that this has not been enriched before being packaged, as the pH will be too high. You can mix either of these growing media with perlite or horticultural sand.
Venus fly traps (Dionaea) and any of the many varieties of pitcher plants (Sarracenia) can be successfully grown inside, however other, more tropical varieties require sunlight to grow well and are more suited to outdoor cultivation - see below. If growing a sunlight-loving variety indoors you will need to provide a light that produces ultraviolet. These ‘growing’ light bulbs can be obtained from hydroponic suppliers.
Generally speaking, your carnivorous plants will be very happy deriving nutrients from the unfortunate insects that land in their traps. However, if you're not sure that there's enough insect life around for your carnivorous plant to thrive, you can feed occasionally with half-strength Powerfeed.
Tip - make your indoor garden in a glass terrarium
The advantage of a terrarium is that the plants will have regulated humidity and moisture, they will make a microclimate of their own. A fish tank is ideal. Place a slatted base in the bottom of the tank so that the water will remain beneath the roots of the plants and be drawn up by capillary action. This will prevent the plants sitting in stagnant water. You can make one with strips of timber or plastic.
Alternatively leave your plants in their pots and sit them in the terrarium so that the bottoms of the pots are in the water and the plants are above. You can then disguise the pots by filling in with sphagnum moss or peat.
Carnivorous plants do not like to be over potted. If in doubt, choose the smaller pot when re-potting, and always check that the plants are not potted too deeply. Traps and pitchers should not touch the ground.
Growing carnivorous plants outdoors
In a frost-free climate you can create a peat garden outside. Dig out the ground to the required size and line the hole with plastic. Fill it in with peat moss, mounding it at the edges and making a ‘pond’ in the middle. Fill with water and it will soak into the surrounding peat moss, creating a mini swamp which your plants will love.
Most carnivorous plants benefit from sunlight. Sun dews (Droseras), flytraps, pitcher plants and bladderworts will all flower and thrive when planted around the boggy edge of your peat swamp, while the water reservoir in the middle will keep the conditions moist.
Be careful if you plant the more tropical nepenthes with their spectacular hanging pitchers as they may not survive a cold winter.
One last tip...
As tempting as it is - don't manually trigger the traps! Each trap is only capable of a limited amount of opens and closes, and if it is triggered with no nutritional benefit, this will zap your plant of much-needed energy. Keep your hands off, and wait to watch it happen naturally when an insect lands!