- Nepenthes Care
- How to divide and repot Sarracenia, by Phil Wilson
- Subscribe via email
- Carnivorous Nepenthes “Pitcher Plants”
- General Care
- Carnivorous Plant Soil Mixes
- How to Grow Pitcher PlantsA Beginner’s Guide to Sarracenia
- Further Reading & Links
- International Carnivorous Plant Society
- Cultivating Carnivorous Plants
Each of those Nepenthes pictured above was grown following the simple guidelines below. While there are certainly specific requirements among some of the varieties, the following guide applies to the vast majority of Nepenthes you might encounter in cultivation.
Where to Grow
Nepenthes grow spectacularly on sunny windowsills. Always protect your plant from draft, extreme heat, and freezing temperatures. Windowsills that have Southerly, Easterly, or Westerly orientations are adequate, the main concern being ample sunlight. Humidity is a negligible factor, with ambient household humidity being more than adequate for most varieties. You may be able to grow Nepenthes outside if you live in a subtropical climate, like much of Florida or the Gulf Coast. As they are tropical plants, take care never to expose your Nepenthes to freezing temperatures, especially snow or frost. Many can take chills down through the low 40s F (4 deg. C), but this is best avoided.
Provide partial sunlight, several hours of direct sun with bright filtered light during the rest of the day. Avoid full shade. Sun is the key element in getting your plant to grow pitchers. The energy provided by photosynthesis is what grows the traps, and the light from the sun is essential to producing good color.
With proper sunlight, Nepenthes will grow well as a regular houseplant, such as this Nepenthes truncata growing in a west-facing window.
If a sunny window is not possible, use strong fluorescent lights (a minimum of 40 watts in actual output). Start with the lights approximately 12 inches above the plant. Monitor your plant and adjust the height of the light source if you are not satisfied with its growth. Use an electrical timer to maintain a photoperiod (consistent daylight hours, 14 hours is sufficient throughout the year).
If you are comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, your Nepenthes are comfortable naked. Daytime temperatures should be about 75°F. Nighttime temperatures may drop into the 60s but not necessary with most Nepenthes. Some highland species appreciate a drop into the 50s or lower at night, with a rise in temperature back up to the 70s F.
Unlike other carnivorous plants, Nepenthes will tolerate hard water (up to 200 parts per million) with almost no adverse effect. Make sure the water drains through the soil completely, hefting the pot to make sure it’s heavy and saturated. Avoid standing water, as this can cause root rot in Nepenthes, and can make them susceptible to pests.
Use a mix of 1 part dried sphagnum moss and 1 part perlite. Avoid using potting soil and compost, as their nutrient and mineral ingredients can kill carnivorous plants.
THE ULTIMATE CARNIVOROUS PLANT GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS
In this concise ebook, Jacob Farin, co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest, will show you how to think like a professional carnivorous plant grower to keep your first carnivorous plant alive and healthy. You will learn specifics about sunlight, water, and soil. You will also learn how to troubleshoot the most common problems that new growers face. When you gain experience growing the most common carnivorous plants in cultivation, you will have the knowledge base to grow other plants with greater confidence.
If you are new to carnivorous plants or have struggled to keep them alive for more than a couple of months, this ebook is for you!
How to divide and repot Sarracenia, by Phil Wilson
18 April 2018 – Guest Post
Today I’m very pleased to be welcoming Phil Wilson of the UK Carnivorous Plant Society to the blog. As well as being a long standing CPS committee member, Phil’s named a great many Sarracenia clones and was instrumental in the founding of the Carnivorous Plant European Exhibition and Exchange (EEE).
For his first contribution to Tom’s Carnivores he’s written a detailed guide to Sarracenia propagation. You’ll learn how to divide and repot your pitcher plants with rhizome cuttings and check your plants for potential health problems. Credit to Alex Abrams for splitting the plants in the photos.
Enjoy, and good growing!
Sarracenia are very easy to repot! They grow from a swollen stem called a rhizome which grows at soil level. Usually when you repot you will also divide your plant, as the rhizome naturally divides in most species.
Sometimes you will just want to repot a plant – if it’s a seedling that has outgrown its pot, for example. If this case, the method is much the same as below except that you won’t split the rhizome.
Spring is the best time to repot, though with a bit of luck you can do this at virtually any time of the year.
Here is the plant we are going to divide. Note the number of growing points and the several rhizomes. We will be able to turn this into several plants. You don’t have to let your plants grow this long without repotting of course!
Sarracenia won’t grow in normal garden compost. You need something that has no nutrients and has some drainage. Fortunately they aren’t that fussy!
Use sphagnum moss peat (or coir for a peat-free option) and mix it with perlite. Grit can be used as well if you prefer.
Be careful about perlite dust as it can be harmful. When you open the bag add some water, which will bind the dust particles. Also use a dust mask when adding it to the mix. Once mixed up it is harmless.
The ratio isn’t that important. About 3 parts peat or coir to one part perlite is fine. Once combined it should look something like the mixture below!
The key components of Sarracenia compost: perlite and sphagnum peat moss. Add some water to the perlite to bind the dust particles. Mix the compost. About 3 parts peat or coir to one part perlite is fine. Once combined it should look something like this!
Take your plant out of its pot. Below, you can see the original rhizome in the centre of the pot and see where it has spread out around the edges. Each of these growing points is a potential new plant!
This is not a gentle process! Start by shaking off some of the old compost and then pull out the growing points. You can use secateurs or a knife to cut the rhizome but it isn’t really necessary. The rhizome is fairly brittle and will break easily enough.
Sarracenia has a fairly basic root system. It’s only there to support the plant in the soil and draw in moisture. Sarracenia get their nutrition in other ways! Don’t worry if a piece of rhizome doesn’t look as if it has many roots. The plant will survive and will grow new ones readily. You can even pot a rhizome piece without any roots!
Soon you’ll end up with a selection of bits of rhizome — all potential new plants!
Splitting off pieces of the rhizome. All of these pieces are potential new plants!
The rhizomes will have the remains of old pitchers attached to them. Cut these off as you go. They can lead to rhizome rot when you repot, though more importantly, they can hide areas of rot in the rhizome.
Sarracenia rhizomes naturally rot from the old end as the plant grows. When the plant is established and growing well this isn’t usually a problem but it can infect healthy tissue when the plant is under stress from a repot.
We didn’t find any rot in this rhizome, but if you do, either remove the rotten part by breaking it off or cut it out with a sharp knife.
Next, fill a pot with the compost you made earlier.
Fill a pot with compost. It should be about 2-3 times the length of the rhizome on the plant you are potting up. Make a hole in the compost as deep and long as the roots. Drop the plant in keeping the main part of the rhizome around soil level.
The size of pot is not too important. It should be about 2-3 times the length of the rhizome on the plant you are potting up so the plant has enough room to create new growth. As a guide use a 7.5cm pot for small plants and 15cm pots for larger plants. You can use larger pots but be warned that the plant may struggle if the pot size is too big.
Fill the pot so the compost is slightly domed and press the surface down gentle so it’s flat. Don’t press too hard or you will compress the soil too much. Your plant won’t appreciate it!
Make a hole in the compost with your finger or thumb. This should be very easy to do. If it’s hard to get your finger in then it’ll be hard for the plant’s roots to penetrate too!
The hole should be about as deep and as long as the roots. Drop the plant in, keeping the main part of the rhizome around soil level. It’s a good idea to angle the rhizome slightly so that the growing point is just clear of the soil. This minimises the chance of fungal infections.
Angle the rhizome slightly so that the growing point is just clear of the soil. Give it a final firm up, add a plant label, and put the pot in some water.
Give it a final firm up, add a plant label (easy to forget that!), and put the pot in some water. The loose compost will draw water in quite quickly, so you may need to top up the water a bit.
Watch out for pieces of plant that are top heavy, especially if they don’t have many roots. This can hinder the plant’s recovery. It’s not easy to do but we might need to cut that flower bud off!
After repotting keep an eye on the plants and check for fungal infections. Any pitchers that suddenly die are a sure sign of a problem. It’s sometimes possible to save a plant that has developed rot by taking the plant out of its pot and carefully cutting any rot away. This is a bit weather-dependent too. A cold wet spring can cause problems. You can use a fungicide at repotting time, though it’s not usually necessary.
After repotting it will take about a year for the plant to recover. Pitcher growth and colour are often temporarily reduced. Pay extra close attention to their growing requirements after repotting.
In a few months I’ll be writing a post on how to use blind rhizome cuttings to propagate plants. This is a brilliant use of old bits of rhizome that a lot of people just throw away. I’ll also be exploring ways to take pitcher cuttings. Yes – you can take pitcher cuttings from Sarracenia!
A big thank you to Phil Wilson for taking the time to write this post, and to Alex Abrams for his help with the photos! Be sure to visit the UK Carnivorous Plant Society website to learn more about the many benefits of becoming a member – this includes access to the seed bank and a subscription to the society’s bi-annual full-colour journal. To be notified when Phil’s next post goes live, you can subscribe to Tom’s Carnivores.
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Carnivorous Nepenthes “Pitcher Plants”
Nepenthes are found growing wild in many areas of south east Asia. Contrary to popular belief, these plants grow in a variety of temperature conditions, from cold to hot. They all share one need in common, water, and lots of it.
Whether cold or hot, most pitcher plants grow in rain forest areas – or at least areas with near daily showers. They are terrestrial plants, but they grow in extremely low nutrient conditions. This lack of nutrient in their substrate is the reason for their production of pitchers; as they needed a way to absorb proteins and minerals needed for life.
In general, pitcher plants, are separated into two groups, lowland and highland. Lowland plants prefer warmer climates. Highland plants prefer cool to cold (but still moist!) conditions – similar to the carnivorous plants of north west America.
- Thoroughly water the plant and it’s potting mix daily. No less than every other day. If teh potting mix dries, the plant will die. In dry climates, an automatic mister may be beneficial.
- Try to keep pitchers 1/2 full. Watering is usually enough to do this, but best to check them weekly.
- Pitcher plants like light, but filtered light only. They can take up to three hours of full sun, but sunburn is not uncommon.
- Pitcher plants (unless otherwise noted) require warm to hot temperatures. Never let them get below 50 degrees F.
- Heavy winds can damage pitcher plants leafs and traps.
- If grown indoors, feed the plant through the pitchers. Don’t fertilize the potting mix. Place one insect or one pellet of Osmocote into each pitcher once a month.
- Re-potting can benefit your nepenthes if you follow a few rules.
- Re-pot every two years or when needed.
- NEVER use potting mixes. They all have fertilizer in them and while your plant will look great – it will not produce pitchers.
- DO use ground peat with a bit of horticultural charcoal as well as some perlite to prevent compaction. If local, bring the plant to me and I will re-pot it for you.
- Take care with nepenthes roots. They are fine and fragile. If you simply want to re-pot, lightly break up the compacted substrate around the roots, then re-pot as a whole.
- Trimming nepenthes is an aesthetic choice. The plants don’t care much is they are long or short – as long as they get enough to drink and eat. A trimmed nepenthes will have a more full appearance, as long nepenthes tend to loose leafs around their bases and “go woody”. Never trim your nepenthes down past three healthy leaf nodes.
- To divide, be as gentle as possible with the roots. I have had nepenthes go into shock for a year before, but some will begin to show growth again after 6 months from division. Some will die.
- Propagation by cuttings is possible! It does take time, care, and has a low success rate. To plant a cutting, snip off a length of vine with no fewer than 3 nodes. The part of the vine that is to be planted, cut the end at a sharp angle. Cut all leafs except for the top most leaf back to the vine. Push the mitered end into fresh ground peat, charcoal, and perlite. Keep this gently, but thoroughly watered every day. As long as the cutting has some green, you have a chance of success. If it yellows – throw it out as there is no saving it.
Carnivorous Plant Soil Mixes
Soil Mixes for Carnivorous Plants, Bog Orchids and Bog Plants
Carnivorous Plants worldwide grow in similar conditions: sunny, moist, peaty soils. Like any other generalization, there are exceptions and variations to this. Sarracenia purpurea, the Purple Pitcher Plant, typically grows in bogs with peaty, acidic soils, but there are localities in marls where it grows in sandy alkaline conditions. Drosera rotundifolia, Round-leaved Sundew, prefers live sphagnum, where as Mexican Butterworts, Pinguicula spp., are often found growing in cliffs and crevises of limestone. The point being, that generalizing and saying that carnivorous plants grow best in a peat:sand soil mix, does not account for the soil diversity of their habitats or variation of composition within a single location. Consider the fact that the soil profile of a woodland bog would reveal a continuum of composition from soggy peat in the center, to moist peaty sand in mid bog, and humusy, sandy, peat along the woodland margins. Different Carnivorous Plants could be found in these different soil zones, and some Carnivorous Plants would be spread throughout all of them. This is because there is a continuum of tolerance for soil variation among Carnivorous Plants. For some, the tolerance range is quite narrow, for others it is extremely broad.
That being said, there are two basic ingredients to carnivorous plant soil: peat moss and sand. Not just any peat or sand, but sphagnum peat moss and washed “river sand.” Sphagnum moss grows in nearly all carnivorous plant habitats. As it dies and decays it turns into sphagnum peat moss. This is common in the eastern United States and not to be confused with sedge peat which can be found in the western US. The sand is typically of quartz origin and free of minerals from constant washing and inundation of flowing water. This “river sand” is sometimes called “horticultural sand.” It should not be confused with “contractor’s sand”, which contains clays and fine particulate dust loaded with minerals. Remember minerals burn Carnivorous Plant roots and are to be avoided in any Carnivorous Plant soil mix. Most carnivorous plant growers use a general mix of peat:sand at 50:50. The ratio is not critical for carnivorous plants with a wide range of tolerance for soil conditions. For others the ratio and supplemental components can make a difference in whether or not the carnivorous plants grow, “hang in there,” or thrive. This is why Carnivorous Plant Nursery provides a variety of carnivorous plant soil mixes. Each is custom mixed for the particular requirements of the carnivorous plants it is designed for. This has been developed through years of growing experience, including success and failure, as well as field study of many different carnivorous plant habitats worldwide.
These concepts hold true for other bog plants including the bog orchids.
Carnivorous Plant Soil Mixes:
All Purpose Mix: For General Growing of Carnivorous Plants
Upper Bog Mix: For Venus Flytraps
Lower Bog Mix: For Sarracenia, Sundews, Terrestrial Bladderworts, Genlisea, Bylbis
Temperate Butterwort Mix: For Temperate Butterworts
Tropical Butterwort Mix: For Tropical Butterworts
Nepenthes Mix: For Nepenthes, Heliamphora, Ephytic Bladderworts, Bromeliads, Darlingtonia
Cephalotus Mix: For Cephalotus follicularis
Bog Orchid Mixes:
Bog Orchid Mix: For Calopogon, Spiranthes, Platanthera, Bletilla, Tipularia, Pleione
Lady Slipper Mix: For Cypridium acaule, Disa, Australian spp.
Lady Slipper Mix with Lime: For C. praviflorum, C. pubescens, C. reginae, Galearis
Our Soil Ingredients:
Long Fiber Sphagnum Peat Moss: Dried, natural Canadian Sphagnum Moss
Milled Sphagnum Peat Moss: Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss screened 1/4″
Horticultural Sand: Washed, sterilized, <1/8″
CaCO3 Sand: Calcium Carbonate sand and/or aragonite, washed, sterilized, <1/8″
Perlite: Horticultural Grade, screened, fine (≤ 1/4″ ±)
Fir Bark: Finely chopped Douglas Fir bark, (≤ 3/8″ ±), partially decomposed
Chopped Sphagnum: Long fiber, Grade AAA, unmilled or cut to 1-2+”
Pine Bark Fines: Finely chopped (≤ 3/8″ ±) Loblolly Pine bark, partially decomposed
Leaf Mould: Finely chopped (≤ 3/8″ ±) Oak and/or Beech leaves, partially decomposed
Pellet Lime: Horticultural Grade, fine (≤ 1/4″ ±)
|Mix Name||Plants||Milled Peat||Hort. Sand||CaCO3 Sand||Perlite||Fir Bark||Chopped Sphag.||Pine Park Fines||Leaf Mould|
|Lady Slipper with Lime||
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.
International Carnivorous Plant Society
The default “CP mix” that works for the majority of carnivorous plants is an equal mix of Sphagnum peat and coarse sand. That is easy to say but equal in what way? And do certain plants want it equal one way and others equal another way? It depends.
In North America, sphagnum peat is a commodity product and sold in bags and bales at every garden supply store and big box retailer. There are many brands and I do not think there is any difference between them as long as you make sure it is Canadian sphagnum peat and there is no fertilizer added. In the EU you want to make sure it is German sphagnum peat. Beware of buying any planting medium for carnivores from companies that specialize in fertilizer. It may not be obvious on the bag that they adulterated the peat with fertilizer or other additives such as lime. Also avoid sedge peat mined in the USA and any kind of forest humus.
Most of the sphagnum peat mined and sold is intended for garden soil improvement. For that use quality does not matter too much. Some bales you buy are full of stems and other “trash”. Pick out the trash, sift it, or if there is too much trash use that bale in your garden and try to find a different brand until that lot is sold. The quality from any given brand changes from lot to lot if not bag to bag. The small expensive bags of peat moss are probably the same material only fluffed and maybe sieved. They are not worth the extra cost.
Many growers wash their peat to remove nutrients and spores to reduce problems with moss, cyanobacteria, liverworts, ferns and other organisms found naturally in peat. The trade off here is many carnivores appreciate the nutrients in the straight peat but the moss and cyanobacteria in unwashed peat can overgrow seedlings. Washing will also help to decrease the salt in peat. Some brands of peat can have levels of salt that are toxic to carnivores. Please see Rinsing Peat Moss and Sand (growsundews.com) if you are starting seeds or otherwise having problems with unwanted organisms in your soil.
For sand you want a sharp silica or quartz sand with grain sizes in the 1.5 to 2 mm range. The purpose of the sand is to is to open up the soil and help keep it from becoming too soggy. Larger grain sizes are OK but smaller ones can produce a hard compact mass that roots have difficulty penetrating.
I recommend #14 sand blasting sand but #12 and #16 are OK if you can only find them. I am not sure if “sand blasting sand” is the official name. That is what I ask for although it does not say “sand blasting sand” on the bag. What the bag says is washed and sieved (graded) sand. It is available at building materials suppliers that specialize in sand, gravel, rocks, and other hard things like pavers. Try to find a brand that is quartz sand and is not beach sand. If you can not get washed and graded sand you can sieve and wash builders or plaster sand. Do NOT use play sand, plaster sand, or builders sand straight. Pool filter sand is too fine. The fine particles will make the soil mix like concrete. You are better off not using sand at all if you can not get the right sand.
Perlite is a good alternative to sand but it has drawbacks. In some areas it is hard to find perlite that is not salty. Perlite dust is dangerous to your health causing lung problems. During manufacturing and packaging perlite is always kept damp to keep down the dust. They can spray on any old nasty water for dust control and the original source material may also have been salty. I always keep perlite damp and wash it before use. To wash the perlite I put it in a bucket with water and only use the material that floats. I also use it only for plants that will be outside and get rained on to minimize salt buildup. In the past I have gotten perlite that was deadly to the more sensitive carnivores. What I use now comes in bags bigger than a peat bale and is OK. Do not buy perlite from brands that specialize in fertilizers since they may add fertilizer.
You should always keep your planting materials damp. It is easier to measure and mix and it is safer for yourself. I mix the soil with a large kitchen scoop in a large bucket. In the past I used boiling water to rehydrate peat. Someday I might do an experiment to see if it makes a difference. Peat does absorb the boiling water quicker, presumably because of the steam.
When I say a one-to-one mix of ingredients I generally mean it looks to me like it is one-to-one when I am done mixing and ready to use it. Depending on how fluffed the peat may be it might take three scoops of peat to one scoop of sand or perlite to get a mix that looks like one-to-one. For some plants that normally grow in very wet peaty locations in nature I use a peatier mix, for others that grow in sand or gravel I use a sandier mix. Generally you do not have to duplicate exactly the natural soil conditions. Some plants actually do better in artificial soils than they do in their native soils.
— John Brittnacher
Perlite. Some people sift it to use smaller pieces for some plants and larger pieces for others.
Cultivating Carnivorous Plants
Carnivorous plants fascinate with how they lure, catch, kill and digest insects. There are more than 720 species of carnivorous plants, many with astounding adaptations to inhospitable habitats. Popular carnivorous plants by genera include Byblis (rainbow plant), Cephalotus (Australian pitcher plant), Darlingtonia (cobra lily), Dionaea (Venus flytrap), Drosera (sundews), Nepenthes (tropical pitcher plants), Pinguicula (butterworts), Sarracenia (American pitcher plants) and Utricularia (bladderworts). With this kind of variety, there is no one way to grow carnivorous plants, but here are some general tips to get you started:
Light. Most carnivorous plants prefer bright light, and many, such as Sarracenia spp., are best with direct sunlight. Flourescent or other cool temperature grow lights can be used for indoor cultivation of smaller species. A terrarium of smaller carnivorous plants under such lights can make a great starter set-up.
Humidity. Almost all carnivorous plants require high humidity. An indoor terrarium or an outdoor bog garden in humid regions will meet this requirement.
Water. Do not use tap water or mineral water on carnivorous plants. Rainwater, melted snow or distilled water are ideal. Most carnivorous plants require moist to wet soil in the warmer months and less moisture in winter.
Soils. Garden soil is not suitable for carnivorous plants. The preferred media for most are live sphagnum moss, dried long-fiber sphagnum moss or a mix of about three parts peat moss to one part clean, sharp sand. Nepenthes prefer a more “open” mix, such as long-fiber sphagnum mixed with horticultural charcoal, perlite, vermiculite or other porous aggregate.
Temperature. Temperature requirements vary with specis and some require a distinct cool dormancy period.
Feeding. When insects are not available, a one-quarter strength organic fertilizer will benefit plants when actively growing, especieally Nepenthes. Do not feed any with actual meat, aas they are incapable of digesting complex proteins!
You can find out much more about carnivorous plants through the International Carnivorous Plant Society.