Venus Flytraps should always feature in any carnivorous plant garden. They're beautiful, unique and arouse a lot of curiosity.....especially with the kids!
I am pleased to say that YES Venus flytraps are easy to grow. So long as you follow some basic but important care guidelines you should be able to grow beautiful flytraps year after year.
After talking to many 'past growers' at the markets though there seems to be a high failure rate with Venus Flytraps. To me it's obvious that there's a lot of ignorance and misinformation about the basic care guidelines. Before I explain the care guidelines I'm going to highlight the one main reason growers have difficulty propagating Venus Flytraps. If you can understand the following you will not only be able to grow healthy plants but also MATURE plants.
To better explain the number one reason growers have difficulty with this plant I'm going to explain their endemic environment first....
Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are endemic to North and South Carolina in the United States. Here they experience temperatures ranging from 32 degrees Celsius in summer to 0 degrees Celsius in winter. So straight away you can deduce that if you want to grow healthy plants outside where you live you'll need to have some changes in the season (Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring). The reason is because the plant's lifecycle has been synchronized to changes in the seasons......including winter.
If there is one popular theme I hear that explains why so many growers experience angst with Venus Flytraps it's this: winter dormancy. So many times I've heard the following 'Well my plant was growing really well until winter arrived when it started to die off". I really feel sad when I hear this because plants get thrown out in the false belief there's something wrong with them (one look at the photo explains why).
For a lot of growers that's where their experience with Venus Flytraps ends: a lasting memory of a 'dying' plant (ouch!). You see it all comes down to a lack of understanding of the plant's life cycle. Venus Flytraps like any other carnivorous plant make the most of the insect activity in the warmer months. When winter arrives they simply hunker down and ride out the harsh cooler temperatures.
During winter Venus Flytraps go into a sleep or dormancy mode. This is where they stop producing new traps and just chill out. There are good reasons why Venus Flytraps go dormant and they are.....
A bit of knowledge goes a long way - So hopefully I've made it clearer about the life cycle of Venus Flytraps and the way they look in winter is absolutely normal. With this knowledge you now won't think there's something wrong with your plant or even worse ....throw it out! Venus Flytraps are in fact perennials and will reward you with fresh new traps year after year.
Now let's get into the really fun part of explaining how to grow these plants during the growing season....
You've probably heard of peat moss and wondering what exactly it is. The word 'moss' suggests that it's alive and green. Well it's actually the opposite. Peat moss is sphagnum moss which has decomposed over time. It's dark in colour and looks like normal potting mix. These are the characteristics of peat moss:
It depends on the concentrations of dissolved salts. Usually chlorides and fluorides are added to tap water to kill microorganisms. In high enough concentrations these chemicals can burn the roots of carnivorous plants causing deformed leaves and traps. So why are carnivorous plants sensitive to chemicals added to tap water?
The answer lies in why carnivorous plants have evolved to catch insects at all. The reason is because the peat bogs in which they grow in naturally are nutrient poor. To get around this carnivorous plants have evolved to catch insects which provide vital trace elements such as nitrogen. The plants simply have not evolved to absorb nutrients via their roots. The less dissolved salts in the water the healthier your plants will be.
A TDS (Total Dissolved Salts Meter) measures the concentration of minerals, salts and dissolved solids in water. This is really useful if you're not sure how safe your tap water is for your carnivorous plants. A TDS meter provides a reading measured in parts per million (ppm). As a general rule you want the ppm reading to be below 50 to be suitable for carnivorous plants. Click here to see how to use a TDS meter.
For healthy plants its important to water your plants with 'soft water'. This is a term used to describe water which has low concentrations of dissolved salts and minerals. Rainwater which falls straight from the sky is considered 'soft' unlike tap water which has added minerals. Use either rain, distilled or reverse osmosis filtered water. Soft water won't burn the roots of your plant resulting in beautiful, fully formed traps.
It's vital that you never ever allow the peat moss medium to dry out. Venus Flytraps live naturally in peat bogs and wet savannahs. The following methods replicate their moist growing environment.
The tray method - This the easiest way to water your carnivorous plants. Simply place your pots into a tray of water. The water is taken up into the peat moss through capillary action ensuring the roots never dry out. The tray method also provides humidity which the plants appreciate.
Top watering - You can also water your plants from the top if you wish. You will have to do this more often than the tray method to maintain a damp medium....especially during summer with high evaporation rates. The benefit of watering from the top is that any minerals and salts are flushed out from the bottom of the pot.
For those living in the Southern Hemisphere a north facing aspect will provide most light. Your plant will get morning, midday and late afternoon sun. However if you don't have a North facing aspect then try to aim for a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight.
More sunlight will not only result in a healthier plant but depending on your variety your traps will turn a deep red color. It never ceases to amaze me just how dazzling the traps can get. 'Lipstick Red' is probably the best way I can describe the deep red color of my 'Big Mouth' variety.
Damp rather wet is best - In winter the plants need less water because they're dormant and the temperatures are lower. The trick is to have the soil damp but not soaking wet. When you place your finger on the peat moss it should feel damp rather than wet.
The tray method - If you use the tray method of watering then simply allow more time between watering. Allow the tray to completely evaporate, wait say 4 or 5 days and then refill the tray. With low evaporation rates during winter you only around half a centimeter of water in the tray.
Happier plants - Not only will your plants be happier but you will reduce the chance of mold appearing on dead leaves. This can happen if you over water your plants in winter and there is too much humidity.
I just love observing how insects interact with carnivorous plants. Here is my favourite video of a fly 'playing' with one of my Venus Flytraps which I managed to capture in my own backyard….