How to Grow and Care for Venus Flytraps
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant native to the bogs of North and South Carolina. In these regions, they grow in sandy soil that is high in moisture and acidity but nutrient-deficient, thus, the evolution of its insect-eating ability. Flytraps, like all plants, get their food from the soil and through photosynthesis, but they also eat insects to supplement their nutrient demands. The ability to live in unforgiving soil and catch their own food makes Venus flytraps one of the easiest plants to care for.
How to Care for a Venus Flytrap
- Grow them in a plastic pot with good drainage.
- Use a 1:1 mixture of peat moss, and horticultural sand or gravel.
- Water them with distilled water or rainwater, not tap water.
- Give them 12 hours of direct sunlight.
- Feed them small insects if they appear unhealthy.
- Give them less water and sunlight during dormancy.
- Repot them as they grow.
- Prune dead or dying flytraps.
- Don't let the flytraps flower.
- Resist poking the traps.
1. Plant Them in a Plastic Pot With Good Drainage
Venus flytraps need a lot of moisture, but too much water in the pot or in their ground can lead to mildew growth and root rot—so plant them in a pot with drainage holes. Although they can still grow in pots without drainage holes, this requires you to pay more attention to how much and how often you water.
Also opt for plastic pots rather than clay or cement blocks. Minerals in the clay or cement can enter their water supply, which can cause mineral burn.
As your plant grows, you may need to repot it to give it more breathing room. Gradually move up to bigger pots. There's no use planting it in a huge pot thinking that this will make it grow faster.
2. What Type of Soil Do I Use for Venus Flytraps?
As mentioned in the beginning of the article, Venus flytraps are used to growing in undernourished, acidic, and sandy soil. Using a 1:1 ratio by volume of sphagnum peat moss to horticultural sand is perfect for holding moisture while still providing drainage.
What Is the Best Soil for Growing Venus Flytraps?
- Don't use regular potting soil, compost, or any enriched soils or mosses. Also resist the temptation of using fertilizers to help them grow. An overload of nutrients is actually harmful to the plant.
- Use horticultural sand, not sand from the beach. Sand from the beach, like clay pots, can add too much mineral content and cause your plant to wither.
- Use peat moss and not just sphagnum moss. The difference is that sphagnum moss holds too much water and has a neutral pH. Peat moss, commonly referred to as sphagnum peat moss, is more acidic and holds just the right amount of water, mimicking the conditions in the flytrap's natural habitat.
- Use gravel or use more sand to provide more drainage. Perlite is commonly used to aerate soils and prevent them from caking. You can also try using a 1:2 ratio by volume of peat moss to sand.
3. How Often Should I Water Them?
The soil should be kept damp at all times. Usually, you only need to water every few days, but if you live in dry or hot areas, or if you have larger pots, you may need to water every day.
However, be cautious of overwatering. Growing in a large pot or in dry, hot conditions can make the surface layer of peat moss seem dry, but the deeper layers may still be moist.
Only use distilled water or rainwater. Tap water—or even filtered water—usually contains too many alkaline minerals that will harm the plant. Remember that they thrive in acidic environments.
If you are forgetful or don't have enough time to water, one trick is to put the pot in plastic tray, dish, or saucer. Fill the tray up with water, and the peat moss can draw it up over time like a sponge. This is most useful for smaller pots or during the summer, when the weather is hotter than usual.
4. How Much Light Do Venus Flytraps Need?
Venus flytraps can survive in partial shade and a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight, but if you want them to thrive, provide them with 12 hours of direct, bright sunlight. The morning is the best time for this since the rays are not too intense.
Avoid direct sunlight if it's too hot out, like during the summer, to prevent them from burning or drying out. You can provide some shade by hanging some cheesecloth or other light mesh fabric over the plants. You can also place them under the shade of taller plants or trees. Just make sure there is still adequate sunlight coming through the shade.
They can get some sunlight indoors if you place them by a window that has access to direct sunlight—usually windows that face east, west, or south.
What if I Don't Have Access to a Window With Direct Sunlight?
If you live in a place that isn't too sunny, or you don't have windows that face the sun, consider investing in artificial growing lights—usually fluorescent or LED lights. Keep the lights close to the plant (about 2-8 inches away). Remember to turn them off after 12 hours.
5. Should I Feed a Venus Flytrap?
If you are growing them outdoors, they can probably catch their own prey. However, if you are growing them indoors, or you notice they are looking unhealthy, you can periodically help them out by feeding them small insects.
Just make sure to keep track of which traps you have fed. You don't want to overfeed them. They can only open and close so many times in their life, and repeated feeding can sap their energy.
It is best to feed them live insects because this will help trigger their natural digestive processes—urea released by the insect signals the plant to secrete digestive juices. However, feeding them live insects can be difficult to do and really isn't necessary. Feeding them dead insects is perfectly acceptable.
What Can I Feed Them?
As their name suggests, they love eating flies. However, they can eat any insect small enough to trap, such as mosquitoes, moths, ladybugs, spiders, beetles, and ants.
If you feed them, make sure the insect is about 1/3 the size of the trap. If the insect is too small, the trap may not close fully and may end up not eating it at all because it won't provide enough nutrients. If the insect is too big, the trap can't close fully, making it harder for the plant to digest the insect and increasing the risk of a bacterial infection (from bacteria accumulating on the dead insect).
How Do I Feed Them?
I use a long tweezer to hold an insect (small spider or fly). The trigger hairs should be touched for the trap to close. Tickle them a tiny bit with the insect's legs.
6. How to Care for Venus Flytraps During Dormancy
Venus flytraps bloom in the spring, grow through the summer and fall, and go dormant through the winter (roughly 3-5 months). They do not die in the winter, although it may look like they are. They just aren't trying as hard to grow in order to conserve energy for the next growing season.
This doesn't mean you can just neglect them. They still need sunlight and water to perform photosynthesis. Here are some tips to help your plant make it through the winter:
- The best place to keep them is outdoors, but make sure you don't live in a region that is susceptible to frosting and freezing. Plants in pots are more likely to freeze over, so the best tip is to move them into the ground, where the soil large volume of soil can act as insulation that protects the rhizomes. Remember to use acidic, sandy soil that is suitable for Venus flytraps.
- Keep the plants cool, but don't allow it to freeze. The ideal temperature range during dormancy is between 32 ºF and 55 ºF (0 ºC-11 ºC). However, it will still stay dormant at higher temperatures.
- Some people keep their flytraps in a plastic bag in the fridge for the entire winter. If you choose to do this, remove dead leaves (appear brown or black) and mist with fungicide to prevent mold and fungal growth. Check on them periodically to make sure they have enough water
- Give them some sun, but less sun than usual. Dormancy is thought to be brought on by a combination of dropping temperatures and shorter days (shorter amount of daylight). During the winter, the plants should receive less than 12 hours of light.
- Keep the soil damp, but you don't have to water as much. The plant still needs some water, but it won't be using up as much of it. Monitor the moisture of the moss daily for the first week to help you gauge how often you need to water.
When it comes out of dormancy, gradually increase the amount of sunlight, food, and water.
Why You Should Take Care of Them During Dormancy
You can choose to let them die over the winter, but dormancy allows the Venus flytrap to remain healthy and strong. Cared for properly, they can live up to about 20 years.
7. Repot Them as They Grow
As more traps grow and get bigger, give them more room by gradually transferring them to larger and larger pots. This will give them more breathing room—both for the traps and the roots. Growing roots can cause the sand and moss to compact, so larger pots are a good idea to improve aeration.
8. Prune Dead or Dying Leaves
Sick, dying, or dead leaves and other plant parts are susceptible to fungal growth that can invade and kill the rest of the plant; it is important to remove them as soon as you notice them. It's easy to tell if the leaves are dead or dying: they will be wilted, dry, and appear brown or black.
It's best to prune as early as possible, but if you forget, and you notice mold starting to grow, remove the affected parts right away and lightly spray the plant with fungicide.
9. Should I Let My Venus Flytrap Flower?
Producing flowers is energetically costly for any plant, but in the wild, they do accept the cost for the sake of reproducing. However, for a potted Venus flytrap, flowering is unnecessary, and unless you are experienced and know how to care for a flowering plant, it will likely cause your plant to weaken and possibly die.
The flower grows up from the middle of the plant from a rod-shaped stalk. Once you notice a growth in the middle of the plant that doesn't look like the other flat leaves, you should nip it immediately.
10. What Happens If You Put Your Finger in a Venus Flytrap?
The Venus flytrap won't be able to harm you, but you will be harming it. If something like a twig, animal, your finger brushes against the trigger hairs, the trap will close, but it little else will happen. The trap will reopen in about a day. However, this is energetically costly for the plant.
A Venus flytrap can only close and open a few times within its lifetime. It may pique your curiosity to put your finger in—or even see if it can eat other foods like small bits of meat—but unnecessarily triggering the trap will only result in the plant's premature death. If you notice that a trap isn't closing when triggered, it is possible that it has eaten recently, or is running out of energy and nearing the end of its lifetime.
How Do Venus Flytraps Work?
The monster-looking leaf, or trap, has two lobes, each sporting tooth-like spikes (trigger hairs) along the edges that trap insects such as spiders, gnats, houseflies, and ladybugs. The two lobes produce a sweet-smelling nectar that attracts insects.
When an insect lands on a trap and bends one of the trigger hairs, the jaw-like lobes quickly snap shut, claiming the unwitting insect as its victim. Over the next few seconds, the trap gets tighter, making an air-tight seal as it floods the chamber with digestive juices to draw nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from the insect.