North American Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia) Care Information:
PLEASE NOTE: The care information we have placed here is specific to North American Pitcher Plants (or Sarracenia in 'geek speak'), and may not be valid for other types of carnivorous plants. For a more basic understanding of the care and maintenance of carnivorous plants, and an appreciation for how easy they are to care for, we suggest that you read our General Carnivorous Plant Care page first.
A bit of information about Sarracenia and their care in general: The genus Sarracenia (Sarrs, as some hobbyists call them) are inhabitants of bogs and fens of the U.S. and Canada, where they enjoy acidic, nutrient-deficient soil, just like most other carnivorous plants. In fact, they are often found growing alongside other CPs, such as sundews, Venus Flytraps, and butterworts. While they all differ tremendously in their height, shape, coloration, and patterning, they are all characterized by producing pitcher-shaped leaves which grow from a central root at ground level (called a rhizome), and a hood over the opening of the pitcher. They can be found in suitable habitats from East Texas eastward to Florida, northward up the East Coast to Newfoundland, and then westward to the Great Lakes region. They have been planted by humans in other locations (California, Germany, Scotland, Etc.) and have become naturalized in many of these areas. Some of the individual species are listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and are protected by federal and international laws. In our opinion, why would anyone want to take one from the wild, when you can get nice healthy plants in pots from PetFlytrap.com! There are many different cultivars (named identical clones of Sarracenia, like 'Judith Hindle' or 'Doodle Bug'), and certain ones are short, tall, ornately colored and/or patterned, pitcher best in spring/fall...lots of variation! But they all share the same general characteristics and growing requirements. Since these are temperate plants, they do best if given a winter dormancy, similar to what they would get in their native habitat. More on that later.
Regarding general care for Sarracenia, in our opinion, except for very small seedlings and such, these plants should be grown outdoors in full sun due to their high light requirements; indoor growing can be problematic due to their size (some plants can get over three feet tall!) and need for a lot of light. For those with just a few plants, place the pot(s) in a shallow saucer or dish. If you have quite a few, you may want to consider creating a 'barrel bog' or placing the pots in a tray with no holes; it sure makes watering quicker and easier!
Watering: As with all carnivorous plants, Sarracenia require pure water of some sort, such as distilled, reverse osmosis (RO), or rain water. Bottled water and spring water from the grocery store are not recommended, as these both contain salts and minerals to make them taste better to us humans. Regardless of your growing method, keep the soil moist but not waterlogged at all times. Do not use tap water or your plant will die over the course of time. Treated tap water contains chemicals and dissolved solids which build up in the soil and will certainly affect the health of your carnivorous plant. Also, never let your plants dry out; place them, pot and all, in a tray or saucer, and add ¼ to ½ inch of water to the saucer. Don't pour the water directly onto the soil, as this can cause the soil to wash up onto the growing point of the plant and stress it. Rather, allow the water in the saucer to be absorbed by the soil before you add more water to the saucer, so that moisture can be kept in the soil but the roots have a chance to 'breathe' in between waterings. The soil around the base of the plant should always be damp to the touch, but the saucer can and should be allowed to go dry before adding more water. Remember: Do NOT let the soil dry out. You are better off using tap water if absolutely necessary, rather than letting your plants get too thirsty! A quick note if you are growing your plants directly in soil (no pots) in a bog garden or similar habitat: be very careful not to overwater...we usually drill a few small holes in the sides of the container several inches above the bottom, so that excess water can drain out.
Soil: Sarracenia are temperate plants, meaning they prefer a more typical looking (dark) soil mix. We use our Standard Soil Mix, which contains Sphagnum peat, coarse-grade sand, and perlite. Grow these plants outdoors, so they can get full sun; this is a wonderful way to grow them, and allows them to experience natural conditions, such as dormancy (nope, not yet...more later!). However, we recommend placing a 'topping' layer of Long-fiber Sphagnum moss or coarse-grade sand on top of the soil. This helps keep the soil from being splashed up onto the growing point of the plant if there is a heavy rain event. Above all, you want a soil mix that is acidic, nutrient-deficient soil, and it must be open enough to provide for good aeration and drainage. In our Standard Soil Mix, the Sphagnum peat provides the acidity; while the coarse-grade sand and/or perlite help to keep the soil from getting too densely packed, and provide for good soil drainage. If peat is used without a means of drainage, the roots of the plant may begin to rot. Replacement soil mixes or individual ingredients can be purchased from PetFlyTrap.com in the Supplies section. If you purchase your soil/ingredients from other sources, be certain that they do not have added chemicals, fertilizers or surfactants in them, as many name brands do. NEVER use potting soil or any nutrients of any kind in the soil: compost, fertilizers, anything that guarantees big beautiful plants. These plants get nutrients through their leaves and traps, and fertilizers in the soil may cause the roots to die off and kill your plant!
Humidity & Air Circulation:While Sarracenia can tolerate somewhat lower humidity if they are slowly acclimated to it, they all prefer higher humidity environments, and the tender new pitchers may not form correctly if they are grown without enough humidity. However, if they are grown outdoors as we suggest, most parts of the country should have adequate humidity. Higher humidity also helps the pitchers to produce more prey-attracting nectar, and if the humidity is too low to do this, the plant may not be able to attract food. Adequate air circulation is important as well; not enough air flow, especially following rainfall or if leaves and other material covers the growing points, can cause the growth points to mold and/or die back. And since this is where the pitchers grow out of, you don't want to have these die! Here in the Houston area, we have literally had to place fans in our Sarracenia growing areas when we get heavy rains for days on end.
Food: Sarracenia obtain few nutrients from the soil, relying on their pitfall traps (modified leaves) to catch insects and other prey (yes, it's not just bugs!) to give them the micronutrients they need for long-term health and growth. Bugs and other animals are a dietary supplement (like a vitamin pill) that help the plant to grow faster, but are not required in 'human' quantities for the health and survival of the plant; they still absorb and store energy from the sun (photosynthesize), just like other green plants. When grown outdoors, these plants generally don't need any feeding, as they can catch plenty of food on their own. We have seen Sarracenia with 3-foot tall pitchers in the wild that are filled to within a few inches of the top with a writhing mass of bugs! If you really want to feed your plant, we recommend feeding your plant live or freshly killed food items. Think juicy...not a dead 'husk of a bug' from your windowsill! Never use fertilizer on your carnivorous plants' soil. We know of growers who will use a bit of very weak orchid fertilizer on the leaves of their plants, but we have not found this necessary here in the Houston area. We have plenty of food!
Light: Sarracenia enjoy 14 to 16 hours of direct sunlight, and definitely want to be outdoors if your conditions allow. MAny growers in more northern areas row their Sarracenia in cold-frame greenhouses, where the sides can be rolled up during the warmer months, and rolled down to protect the plants from deep freezes in winter. For seedlings and shorter varieties,indoors may be an option, but only in the short-term. We typically recommend bulbs in the 5500K to 6500K color range, and placed 12 to 18 inches from the plant(s), depending on the particular light system you use. The amount of light will determine plant coloration. We have had one small section of a pitcher stay green while the rest of it turned deep red...all because that section was shaded by another pitcher! If Sarracenia are grown in insufficient light, they will produce overly long, thin leaves (etiolation), and there is a good chance they won't even be able to hold their own weight. Floppy pitchers are a sign of insufficient light. As the light increases (and depending on the variety of course), the red coloration intensifies. Above all, remember to slowly acclimate a Sarracenia to any changes in condition...especially lighting. While they can take lots of direct light, it’s best to start in a lesser light environment and slowly increase the amount or intensity of the light gradually to allow the plant to adjust to the environment.
Dormancy: Sarracenia must have a natural dormancy in winter, and may lose their leaves at this time. This can be as little as six weeks or for several months, and is largely dependent on the area in which you live. Here in the Houston area, we leave our Sarracenia outdoors with no winterizing year round, and have had the water in our plant trays freeze solid with no negative effects to the plants. However, the further north you live, the more likely that you might want to give your plants a bit of added protection. Various methods can be used...some growers use a generous layer of pine needles to insulate their plants, while others with just a few plants simply move them into the garage during extreme cold. It is a good idea to reduce the amount of watering during this time, keeping the soil moist as always, but without having them stand in water either. Also, remember that different species/varieties of Sarracenia grow naturally in a wide range of growing zones. If you live in an area that is warmer or colder than their normal range, your outdoor conditions may not be adequate to give them good dormancy, and may even kill your plants!
Having said that, these are wonderful plants to grow outdoors, and will do wonderfully with a minimum of fuss. They also make wonderful additions to an outdoor carnivorous plant bog, especially with their variation in size, height, color, pattern, time of best pitchers...quite a show!
Important Notes to remember:
1) As with all carnivorous plants, Sarracenia will always have older leaves and traps that are withering and dying back, especially in winter. This is a normal occurrence in nature; simply trim off the dead plant matter. The plants grow new leaves out from the center. You know you have a nice, healthy plant as long as this is happening.
2) Keep the soil moist at all times using the watering instructions above.
3) Keep in mind that YOUR CONDITIONS WILL DIFFER GREATLY DEPENDING ON YOUR GROWING ENVIRONMENT AND WHERE YOU LIVE! Someone growing a Sarracenia in Minnesota will need to care for their plant very differently than someone who lives in the arid deserts of Arizona!
Of course, please feel free to contact us via e-mail at [email protected] or 281-433-3290 if you have any specific questions. We're happy to help!