How to Grow Venus Flytrap as a Houseplant
This carnivorous plant is entertaining to grow, but it does require a little special care. These tips will help you keep yours happy indoors.
When I was a kid, I thought Venus flytraps really did come from the planet Venus. Their little bifold jaws with spiky fringed "teeth" seemed alien enough, but when an insect landed on that enticing pink center and the trap closed around the victim, well, that was completely out of this world! These carnivorous plants are quite fascinating and can be fun to grow indoors. Luckily, that's not too difficult to do, as long as you don't mind catching a few insect snacks for them once in a while. The unusual plants need a little different care than other houseplants you’re probably used to growing, but by providing the right conditions, your Venus flytrap will soon become your new favorite plant.
Where Venus Flytraps Grow
Instead of originating one planet away from Earth, Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are perennials native to boggy areas of coastal North and South Carolina. They grow in moist, acidic soils in full sun, but only survive winter outdoors in Zones 8-10. Gardeners in colder-winter climates should grow Venus flytraps in a moist environment, such as a terrarium, that can go indoors during winter.
Growing Venus Flytraps
Venus flytrap thrives in poor, acidic soil that stays damp but still has good drainage. Avoid planting it in regular potting soil: A blend of one-third sand and two-thirds sphagnum peat moss provides the best drainage and moisture retention. Don't add lime to the soil and never add fertilizer.
Venus flytraps do best in bright but indirect light. It's especially important to avoid placing them in direct sunlight in summer, which may get too hot and cause the leaves to turn crispy. When grown inside under artificial lights, keep flytraps 4-7 inches away from fluorescent lights. If your plant's traps don't show a pink interior or if the leaves look long and spindly, provide more light.
For best Venus flytrap care, keep the environment humid and the soil moist but don't let the plants stand constantly in water. Never give your plants what comes out of your tap; it's usually too alkaline or might have too many minerals. Instead, rely on rain or use distilled water. Good air circulation is also important in growing Venus flytrap plants, so turn a fan on in the room where you keep them.
Feeding Venus Flytrap
What do Venus flytrap plants eat? The name says it all: Their main diet is flies (or other small insects). The trick is that the prey must be alive when caught. Dead flies won't work in Venus flytrap feeding; the insect must move around inside the trap to trigger it to close and digest it. It also needs to be small enough that the trap can close tightly around it to keep out bacteria.
If you grow the plants in a closed terrarium, the easiest Venus flytrap feeding method is to release small flies inside the space. Eventually, the bugs will be attracted to the traps and be consumed. Although flytraps are carnivorous, they can go long periods (a month or two) without eating insects. If you grow them outdoors, they'll get enough to eat naturally. If you're growing Venus flytrap indoors, you'll have to feed them dinner periodically. If you're feeding your flytrap, don't give it any insects that are larger than a third of the size of the trap; live flies might be tricky to feed it, but small spiders, beetles, and caterpillars will also work.
Winter Dormancy for Venus Flytraps
Like many other plants, Venus flytraps need a period of winter dormancy when they appear to be dead (the leaves may die back) but are merely resting. Keep the plant 35 to 50°F. Don't let terrariums freeze; the plants may die and the glass may break. At about the spring equinox, when days start growing longer, begin to increase warmth and light.
Venus Flytrap Varieties
Plant breeders have been working with Venus flytraps and have come out with a few varieties, such as 'Akai Ryu', which has large burgundy-red traps. These unusual varieties are available from specialty garden centers or online retailers, like this Red Dragon Fly Trap, $21, at Plant Delights Nursery.