Venus Flytrap Care Regimen
With their few basic requirements met of pure water, nutritionless soil and plenty of light, Venus Flytraps are easy to care for. But periodic attention is necessary, from the frequent attention to the moisture content of the soil and watering, to less frequent cyclical and seasonal care involving trimming old, dead leaves and treating for insect pests. The care regimen also changes during Venus Flytrap dormancy during the colder part of the year, when water needs are greatly reduced but the need for light remains. In addition, Venus Flytraps need to be transplanted into fresh soil from time to time in order to continue to grow their best and healthiest.
As mentioned elsewhere at VenusFlytrap.info, Venus Flytraps need very pure water, distilled water, reverse-osmosis (or deionized) water, or collected rainwater. Venus Flytraps' soil should never dry completely, but Venus Flytraps should not be watered too frequently. Overwatering (the most frequent cause of death of house plants in general) can cause numerous problems such as fungal and bacterial growth and infection, and can damage or kill a Venus Flytrap.
People often erroneously believe that Venus Flytraps need a lot of water all the time, and anxious and worried new growers of Venus Flytraps and other carnivorous plants often tend to water the soil of their plants too much or too frequently. A Venus Flytrap likes to have some moisture available at all times (like most plants) but does not like to be in soil that is too wet, and faces some serious problems when the soil is saturated with water too often and for too long. Venus Flytraps in very wet conditions often try to grow more quickly in order to use up some of the water to keep from being adversely affected by it, but this type of "water growth" is unhealthy, creates spindly, thin-bodied leaves and makes the plant more susceptible to numerous types of attack from insect pests, fungus and bacteria. If a Venus Flytrap is grown in wet soil and is also deprived of sufficient light, it will almost certainly develop problems, suffer, decline and perhaps die over a period of weeks or several months.
A turkey baster can be a helpful and effective watering tool, allowing precision or spot watering without splashing the soil or wetting the crown of the plant
Venus Flytraps can tolerate wet soil for short periods of time, from several hours to several days, if the air is very warm and they are in full sun with some air movement (a breeze outdoors for example). Venus Flytraps are sometimes inclined to crown rot when too wet, which means that the center of the plant where the leaves emerge, if too wet or moist for too long, can develop a fungal or bacterial infection. Air movement and warm sunlight help to dry the surface of the soil and the leaves of the Venus Flytrap, especially in the growing center of the rosette, to help keep the plant dry and healthy.
The soil surface around Venus Flytraps, even growing wild in their native territory, often looks dry. This is because ideal Venus Flytrap soil is very sandy or porous and well drained. Although the surface dries fairly quickly, the necessary moisture for the roots to sustain the plant and keep it hydrated is underground. Venus Flytrap roots grow almost directly downward up to 8 to 10 inches or more (20-25 centimeters or more) and once mature, a Venus Flytrap can easily sustain itself and keep itself hydrated when the top couple inches or several centimeters is fairly dry, but the soil beneath that contains some moisture. The rhizome (the "bulb") of The Venus Flytrap underground grows more healthily when the soil around it is not too wet. If the roots have grown long enough, it's often better to allow the upper part of the soil to dry even to the depth of the first or second joint of a finger (used to probe the soil to feel for moisture) before watering thoroughly again.
Venus Flytraps should be watered thoroughly and completely, not lightly nor merely superficially, but the frequency of watering and time between waterings can vary greatly. How often the soil of Venus Flytraps should be watered is determined by a number of conditions. During hot weather the soil dries much more quickly than during cold weather. A lot of breeze, wind or other air movement can dry the surface and top part of the soil fairly quickly. With less air motion the soil can stay moist much longer. Direct, bright sunlight will dry the surface and upper part of the soil much more quickly than shady conditions.
In full sun during warm or hot weather, outside with an occasional breeze, in pots only a few inches or centimeters in depth, Venus Flytraps can often need to be watered thoroughly every 2-5 days or so. During dormancy in the colder part of the year, with shorter days and less intense sun, protected from freezing in an enclosed environment in which there is much less air flow, Venus Flytraps' soil dries much more slowly, and they might need to be watered only every 8 to 10 to perhaps 14 or more days, depending on the rate of drying and how much water is retained by the soil.
Another factor that increases or decreases the frequency (how often) a Venus Flytrap or other carnivorous plant should be watered is the consistency and moisture retentiveness of the soil. A potting soil composed of pure sphagnum peat moss is very moisture retentive and holds water for a fairly long time. In fact, pure sphagnum peat moss dries too slowly to be an ideal potting medium for Venus Flytraps. The soil for a Venus Flytrap should be porous, easily draining, not too moisture retentive while at the same time containing plenty of air. This is accomplished by adding non-moisture-retentive ingredients to the potting medium such as silica sand and perlite, as mentioned in the VenusFlytrap.info article about soil.
Experience will teach one when and how often to water a Venus Flytrap. The most difficult time is at the beginning, when a person has just begun to grow a Venus Flytrap and doesn't yet know how quickly the soil will dry or how much water the plant will need. Often, just after planting or transplanting, a Venus Flytrap will need a little more water (several extra thorough waterings during the first several weeks) while the roots become reestablished and begin to obtain moisture from the soil more efficiently in order to keep the plant adequately hydrated, but new growers can tend to worry too much and "kill their plants with kindness" by watering too frequently and keeping the soil too wet. So it's often better to err on the dry side and wait until the soil beneath the surface has dried to just moist, even to the point that the leaves might wilt a little, and watering then rather than keeping the soil too moist.
Top Watering versus Bottom Watering
There are two basic ways to water a Venus Flytrap: from the top, by pouring or spraying water onto the surface of the growing medium and allowing it to saturate the soil and drain out the bottom of the pot; or from the bottom, by placing the growing container into a bowl or tray of water and allowing it to absorb water upward through the drain holes, which then makes its way toward the top of the soil by capillary action (the tendency of water to be drawn upward along the surface of the solid objects it comes into contact with).
Bottom watering is often easiest, requiring less effort, but introduces several issues and potential problems. If the planting container is relatively shallow, 5 inches (13 centimeters) or less in depth, and if the container remains in water all of the time or most of the time, the soil can be too continuously wet around the roots and rhizome of the plant, increasing the possibility of fungal or bacterial infection, including anaerobic bacterial rot. In contrast, very deep pots, 12 inches (30 centimeters) or more in depth can often be left in standing water for long periods without a negative effect on the plants or their growth, because the water-saturated part of the soil will be below rather than around the primary mass of roots and the rhizome (as a reminder, the rhizome is the "bulb" of the Venus Flytrap, the whitish part under the ground that is actually composed of the bases of the leaves).
Even if Venus Flytraps are watered from the bottom most of the time, it is helpful and healthy to water them from the top at least occasionally, thoroughly until plenty of water drains from the bottom. The drained water should be discarded. Occasional top watering flushes the soil of dissolved material that may have accumulated in the growing medium over time. If the soil is not occasionally flushed and leached of this accumulated dissolved material, it can potentially increase to levels that can damage the plant. So top watering, at least occasionally, can be viewed as a helpful preventive maintenance to keep Venus Flytraps their healthiest.
The leaves of Venus Flytraps, like those of other plants, do not live forever. As new leaves form, older leaves die. In nature Venus Flytraps are often aided by wind, rain and small organisms such as insects and fungi that feed on decaying plant matter, to help to rid the Venus Flytraps of their dead and discarded leaves, but in cultivation that often doesn't happen, and it then can be considered a necessary and important part of a care regimen to trim the dead leaves from the plants.
Many old, dead leaves will have already detached from the Venus Flytrap and are easy to remove simply by pulling gently on them. Others, usually those that have more recently died, will need to be cut from the plant. Tweezers can be useful for pulling and small scissors for cutting. Small scissors are often sold as cheap surgical-style scissors or scissors for sewing or various crafts.
As a Venus Flytrap leaf ages, it typically begins to brown around the trap area and/or along the upper margins of the flanges of the leaf just below the trap. As the leaf browns, the dead parts can be cut away. However, don't cut any green parts of the leaf: even if a leaf is dying, the parts of the leaf that are still green continue to photosynthesize (use sunlight to create sugars in the leaves for food). The traps of a Venus Flytrap leaf often die first and can be trimmed off, but the rest of the leaf will often stay green for a much longer time and continues to be useful, producing food for the plant. So make a practice and habit of only cutting off leaves or leaf tissue that have completely turned brown, dried and died, while allowing any green, living tissue to remain on the plant until it dies.
Although some new leaves grow and older ones die all the time, Venus Flytrap leaves often grow and die in flushes. Venus Flytraps have growth spurts throughout the active growing season, starting in Spring when they emerge from dormancy and grow several to many new leaves one after another in quick succession. Likewise, older leaves often die back in groups during the growing season and especially when the plant enters dormancy in the Fall. During dormancy the Venus Flytrap continues to grow, but only very slowly, with just a few short, stubby leaves. Most of the leaves from the previous growing season die at this time (but sometimes not all of them), surrounding the living, growing center of the plant, the rosette which is much smaller during dormancy than during the growing season, with a ring of black, curled, dried leaves. This yearly stage after the plant has become dormant is a good time to groom and trim the dead leaves from Venus Flytraps.
Grooming and trimming dead leaves from a Venus Flytrap not only improves its appearance, but also keeps the dead leaves from shading the new growth and preventing the new leaves from obtaining the sunlight they want and need. This is especially important during dormancy when the rosette of growing leaves is so compact and small and easily shaded by larger, older dead leaves. In addition, a mass of dead leaves over and surrounding the growing crown of a Venus Flytrap can cause damp and musty conditions, promoting fungal growth that could infect the plant. Free air flow, a drier immediate environment and more sunlight, all provided by trimming and discarding the dead leaves, can help avoid such fungal infections.
Some young Venus Flytraps in dormancy, before and after grooming and trimming the dead leaves from the plants. The rosettes are very small during dormancy; the leaves and entire plant are much larger during the growing season.
Care During Dormancy
The primary thing to remember during Venus Flytraps' dormancy, aside from continuing to give them some light and in cooler conditions, is to keep the soil much drier most of the time. This does not mean to allow the soil to dry out completely, of course, but the water needs of Venus Flytraps diminish greatly during their dormancy, and keeping the soil too wet, especially in cool conditions, invites fungal and bacterial infection and rot. Many Venus Flytraps are lost each year in cultivation because they were kept too wet. Cool and wet conditions promote the growth of some of the most virulent, harmful microbial growth.
When the soil is watered during dormancy, it should be watered thoroughly (just like during the warm active growing season), but much less frequently, not until the soil dries to just somewhat damp around the roots and rhizome of the Venus Flytrap. It's helpful to water on a relatively warm day during the winter dormancy, in the morning so that the soil can begin to dry a little before night and cooler temperatures. While Venus Flytraps during the active growing season might need water every 2-5 days, during dormancy the frequency of watering is often as long as 10-14 days because of the reduced water needs of the plants, the decreased evaporation because of colder air, and in the absence of much air movement.
Venus Flytraps don't ever become completely dormant. They continue to grow a little throughout dormancy and continue to use light to photosynthesize and produce food for the plant, most of which a Venus Flytrap stores in the rhizome underground to provide nutrition for the growth of the plant during the next active growing season which begins in the Spring.
Therefore, even though in their natural environment the sun in winter during dormancy is diminished because of shorter days and cloudy weather, ideally a Venus Flytrap should be exposed to at least some sunlight or strong artificial light during dormancy.
The diminishing light of shorter days in the Fall, and the onset of cooler to cold weather, is what triggers Venus Flytraps to grow more slowly and tentatively, and finally to lapse into their winter dormancy. In cultivation, the temperatures during dormancy do not need to be very cold, and should always remain above freezing for the optimum growth and health of a Venus Flytrap during dormancy.
More Information about DormancyFor more complete information about the care of Venus Flytraps during their yearly rest period, their dormancy, please read the article here at VenusFlytrap.info about dormancy— Venus Flytraps and Dormancy
Preventive Pest Management
Venus Flytraps aren't often attacked by insect pests, but when they are, the results can be very destructive, sometimes very quickly. Because of that, it is helpful and advisable to develop a habit of preventive insecticide sprays at several well-timed points during the year. Preventive treatment means using insecticide even when no insect pest is visible on the plants, so one might question why such treatment should be done.
- Reasons for preventive insecticide treatment–
- Insects such as mealybugs, aphids, spider mites and thrips often gain a foothold on plants before they are noticed by the grower
- Certain times of year and certain weather patterns increase the likelihood of an outbreak of insect pests, and these can be identified with experience and a preventive treatment spray can be applied at those times
- It's much better for the plants to treat a problem before it happens or when it is likely to happen, than after some plant-tissue destruction has occurred
- Some insects, notably spider mites, can do a tremendous amount of damage in a short time and before they are noticed, and can be hard to get rid of if a serious infestation already exists. Spider mites typically appear during spells of warm and dry weather, even during winter dormancy if the days are warm enough and the air dry enough. It is much easier to rid a plant of a spider mite infestation before they grow into a large colony with many eggs that require several sequential treatments to eliminate completely.
Experience will usually indicate to a grower when the conditions, or the time of year or stage of the growing season suggest a preventive insecticide spray. Once in late Spring just after the Venus Flytraps emerge from dormancy, once or twice during the growing season, and once in winter dormancy when the weather conditions are somewhat warmer and dry, are all typically good times for a preventive insecticide treatment, with experience (actually observing when pest outbreaks occur) improving the grower's timing of these insecticide treatments.
What type of insecticide?
Insecticides usually are one of two general types: superficial or systemic. A superficial insecticide is a powder or liquid that sticks to the outside surface of the leaves and plant parts on which it is sprayed. It will affect and hopefully kill insect pests that roam the surface of the plant. A systemic insecticide is absorbed into the plant, and while it does not harm plants, it causes them to be poisonous to any insect that chews on the plant tissue or sucks fluids from the plant. Grasshoppers and caterpillars chew on plants, sometimes including Venus Flytraps, and aphids and spider mites pierce the surface tissue and suck fluid from plants.
The amount of time that an insecticide remains effective varies. Some systemic insecticides, such as acephate, remain poisonous (to insect pests) for up to 6 weeks or more, while other insecticides are very potent when applied and kill most of the insect pests, but might quickly lose potency, requiring additional sprayings several days to a week or two apart if the insect pests persist.
Grower's Notes about Insecticides
This grower (the author, Stephen Doonan) uses acephate as a general purpose systemic insecticide, both for preventive sprays and to treat visible infestations of insect pests. Acephate is the generic term for an organophosphate insecticide that was formerly known by the brand name Orthene. Acephate is a strong-smelling powder that is soluble in water. It is effective, fast-acting, long-lasting and reasonably priced. Acephate in soluble powder form is often sold as "fire ant killer."
Spider mites can be tough to eliminate and usually require additional treatment with a secondary insecticide or dedicated miticide (acaricide). I use a powder (superficial, not systemic) called Pentac (dienochlor) that is easily dispersed into water and sprayed on the plants. Care must be taken when spraying superficial powder insecticides not to spray so hard that the water drips heavily from the plants, carrying the powdered insecticide with it. Other effective miticides include Avid (avermectin), Talstar (bifenthrin) and Mavrik (fluvalinate).
More red spider mites than you'll ever want to see during your lifetime, once you know how damaging they can be. Spider mites are tiny and often almost invisible to the naked eye, reproduce very quickly and require immediate and repeated pesticide treatment to prevent severe damage to plants.
More Information about Pest Treatment
For more detailed and comprehensive information about pest treatment, please read the article here at VenusFlytrap.info— Pests and Problems