Grow Happy and Healthy Sarracenia Pitcher Plants
Unpacking and Planting your Sarracenia
- When you first receive your Sarracenia plants, if they were shipped bare root, carefully unwrap any packing material and soak the whole plant (leaves, roots and all) in only pure distilled water, collected rain water or reverse osmosis water (don't use tap water! it can easily damage the sensitive roots of Sarracenia) for 15 minutes to half an hour. If you don't yet have some distilled, reverse osmosis or rain water, just leave the plant(s) in the bag in a place away from direct sunlight for a while until you are able to obtain pure water, but open the bag momentarily for a fresh air change before closing the bag again.
- Planting media — Until you learn what alternative planting media will also work, plant them in a mixture of 50% pure sphagnum peat moss and 50% silica sand or perlite. If you can't obtain sand that is composed of almost pure silica (such as sandblasting or pool filter sand and not river nor beach nor desert nor sandbox "play" sand), then use perlite instead of sand. Warning: do not use Miracle-Gro brand sphagnum peat moss nor perlite; they are "enriched" with plant food that may kill Sarracenia. If you're unable to find any suitable media for your plant locally, you can purchase Sarracenia planting soil from the store.
- Planting container — Do not plant Sarracenia in terrariums or other clear containers or containers that have sides that extend several inches or more above the surface of the potting medium "soil," unless you plan to grow them completely out of direct sunlight with only fluorescent or other "grow lights"; direct sunlight entering through the clear sides of such containers can quickly heat both the soil and the air around the plant to such a degree that plants’ roots or leaves can easily be damaged or killed. Use glazed ceramic, plastic or insulating polyurethane foam planting containers that have a drainage hole and are at least 4 inches deep, and preferably 6-8 inches deep. Plant them so that the roots are completely buried and the rhizome or "bulb" is mostly buried into the planting medium with while top of the rhizome and pitchers are exposed above the surface of the soil. It's important to leave the top of the rhizome partially exposed so that sunlight hits it and stimulates the growth of pitchers.
- Use only rainwater, distilled water or reverse osmosis water. Sarracenia require very pure water. Your tap water is likely to contain too much of dissolved solids—minerals and salts—that may kill a Sarracenia, possibly within weeks. Always keep your Sarracenia moist. One way to accomplish this is to water thoroughly from the top or by placing the pot in a tray of water and allowing water to soak into the medium from the bottom through the drainage hole. Sarracenia can be kept wetter than Venus Flytraps, but it's still not a good idea to keep them too wet, especially during dormancy. When Sarracenia are very wet, they should also be warm and in the sun. Wet and cold is unhealthy (just like it is for people) and can cause fungal infections, rot and even death.
- Sarracenia must have a particular kind of soil that is poor in nutrients and slightly acidic. They will very likely die in "potting soil" or soil from your garden or yard. Their soil must be like the soil in their natural habitat: acidic and with almost no nutrients, moisture retentive but well drained. Until you learn what various types of ingredients you can have in their soil (from research on the Internet or from books, for example), it is best to use pure shagnum peat moss (no other kind of "moss") mixed with a more or less equal amount of silica sand (not beach or river or "play" sand) and/or perlite.
- Sarracenia are sun lovers, and in general, the more direct bright sunlight you give them, the healthier they will be. However, if the sides of a planter become very hot in full sun, try to cool the planter so that the roots don't overheat or burn. One way to do this without depriving the pitcher plant of the sun it wants and needs, is to place the planting container inside another larger container, with perlite filling the space between the two to insulate the inside container. Another way is to plant the pitcher plant in a styrofoam container (like a 16 or 20 ounce insulated beverage cup) or in a polyurethane foam planter.
- No! Never! Although experienced growers can occasionally fertilize Sarracenia lightly using special techniques such as foliar feeding or pouring diluted fertilizer into the pitchers, Sarracenia will probably die when fertilized by beginner growers, for the same reason that they usually die from tap water: too many minerals and chemicals. These burn the plants' roots and kill them. Sarracenia get all the nutrition they need from the sun (through photosynthesis like any plant) and from the insects they catch. If they are healthy and if you put them outside sometimes to "hunt," they will catch insects on their own. In fact, Sarracenia are expert hunters and by the end of a growing season, sometimes pitchers are completely full of flies, wasps and bees! If you'd like, you can feed them captured flies or other insects (but not meat!), but they will likely catch all they need on their own.
- Sarracenia must have a rest period of a few months every year. When the days become shorter and cooler in the Fall, the plants begin to slow down and not grow as much. Some species of Sarracenia, such as the leucophylla and leucophylla hybrids, put out their best pitchers just before dormancy. During dormancy Sarracenia should be kept cool. Although the plants can survive light frosts and brief freezing, it is better to keep them above freezing: 40°F to about 55°F degrees at night is sufficiently cool, and they can be warmer at times during the day, but should be cool to cold most of the time. An unheated porch or garage can work for most people. Sarracenia should not be watered nearly as often because they don't need nor use as much water during their dormancy. During dormancy, many of the pitchers will turn brown. You can leave any pitchers that turn brown until March or so and then cut off any of them that aren't green. By cutting off the brown pitchers, you'll allow sunlight to reach the rhizome again and promote growth of new pitchers. When spring arrives, your pitcher plant will appreciate being placed in warmer conditions and watered more frequently again through the growing season.
- You're on your way!
- If you follow the above tips, you'll be well on your way to growing healthy and happy Sarracenia pitcher plants!