I have a dirty little secret to admit. Many venus flytraps have died in my care over the course of my life.
I can remember buying a Venus flytrap as a young child and watching it dwindle despite my family’s effort to keep it alive and healthy.
To be fair, we did do some questionable stuff. My brother and I fed my venus flytraps a piece of a meatball at one point and shortly after it died.
Unfortunately, the deaths did not stop in childhood. A few years ago my parents gifted me a venus flytrap and, despite my better attempt to keep it alive by researching care online, I still managed to lose the poor thing a couple of months after it was in my care.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a lot about plant care since these dark days and I am hoping I can spare some of you the pain of watching plant after plant die like I have, because watching these little botanical oddities is so much fun when you get the care right!
This post is going to provide easy care instructions that anyone can follow to successfully keep and grow flytraps. I will also go into some more in-depth info about the Venus Flytrap that explains why it’s adopted a carnivorous lifestyle.
Easy Care Instructions for Venus Flytraps
The instructions below are BRIEF, CONCISE care instructions for those not interested in more indepth information. If you want to learn a lot more about the Venus Flytraps, where they come from, their care, and why they catch insects, keep reading below these instructions!
How much light?
Venus flytraps want as much light as you can provide them. Putting them on a windowsill that receives direct sunlight most of the day would work as well as using growlights.
How to Water?
Venus Flytraps want to be moist or wet nearly all the time. Place their pot in a shallow dish of water (1-2 cm) and refill when low.
Only use distilled water with your flytrap as the nutrients in tap water are harmful for it.
What kind of potting medium?
Pot your Venus Flytrap in a mixture of 1 part peat moss to 1 part sand
Should you fertilize?
You should not fertilize your Venus Flytrap in the traditional ways we feed our houseplants. If your flytrap is not able to catch any insects, you could use a gentle, organic foliar spray at a quarter strength a few times throughout the growing season.
Venus Flytraps require dormancy
Venus Flytraps need a cool winter period so that they can go dormant. To simulate winter, place your flytrap on the windowsill of an unheated room or another similar location to provide the cold period they need.
Where are Venus Flytraps from?
While Venus Flytraps may seem like an exotic plant from tropical rainforests, it is actually just the opposite. Venus Flytraps are native to South and North Carolina in the United States!
There is only one known species of Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula. It’s botanical latin means Venus Mousetrap, though it is much more likely to catch insects than mice.
Sadly, Venus Flytraps are sparse in the wild now due to habitat destruction and poaching.
How do they grow in nature?
Venus flytraps live in the bogs or wetlands of North and South Carolina. They are used to being in a constantly wet, humid, and sunny environment where the soil is extremely poor.
It is the nutrient deficiencies in the soil that has encouraged these plants to develop traps. Their insect meals allow the plants to absorb the nutrients it needs and isn’t getting from its soil.
Venus Flytraps thrive in lots of direct sunlight.
These plants are also used to a cold, dormancy period. The Carolinas can drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius during the winter. During dormancy venus flytraps need slightly less water and may stop growing or even die back altogether. This is normal and the traps will grow or regrow in spring.
What causes their traps to close?
The plant’s traps are its true leaves. The leaf-like structure emerging from the soil that supports the leaf trap is its petiole. The petiole photosynthesizes for the plant, perhaps explaining why the petiole evolved to be more flat and leaf-like in shape.
Inside the trap are three trigger hairs. These tiny hairs are how the plant gauges whether it has caught its prey. At least two of the three trigger hairs must be activated in rapid succession for the trap to close.
The plant waits for more than one trigger so it doesn’t waste its limited energy to close without a meal. Each trap can only catch a few meals before dying, so every decision to close must be a good one!
After the trigger hairs have been stimulated, the trap quickly closes and the cilia (or hairlike structures lining the traps) intertwines to form jail bars keeping in its catch. Some think that the trap doesn’t close in a completely sealed state at first to allow tiny insects to escape so the plant doesn’t waste its time on an insufficient meal.
It takes between 4-10 days for the plant to digest its prey and then reopen. If the trap is triggered without a meal provided, it will reopen in a couple days.
When the traps have closed several times or caught a few meals, the traps have spent their available energy and will turn black and die. This is the natural life cycle of a trap and nothing to be concerned about.
Are there Venus Flytrap varieties or cultivars available?
Yes!!! There are many natural variations of venus flytraps that have been found. There are also hundreds of cultivars created by growers cross-pollinating existing plants in hopes to create or accentuate certain features.
Some of these cultivars have also been created through the tissue culture process. They were accidental mutants that were kept in hopes of growing more varieties like it.
Many of the variations differ in color or size. However, there are some that are truly odd that include traps that are incapable of closing, teeth or cilia that look a lot like sharks teeth, and other strange occurrences that some people have grown to enjoy.
How do you care for a venus flytrap indoors?
Venus Flytrap Light Requirements
Flytraps LOVE sunlight. The area they are naturally from receives a lot of direct sun. It is for this reason that some carnivorous plant growers recommend venus flytraps to only be grown outdoors, while others do say that it is possible to grow them indoors on a sunny windowsill or under artificial lighting.
Regardless of where you decide to grow yours, the important consideration is that it must be a very bright, sunny location.
Venus Flytrap Water Requirements
Because venus flytraps grow in wet, boggy areas, they are used to being fairly wet all the time. Many growers recommend keeping the pots in a tray of water so that the plant has water consistently available. Keeping them in a plastic tray with 1-2 centimeters of standing water at all times would be sufficient.
Venus Flytraps are extremely sensitive to the minerals in our drinking water. So much so that our tap water can damage them. To avoid damaging your plant, it is recommended to use distilled or reverse osmosis water, which has had all of the minerals removed.
You can buy distilled water from most stores with a grocery section. You could also create your own reverse osmosis water by purchasing and installing a Reverse Osmosis or Reverse Osmosis Deionization Unit (RODI). (linked to Amazon)
I’ll insert an Amazon affiliate link with photo below to the exact unit that I use. I actually purchased my unit originally for use with my coral reef tank as corals are very sensitive to the minerals in our tap water as well. However, it became such a helpful piece of equipment for my plants as well because I grow many varieties of plants that need pure water, like anthuriums, carnivorous plants, miracle berry trees, calatheas, and marantas.
The initial cost for a RODI machine seems high, but once your unit is installed it can stay with you for many years. The only ongoing cost is filter replacements, which need to be replaced a couple of times a year. Possibly more if you use your machine heavily like I do. I change my filters quarterly.
Venus Flytrap Potting Soil Requirements
Venus flytraps prefer potting mixes that are airy, but also allow for some moisture retention. The mix that many growers recommend is 1 part peat moss to 1 part sand.
Many potting mixes are sold with fertilizers in them, which is extremely harmful for carnivorous plants so be sure to buy potting mix with no added nutrients or fertilizers.
Venus flytraps are used to living in very poor soil conditions, which is why they catch insects to find the nutrients they needed.
Having nutrients/fertilizers around their roots is not something they are equipped to handle.
Venus Flytrap Fertilizer Requirements (How to feed your flytrap)
Venus Flytraps only truly have one fertilizer in nature and that is insects. While it may seem appealing to provide your traps with a bit of hamburger or other processed foods, these foods are extremely harmful.
The author of The Savage Garden (linked to Amazon), Peter D’Amato, recommends using MaxSea fertilizer (16-16-16) at a quarter strength and applying it to the foliage of the plant as a spray. Peter advises that once or twice a month during the growing season is plenty.
Here is the MaxSea fertilizer on Amazon, for anyone interested:
Can you feed your venus flytrap live insects? Yes, you can!! Some people will buy small crickets, spiders, or other insects to provide their traps with. An entire plant only needs one trap fed to sustain it for 2 to 4 weeks.
If your plant lives outdoors, then it will thrive without any supplemental feedings most likely as it will catch its own prey.
Venus Flytrap Pot Requirements
Because venus flytraps prefer to be moist to wet at all times, it is recommended to use plastic or glazed ceramic pots that will help to maintain moisture level.
Venus Flytrap Humidity Requirements
The venus flytrap’s natural environment is very wet and humid, but they can survive without extremely high humidity. It is recommended to have at least 50% humidity. If humidity drops lower, a supplemental humidifier or regular misting can be used.
Misting plants to increase humidity for houseplants is controversial. Some people believe it is helpful for their plants and provides extra humidity, if only for a brief time. Others believe it causes more harm than good, increasing the potential for bacterial and fungal diseases as a result of water sitting on the leaves.
I personally have had no ill effects with the occasional misting (once a month or so when I feel like it), but I always have a fan circulating air in the room and I do not mist enough to coat the leaves.
To maintain adequate humidity for my plants, I use a LeVoit Humidifier (linked to Amazon), pictured below. It is an investment, but it is SO worth it. The large capacity allows me to be lazier and not refill the humidifier everyday and the way it is assembled makes cleaning more tolerable.
Venus Flytrap Dormancy Requirements
The area Venus Flytraps come from in the Carolinas does experience a mild winter. Temperatures drop to 40 degrees and the area may even experience a frost occasionally.
During these colder months, the flytraps go dormant or into resting mode, where they recharge for the next growing season. Sometimes they will die back completely and other times they may just halt growth and lose some of their leaves. Either way, this cycle is completely healthy and natural and should be replicated by growers.
To provide your plant with its dormancy, place it in the window of an unheated room, in a basement, or in the garage from November through February.
Can you choose to deny your plant a dormancy period? Yes, but it will likely result in a shorter lived plant.
Venus Flytrap Repotting Requirements
Unlike most of our houseplants, venus flytraps prefer to be repotted during the cold season or its dormancy period. Repotting during dormancy is gentler on the plant and doesn’t usually cause rapid decline as a repot during the grow season can.
Flytraps only need to be repotted once every year or two to refresh potting medium.
What to do when your Venus Flytrap is flowering
In Spring Venus Flytraps may send up flower spikes that produce the small, white flowers you see below. Many carnivorous plant growers prefer to cut the flowers off so the plant doesn’t waste energy producing flowers that could be spent growing larger flytraps.
It is up to you if you let your plant flower, but I have read that the summer trap size may be smaller due to the plant’s energy being used to flower.
Why is your Venus Flytrap dying?
If just one or two of the venus flytrap’s leaves are turning black, it is possible that its leaves have reached the end of their life cycle. This is completely natural.
However, if most or all of your flytrap’s leaves are dying or have died, it might be something else:
- Your flytrap is entering dormancy (particularly possible in late fall or early winter – no reason to worry!
— How do you know if it is dormancy or death? If the plant is dead, it will become mushy and smell. If it is dormant, the rhizome will continue to be firm and healthy looking, but not pushing new growth.
- Your flytrap was fed an unhealthy meal, like table scraps
- Your flytrap isn’t getting enough light. They need as much sun as you can provide!
- You’ve been watering your flytrap using tap water, which contains harmful ingredients. Switch to distilled, purified water.
- You (or someone else) have been triggering traps because it is fun to watch and its used too much energy for the plant to continue to live.
- You have been feeding every single trap on the plant when they really only need a single trap fed once a month or so.
- The flytrap is potted in bad substrate (substrate with added fertilizer, without enough drainage, etcetera)
To learn more, I recommend reading The Savage Garden
If you are interested in learning more about Venus Flytraps and other carnivorous plants, I highly recommend Peter D’Amato’s book, The Savage Garden. Peter D’Amato has been a carnivorous plant grower for decades and also owns the carnivorous plant nursery, CaliforniaCarnivores.com.
His book goes into in depth information about the breadth of carnivorous plants available, where they come from, and how to grow them. I cannot recommend his book highly enough.
Resources used for this article:
- The Savage Garden, by Peter D’Amato
Do you grow venus flytraps? Tell us about it in the comments! Have a helpful tip that I missed? Let me know below!