Carnivorous Plants/Repotting

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QUESTION: Dear Mr. Littrell,

I've been growing carnivorous plants, especially Venus flytraps, for about a year now. In February, when they revive from dormancy, I'll need to repot most of them, I've heard.  Some experts tell me to do that each year.  Others want the plants to stay in their original pots that I can flush to wash away salts that collect in the media.  Should I repot?  Since my Crimson Sawtooth VFT seems unusually sensitive to overwatering, I hesitate to flush its New Zealand Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss.

Repotting frightens me, too, when a plant entangles its roots in that moss.  If I repot a plant growing in it, should I keep the moss on its roots to protect them from my clumsy hands?

Thanks.

Bill

ANSWER: Hello Bill,

One thing to remember about Venus Flytraps is that they are not really all that sensitive to repotting, particularly right after dormancy. There will be fewer roots and leaves to worry about and the plant is pretty insensate at that time. You can soak the rhizomes in a tray of distilled water to remove clumps of moss if you want. Just handle them with a semblence of care, not squashing them or snapping off roots or the like, and they will be fine.

I have never heard of a Venus Flytrap being overly sensitive to water since they are bog plants. While it is generally not a good idea to set them in a waterlogged area too long, they can grow and function underwater for weeks. Just keep the pots in a tray with about 1/4 the tray bottom in water and make sure that the pots drain well.

It is not so much the rinsing of salts from the moss you need to be concerned with. The moss will eventually break down and sour, becoming less acidic, and therefore more toxic to carnivorous plants that require acidic soil. This is a result of the salts building up, yes, however; the breakdown will progress regardless. You will eventually have to repot every year to two at the least.

Repotting Venus Flytraps has other benefits beyond just freshening the soil. Every two or three years they grow separations from "clone" buds from their rhizomes. These small rhizomes will be seen to develop their own smaller leaves around the parents and can be removed periodically by hand when you repot them, often just falling away when they are ready to grow on their own. Do not try to force the rhizomes apart, you will feel movement around the new plantlets and can usually easily pull them apart when the time is right. Don't worry about separating plantlets too much at first, they grow in clumps in the wild anyways, but it is something to think about as you gain experience and seek to expand your collection after a couple of years.

These plants are tougher than you think. As long as you provide them with the right amount of sunlight, temperatures, seasonal variations, mineral free water, and acidic moss as potting mix you should have healthy plants. In that regard, they are just like any other plant. Each species of plant requires its own environment. Carnivorous plants are not more sensitive than other plants, they just have specific environmental considerations to meet. Once you have it, you will be thinking how easy it is to grow carnivorous plants.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Chris,

Thank you.  D. muscipulas are tougher than I thought.  A gorgeous red one thrived, even after I accidentally uprooted it by pulling too hard on the humidity dome the  nursery taped to the pot.  I've repotted my plants when they've lived in a 50/50 peat-perlite mix.  But I haven't tried remove any plant from a pot full of New Zealand Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss.

Maybe you know what went wrong with my first Crimson Sawtooth VFT?  After I overwatered it by accident, the leaves died.  So I hoped and prayed that new ones would grow.  Tiny ones came up before the plant stopped growing.  The new growth didn't blacken.  It didn't do anything.  The other Flytraps seem to "love" the conditions they grow in.  So I wonder whether the CST was ill when I adopted it.

An adult plant divided this year.  Now I can't find the original among the clones.  I miss the little "guy," too.

Thanks for the wonderful help.

Bill

Answer
Hello again Bill,

There could be several factors working against the plant you lost. One factor I see stated often is overwatering when the problem is actually lack of drainage. Occasionally pots simply do not have properly open drainage holes or the holes become clogged with material and keep water inside the pot in a stagnant slush. This keeps plants from getting oxygen to their root systems which do need to breath.

Other factors could be weakness or illness or even pests. Just like any other life form, not all will survive. Some will simply be genetically challenged and not survive. You see this effect when you buy 100 Sarracenia seeds and sow them according to specific instructions. 70 may sprout, then out of those 70, perhaps 50 will survive to adulthood.

The clumping that ocurs with Venus Flytraps has that effect. If you do not separate the plants periodically, the young clones take over and spread while the central parent may die off or "relocate." If you watch closely, you will notice the main rhizome getting bigger each year. As it gets bigger, it will grow in a certain direction, which makes the parent plant appear to travel an inch across the pot over time. Eventually the parent rosette may die back as the younger plants grow larger and seem to choke it out.  

Carnivorous Plants

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Christopher Littrell

Expertise

I am capable of answering questions about the most common carnivorous plants found in cultivation. I have no personal experience with Byblis, Drosophyllum, Aldrovanda, and Heliamphora. I have not cultivated gemmae forming pygmy sundews nor tuberous sundews. For information regarding those aforementioned species, I would suggest contacting other experts. I can answer questions regarding most species of Nepenthes, tropical and temperate Drosera, Mexican Pinguicula, Sarracenias, and Dionaea. I have some limited experience with growing Utricularia, Cephalotus, and Darlingtonia.

Experience

I have grown carnivorous plants off and on for about 27 years. I have made the same mistakes and suffered the same mishaps that many growers make as they attempt to separate the myths from the realities of growing these plants. Currently, I am successfully growing a variety of tropical sundews, a Nepenthes, several Venus Flytraps of varying ages, and Sarracenias. I have been successful in stratifying Sarracenia seeds and providing artificial dormancy requirements for my temperate plants when needed.

Education/Credentials
I hold a Master's degree in Educational Psychology. Over my lifetime, I have constantly read books involving the growing conditions of carnivorous plants. I hope to incorporate the educational aspects involved in psychology with teaching other people how to cultivate carnivorous plants.

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