Grow your own Dionaea muscipula
Ok, so the title is a bit of an exaggeration. No Venus Flytrap will be devouring anyone like in "Little Shop of Horrors" anytime soon. They can actually digest human flesh, but that is a different story, and we won't bother going into details as to how I found that out.
I digress. I'll save the horror stories for another article and get on to what this one is all about - tips to help grow your own Venus Flytrap!
There are two ways that one might go about doing this: the long and the short. The former takes a lot more time and involves growing your own plant up from a seed. This can take up to 5 years for the plant to reach full maturity, which is longer than many casual growers would care to wait. The latter, much shorter method, involves buying an already mature plant from a reputable grower via the web or, if you are a truly casual grower, picking one up at a store such as Wal-Mart or Lowes is a cheap option. Don't let that give you a bad impression of store bought plants though - while usually in a bad state upon purchase, with some care they can be nursed back to health and thrive.
Now that you've got your plant, how do you grow it? Well, first of all, if you live in the Carolinas then much of what will follow will not be necessary for you; you are among the lucky few who happen to live in the plant's natural habitat! Venus Flytraps are native to the region and as a result they can be grown outdoors with much less maintenance required than in some other areas.
So, if you are a lucky Carolinian, read on so you understand just how lucky you are, and pick up a few tips that you should still know. If you are among the rest of us, then grab a pen and pad and get ready.
Where to Keep Them?
This depends on where you live. As mentioned, if you live in the Carolinas then you are free to keep the plants in the backyard in pots, though this may not be the best option. If you live anywhere that experiences a climate similar to the Carolinas (warm, humid, never gets too cold), then you are free to do the same. If you are like the rest of us and you live in an area that is too dry or has harsh winters, then you will most likely want to keep your plants indoors or in a greenhouse. Whether you opt to keep your plants outdoors or indoors, it will be a good idea to make or buy a terrarium for them. Fortunately, a simple terrarium is not expensive or too complicated to construct. They are essentially a glass box, and they are very helpful for keeping the humidity levels up around your plant, which is essential to helpful growth.
Venus Flytraps are very picky plants. They demand the comforts of home in order to be happy and healthy. What this means is that you will have to do your best to replicate the conditions they would be met with in North or South Carolina. This boils down to 3 major things: warmth, moisture, and sunlight.
Given that the plants are used to growing in full sun, in order to give them the sunlight they need you will either have to keep them out in full sun without the filter of a window, or buy lots of artificial lighting. The first option is very simple, but unfortunately the second is the one that most growers will be faced with.
Luckily, adequate lighting can easily be afforded at your local Lowes, Home depot, or similar store. Florescent lighting is the best choice, and you will need lots of it. For just two of my plants, I have 4 different light fixtures running for at least 10 hours a day. There are many theories on what combinations of light outputs are best, but for me I kept it simple and bought 3 21" 15 watt florescent bulb plant grow lights at my local Lowes, and added a compact florescent bulb in a fixture I had laying around in order to have a broader spectrum of light on my plants. I also keep my plants next to a window, so they receive filtered sunlight throughout the day, which I feel is a nice supplement. I have found this combination of lighting to produce very healthy and vibrant plants.
First of all, the type of water you use is of the utmost importance. If you use plain tap water, you will kill your plant, or at least seriously cripple it. Flytraps are used to nutrient poor environments, so all the additives in tap water will not sit well with it. The easiest and simplest option is to buy distilled water at the grocery store. You can get a gallon of distilled water for around one dollar, and if you are only raising one or two plants this will last you for a very good amount of time. Alternatives include collecting rainwater, or distilling tap water through evaporation.
Venus Flytraps are built to grow in very wet areas such as bogs. As a result of this, the best way to water them is from the bottom, not the top. The best way to do this is to keep them in a pot that has holes in the bottom, and place the pot in a dish of water. You will want the water level to just barely be touching the bottom of the pot, not completely submerging it or you will drown the plant.
When you are just starting out, a good way to tell if your plant needs water is to push your finger into top of the soil a little bit. If it feels damp, then you are doing well. If it feels soaked, you are watering your plant too much and should cut back immediately. If it is dry, add water to the dish and make a note to water more frequently. After awhile you will get a feel for how fast your plants use up their water and you won't have to check on them so often. Since you are keeping your plant in a terrarium, this water will keep the humidity high around the plant so you will not need to worry about that aspect of growing.
The third tier of caring for your plant is giving it the right soil. They naturally grow in very nutrient poor environments, which is why they evolved the ability to receive the things they need by digesting insects. As a result of this, everyday potting soil will not suffice. It is enriched with fertilizer and other things that will put your poor plant into shock and almost certainly kill it.
Most growers find the best combination for soil is a 1:1 mix of peat moss and perlite, but the plants are actually not very picky in this regard so there is some room for experience and modification. These materials should all be readily available and affordable at your favorite gardening store.
The most important thing to remember is not to fertilize or use nutrient rich soil, as this will fry the roots and kill your plant in short order.
Now for the best part - feeding time. The ability of carnivorous plants to catch and digest prey is what causes many enthusiasts such as me to find them so interesting.
First off, you can't just feed them anything that you can fit in their traps. Well you can, but only once or twice because after that you will have a very dead plant. If you get your plant from the store and the garden section "expert" tells you that you can just feed it bits of hamburger every so often, you should laugh and be comforted by the knowledge that you know better. Hamburger and most other "people food" will leave you with either an unhealthy or unliving plant.
The best thing to feed your carnivorous plant is exactly what it was designed to digest - insects. You can catch them and put them in your terrarium for your plants to bait and trap themselves, or you can kill the insects and feed them manually. If you choose this route you will need to place the dead bug in one of its traps and stimulate the plant's trigger hairs until you see it close and seal around its prey.
The best specimens to be used for feeding are flies, as "Flytrap" would suggest. However, you can also feed them small maggots used for fishing, but it is advised that you kill these first. I have heard stories of some maggots and caterpillars actually chewing through their would-be tomb to freedom.
You can feed your traps as often as you like. In theory, whenever you have an open trap you are free to fill it with a bug if you really are that good at catching them. The plant will go through its digestive processes and open again in about a week with just the frame of its victim left, ready for the next sacrifice.
If you keep all the other growing conditions optimal, you don't actually ever have to feed your plant. It will stay alive with just sunlight and water. However, if you want a truly vibrant and healthy plant, it is recommended that you feed it at least a few times each season.
After a few uses, the individual traps will die and new ones will grow, so if you see leaves blackening and falling off, don't despair! It's just part of the natural growth cycle of a Venus Flytrap.
Once a year, your plant will need to be put into dormancy. If you keep it indoors, this means keeping it in a cold garage or the fridge. During this time, leaves will die back to the base and your plant will see little to no growth, but the process is essential to its health. I personally keep mine in Ziploc bags in the fridge from around Thanksgiving to roughly Easter. Just how long you decide to keep yours dormant will be up to you, but if you choose not to at all your plant will almost certainly run out of energy and die. But hey, you can always buy new ones next year at Wal-mart!
That's not all, but it should be more than enough information to get you started on your quest to become an expert grower, and I haven't got all day to talk about plants! Keep these tips in mind and you should have no problem keeping your exotic plant alive. I wish you the best of luck, and happy growing!