Frequently Asked Questions :

leafThese are some of the common questions I get in my retail experience. I also get some very ignorant ones such as "How do pitcher plants close their traps?" I endeavor to suffer these graciously and never contradict a parent in impressing his or her culture of joyous stupidity on their children.


Which carnies do well inside?

leafAlmost all excepting Darlingtonia, grow well inside in our experience. As I write this in late January the spare bedroom in our house shelters 62 flats of winter production carnies under full spectrum T-8 light fixtures. The table that should be our dining room table carries another 14 flats of taller plants, under three 400 watt halides with 6000 kelvin bulbs. Since we have to heat the house anyway this is cheaper than using a greenhouse for our winter growing. Droseras, Utricularias, Pinquiculas, Heliamphoras, Sarracenias and Dionaea are all growing here, indoors under lights. Growing well enough to sell wholesale to our year round accounts. Even during the summer we use the lights for some of our production. Some Drosera capensis have gone several generations without ever seeing daylight or any insects.

What about hardy carnies indoors?

Good question. As a general rule temperate zone plants make poor houseplants. This rule informs the opinions of those who argue against the use of hardy carnies indoors. Temperate plants take a winter rest and may suffer without it. There is truth here but we like to use Sarracenias and some hardy Droseras in our indoor tanks and planters. There are two keys to success in this situation. One is to accept some limitations here and rotate hardy carnies outside after a couple of years indoors. The other rule is never let your plants go through the winter warm and dark - the usual situation in the Pacific Norhtwest homes. We address this problem with full spectrum flourescent and/or high intensity discharge lighting. Recent engineering advances have added greatly to the choices available in this group. There is no reason now with the use of appropriate lighting to preclude the use of many attractive hardy carnies species indoors for at least two years at a stretch. By that time the soil mix has degraded and a transplant is in order anyway. Late bulletin! I just heard yesterday of a Venus Fly Trap thriving after six years without a cool dormancy.

What's the best way to grow carnies indoors?

There are many good ways and the best way depends on which plants you choose to grow and how far you want to go with it. A few Pinquiculas, Oroseras and Venus Fly Traps may fit nicely on a sunny windowsill in individual pots with saucers. If its a cool window in winter and some dormancy is acceptable supplementary lighting may not be needed. leaf


Most carnies appreciate higher humidity conditions than most houses provide. A terrarium or a fish tank will take care of this problem - the size depending on the scope of carni ambitions. Plants may be kept in individual pots or the container may be a mass planted as a display. In a mixed planting Sarracenias give height and mass. Droseras and Dichotmas varities add fine texture and Pinquicunlas, smaller Droseras and Venus Fly Traps contribute to the diversity of form and flower. Speaking of flowers we love to use Utricularia, Sandersonii and Livita as they spread through the tank and flower continuously. Driftwood and rocks make a good foundation for a planting and live sphagnum gives a nice effect.

We have found Heliamphola and Cephalotus difficult in mixed plantings but others may have found more success. Nepenthes are hard to mix as their requirements for soil (different), hydration (less), humidity (more), and lighting (somewhat less) are different than most other carnies - and this doens't even touch on the highland/lowland issue. We advise growing Nepenthes by themselves, and seeking more detailed instructions elsewhere. Were we to study Nepenthes too closely our Sarracenias would suffer for it.

leafCan I grow carnies outdoors?

Many you can and of those that are hardy in our climate outdoors it is, in the long run, the best place for them. Darlingtonia, all Saracenias, many Droseras and some among the Pinquiculas and Utricularias are good outdoor plants here.


Can I plant them in the ground?

No No NO! No, not in the ground unless you're living in a boggy site. The soil conditions that most garden plants like - well drained, fertile and Ph balanced are fatal to most carnies. All the hardy carnies want an acid, water saturated soil that is very low in nutrients and no lime - please! (See "Can I use regular potting soil?")

Here are a few ways to grow carni's outdoors in ascending order of carni compulsion:

eye Pots in saucers or flats. It's as simple as that. Collectors usually want to keep their plants as discreet objects of desire, properly labeled and ordered by phyllogeny, geography or whatever. No better way to accomplish this than to use pots and trays. We like to double up on a couple of 10inch by 20 inch nursery trays (no hole trays), load them up with potted plants and water as needed - there should always be water in the tray. Fired glazed pots might attract at first but they are heavy and expensive and always give way to plastic as the collection grows larger. Serious collectors at least the ones we know, could not care less for the container; they only have eyes for the plant.

Conversely your interest may reside more in creating a nice display, a pleasant association of carnivorous plants rather than amassing collections. Group plantings accomplish this best.

The simplest case is a large pot and saucer combination planted with an assemblage of hardy carni's. After a year of growth, the boundaries blur and a little carni Eden emerges. Judicious pruning and repotting every few years will maintain the necessary balance. A bog bowl gives the same results with a little more style. You start with a large ceramic bowl with no drainage hole. Now you're going to drill a hole in the side about 2-3 inches down from the top which may mean a trip to the hardware store cause you need a bit that will drill into ceramic. The bowl will be pretty tough if you get a good one, water tight, fired hard and probably glazed. Now you fill the bowl with carni mix - leaving a hole for a much smaller pot that does have a bottom hole. This smaller pot is the well. You water your bog bowl into the well and it also registers the depth of the saturated zone. Now you get to plant it as dense as you want. We need some degree of instant gratification. After two or three years repot it with fresh soil.

bog bowlA big bog bowl in mid-summer is a bold and gorgeous statement. Even better use a bathtub. It already has the overflow fill drain at the end and has lots of room. Your neighbors will be astonished and your local reputation enhanced.

Now it may come to pass that even the largest bog bowl, or bowls, cannot contain the full extent of your carni fever. Time for a real bog

Now there are a lot of ways to approach this precipice - kind of a carni point of no return - and some of them even leave a bit of the yard for other activities. But first let's talk sunshine. If you have it unobstructed for at least half a day then you are good to go. If not, a carni bog would need massive tech support - a greehouse and HID lighting and such. Anybody serious about this approach can call me at the shoppe. This is the "price of no object" phase of horticultural addiction.

Let's assume you have adequate sunligh, then the following are a few possibilitiest:

1) Premolded pool which is buried or filled up with soil around the perimeter. The same rules as to bog bowls apply. Hole inside about 3 or 4 inches down from the top. A depression to act as a well and a place to add water. A float valve can make this automatic.

2) A rectangle of landscape timbers (2 feet high) with a pond liner.

3) Dig out and shape any size pond you want and add a pond liner.

4) If you have an existing pool build a bog with a pond liner part way around the pool with the surface 3 to 4 inches above established water level of the pool. Connect the two with a pipe underground. The pool is now a well for the bog.

What do you feed your plants?

Nothing, actually. We have far too many plants to be catching bugs for them. In our experience carnivorous plants feed themselves perfectly well outside and when deprived of prey, as inside homes or greenhouses, they can subsist for at least several years - if not indefinately on photosynthesis.

Should I fertilize my carnivorous plants?

The short answer is no. A more detailed response would be mostly no. Juvenile Sarracenias and Nepenthes may respond to light and infrequent doses of a complete fertilizer. eye Most carnies are so intolerant of dissolved solids that fertilizing usually results in fatalities.

Do I need to use distilled water?

Not if you're hooked up to municipal water in most of the Puget Sound. If you are on a well or in other areas with an elevated or dissolved solids situation then yes you will need distilled, reverse osmosis, or collected rain water to keep healthy plants.


Can I use regular potting soil?

Not if you want to keep your plants alive. Most carnies want an acid soil without lime. A good general soil mix will have a chemistry hostile to carnies. We use a peat and perlite mix of half and half for most our plants. For large, permanent outdoor installations, peat and sand at again half and half is fine. We use perlite instead of sand only only because we want to move them from time to time and gravity loves sand. Nepenthes are another story. Mixes of fine bark, peat and perlite are often recommended. We are also using rockwool to good effect now and might experiement with coco peat mixes.

How much (often) should I water my carnies?

Actually, watering most carnies is easier than watering the average house plant, easier in the sense of decision making. With most carnies you simply keep the soil saturated - period. If your pots have drainage holes keep their saucers filled. If you are using sealed bowls make a hole in the soil to observe the water level and ass water when the level goes down.

How much light do carnies need?


Lots! Outdoors, hardy carnies should have full sun exposure for at least half a day. Darlingtonias can handle somewhat less sun and desire more shade during the middle of the day for these plants will keep their roots cooler - a big plus for this genus.

Indoors a south or a west unobstructed window will work for the brighter months. If you want year round growth we recommend full spectrum flourescent lighting at 20-60 watts per square foot depending on the species and distance.

Pinquiculas, Utricularias and many sundews seem happy enough at the low end. Sarracenias, Dionaea and some sundews are much better at the high end.

Can they hurt me if I touch them?

No, but we wish they could! Keep your hands off our plants! If you want to mess with them, buy them, take them home and torture them at your leisure. Venus Fly Traps especially are a magnet for this ignorant and self-indulgent behavior. Their traps are made out of tender tissue - not steel jaws and each leaf can only pull off that trick about half a dozen times.

Maybe if you held your finger in the digestive zone of a Sarracenia for a week it might dissolve your skin faster than it regrew? I think I smell a science fair project here.


Hey I forgot!!

To discuss soil, peat and perlite for bog bowls and peat and sand for bogs. A large bog will take lot of peat and sand and the peat will decay over time. If you don't want to dig the bog out every few years to replace the mix you can use straight builders sand with or without spagnum established at the top.