How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Venus Flytrap
Venus flytraps are bloodthirsty plants that add character and beauty to any garden. Plus, they aren’t as scary to care for as they seem. With the right environment, Venus flytraps can flourish in your home - so flies, beware!
All plants and animals compete for resources, but the Venus flytrap literally takes a bite out of the competition. It’s known for catching and eating insects and small animals, like frogs. This carnivorous plant is so famous for its trapping mechanism that it’s widely purchased as a novelty plant. If you want something to liven up your garden, this plant is for you!
Venus flytraps seem ruthless, but they’re close to becoming an endangered species. These coveted plants are too often poached from their natural environments. If you decide to grow one, please do so responsibly and only acquire it from a reputable plant supplier.
As you can guess, this isn’t your typical houseplant. This carnivore is very high maintenance and requires a lot of planning. Not only do they need certain conditions, but they also require routine feeding like a pet. In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to succeed at raising this little carnivore.
Plant Type Perennial, herbaceous, carnivorous, ornamental
Native Area North and South Carolina
Exposure Full sun
Height Up to one foot
Watering Requirements Consistently wet
Pests & Diseases Aphids, spider mites, Botrytis mold
Soil Type Infertile, moisture-retaining
Hardiness Zone 5-8
What Is It?
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a member of the Droseraceae (sundew) family and the only species of Dionaea. The species name muscipula means “mousetrap” in Latin, which is quite fitting for this plant. Like all plants, it gets its energy via photosynthesis. Unlike most plants, though, they live in poor soil conditions. To make up for the lack of nutrients, they capture and digest prey.
The hinged leaves snap shut faster than you might think. In fact, this is one of the very few plants that can move quickly. Perhaps the closest to its speed is Aldrovanda species, which live underwater. There are many other carnivorous plants, but the Venus flytrap is a classic thanks to its rapid movement and unique form.
Venus flytrap is exclusively native to certain parts of North and South Carolina. It’s been introduced to other areas on the East Coast, including New Jersey and Florida. Sadly, its native habitat is quickly diminishing, so growing this plant in your garden will help keep the species alive!
These are subtropical plants that grow in boggy areas. Bogs are different than swamps in that they aren’t flooded but instead have wet and spongy peat soils.
They need consistent moisture and high humidity. They grow well in rain gardens in zones 5-8. While they can be grown inside, Venus flytraps fare much better outdoors as they have ready access to insects outside.
Rhizomes are at the base of this intriguing plant. The small rootstock produces a rosette of long, thin basal leaves. The leaves grow to a foot tall and nearly a foot wide. New growth comes from the center of the plant, with older outside leaves dying off naturally.
The basal leaves are flat and creased in the center. They get wider towards the tip before tapering in below the “mouths,” which are actually a type of modified leaves. The leaves are hinged and lined with long teeth. These teeth may look sharp and spiky, but they’re very soft by human standards. When the trap closes, they interlock to cage in the prey. Six teeth are also present inside each trap, which sense a prey’s movement.
Inside the trap is bright pink or red, thanks to the digestive enzymes produced there. The color also attracts insects. This deadly sap digests insects alive, breaking them down into delicious plant nutrients. The enzymes are only triggered by chemicals the prey secretes so that they won’t digest an abiotic object. After catching prey, the edges of the trap are sealed with mucilage so nothing can escape.
Once the trap has sealed in its prey, the teeth will splay out again, though the trap remains closed to digest. The trap takes 1-2 weeks to consume its prey, after which it’ll open up for seconds. After capturing a few insects, the trap will naturally die off.
In the spring, mature plants may produce small clusters of simple white flowers. The blossoms grow on a 6-inch shoot – a safe distance from the pollinator-hungry traps. Each flower gives way to oblong capsule fruits containing small, black seeds.
The ideal place for a Venus flytrap is outdoors in zones 5-8, planted in mucky, very saturated soil. This is a good plant for filling in space next to a swale or a pond. The location should also be very humid (and preferably home to lots of flies!).
If you don’t have a boggy place in your garden, plant in a container atop a large water tray. The container must be brought inside during the winter or planted in a protected area until spring.
If you need to keep your plant inside, though, try planting it in an open terrarium. It’ll be much easier to control the environment and keep the traps out of harm’s way.
Venus flytraps don’t always transplant well. They can go into shock when moving to new locations – let alone a new container. With the right care, though, you can successfully introduce your new addition to the garden. To start, here are the supplies you’ll need:
- A healthy seedling
- Carnivorous plant potting mix
- Purified water
- A plastic container (optional)
- A terrarium or glass dome (optional)
Location and Container
Purchase and plant your Venus flytrap in the spring or early summer. The plant will just be coming out of dormancy and ready to grow. Select a location with lots of sunlight and high humidity. If you’re planting straight in the ground, you may need to amend the soil first. Unlike most garden plants, this one needs poor soil that’s acidic and lacks nutrients.
If you’re planting in a container, choose one that’s a few inches wider in diameter than the root ball. The roots grow deeper than you’d think and don’t like to be wedged against the side of the container. Giving them room to spread out will help with temperature control and growth.
Fill your plastic pot (or amend the topsoil) with a potting mix meant for carnivorous plants. Alternatively, you can make your own by mixing perlite and peat moss. Dampen the soil with purified water or rainwater.
Next, carefully pull the rootball from its original container. Brush away as much soil as possible (it could be contaminated with unfiltered water). You should handle this plant from the base. Touching the traps won’t hurt you, but if they close, it’ll waste the plant’s energy. Bury the rootball in your carnivorous plant mix and lightly tamp down the soil.
If you’re planting in a terrarium, choose one with plenty of room for the plant to grow. There should be enough room for the roots as well as the foliage. It’s also important for the terrarium to have an opening to allow airflow. It’s tricky to move the plant once it’s inside the terrarium, so place it carefully and strategically the first time.
After transplanting, it’s normal for growth to slow a bit during recovery. Once adjusted to the move, though, your plant should grow as healthy as ever.
Growing from Seed
Growing from seed takes more time and luck than growing a seedling, but it can be just as successful. The supplies you’ll need are almost the same and include:
- Seeds (again, please buy from a reputable supplier)
- A seed-starting container
- Carnivorous plant potting mix
- Purified water
- Spray bottle
- Water tray (optional)
Venus flytrap seeds start losing their viability a few months after being harvested, so check their age before purchasing. To help them last longer, keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to plant. You can also harvest seeds yourself from the capsules of a mature plant.
Plant your carnivorous seeds in a seed-starting tray or small plastic pot (they won’t need much room initially). As mentioned with transplanting, only use a potting mix intended for carnivorous plants.
Sow the Seeds
Dampen the soil and then place the seeds. The seedlings will be pretty small, so they only need to be spaced up to an inch apart (closer if you plan to thin them).
The seeds don’t need to be buried deep – or at all, really. Scatter the seeds on the surface and press them down to ensure full contact with the damp soil. Then, give the seeds and soil a heavy misting of water. It’s always vital to keep the soil consistently moist, but even more so when they’re sprouting. You may even want to keep the seedling container inside a water tray with a humidity dome to ensure that the soil is constantly wet to the touch.
Place your planted seeds in a warm and sunny location. You can use a heating mat if needed to get the soil to 75°F. It takes a couple of months for these seeds to germinate and sprout, so be patient and consistent with watering.
To cut down on watering time, place a humidity dome over the container. After your baby flytraps have sprouted, it’ll be about a year before they’re mature enough to plant outdoors.
How to Grow
Flytraps are challenging to grow in that they need very specific care. These aren’t normal houseplants and can’t be cultivated the same way you would a Dracaena or jasmine plant. Once you understand and follow their requirements, though, this endangered species should feel right at home in your garden.
Provide as much sunlight as you can give. They’ll grow in partial shade as well, but sunny spots are preferred.
Indirect sunlight is best, especially in the summer heat, to avoid sunburned leaves. When moving your plant to a location with drastically different amounts of light, acclimate it slowly.
Your plant may turn redder in the sunlight. So, if you want to exaggerate the contrasting red and green, give your plant more sunlight. The color it turns depends on the cultivar, so don’t burn the plant in hopes of an unattainable hue.
As a bog-loving plant, the flytrap demands a good supply of water. Don’t let the soil dry out. You may want to keep the pot submerged in a water tray so it has a continual supply.
Perhaps more important than the supply of water is the quality. Don’t irrigate with tap water! Venus flytraps must be given purified water or rainwater. Use distilled water from the store or rainwater you’ve collected in your backyard.
Some gardeners have had success with tap water that sat out long enough for the chlorine to dissolve, but I lost my own plant to that method. Chloramine treatments don’t oxidize off as chlorine does, so if your municipality uses chloramine to treat the water, you’ll want to stick with distilled water or rainwater for your plant’s continued survival.
Whether it’s growing in the ground or a container, Venus flytraps need soil made specifically for carnivorous plants. In nature, these plants evolved their bloodthirsty habits because the soil was so poor. They can’t turn back now, so we must mimic those conditions by using soil devoid of nutrients.
Carnivorous soil mixes are available to purchase, but it’s easy to make your own as well. All you need is equal parts of peat moss and perlite. This mixture will retain water well without adding many nutrients. It should also be acidic, just like the infertile soil in bogs.
Temperature and Humidity
During the growing season, keep the environment within 70-95°F. When the temperature drops in the winter, the plant will go dormant.
During this time, cooler temperatures of 40-50°F are fine as long as the flytrap still gets enough sun. If the weather occasionally drops below 40°F, add some mulch around the plant’s base. This will keep the roots warm, as well as trap moisture.
Winter or summer, you should keep this plant somewhere humid. When planting in the backyard, wet and semi-enclosed spaces are perfect. Indoors, humidity tends to be highest in bathrooms or near the kitchen sink. Avoid placing your flytrap by a vent. For the most control over humidity, though, plant it in a terrarium or cover it with a humidity dome.
Fertilizing and Feeding
Don’t give your Venus flytrap any fertilizer since it’s not evolved to require fertilization like other plants. Instead of fertilizing this plant, you’ll need to feed it – literally!
If your plant lives outside, it’ll easily catch its own prey. Indoors, you’ll have to supply the bugs. While the bait needs to be large enough not to escape the trap, it shouldn’t be bigger than a third of the trap’s size (this plant can’t exactly chew with its mouth open). Only give your plant bugs or insects to eat. It can’t properly digest meat or other human foods.
It takes a lot of energy to close its traps, so it’s learned only to close when there’s a good chance it’ll catch something. If an insect wanders into the trap, it has to trigger the internal hairs at least twice within a short time. I’ve seen flies walk right through my plant’s traps without so much as a quiver from the mouths.
So, if you provide live prey, it can take a while for the insect to trigger its death. This is another reason terrariums are great for these plants – you can close the prey inside the terrarium with the plant, preventing its escape.
You may need to feed your uncovered flytrap dead insects. If so, you’ll need to trigger the internal hairs with a paintbrush or Q-tip to get the trap to close. Be sure to remove your triggering device as soon as the trap moves.
When your plant goes dormant, it’s normal for some traps to fall off. Instead of catching many insects, the plant will rely on the stored energy in its rhizome.
When the leaves die off, they turn black first. It looks ominous, but this is typically normal during dormancy. You can clip off the blackened leaves in anticipation of new ones in the spring.
Spent flowers can also be removed. Trimming like this isn’t essential to health, but it does make a more attractive plant.
It’s a slow process, but Venus flytraps can multiply via vegetative propagation. So, if your plant is healthy and a few years old, why not turn one into two?
Instead of cutting a leaf off the main plant, you’ll need to peel it from the rhizome (remember, these plants are stemless). You’ll have to dig up at least part of the plant to remove the leaf properly.
Choose a large, healthy leaf on the outside of the rhizome. Then, carefully peel it downward so as much of the white base comes off as possible. We want some of the rhizome still attached to the leaf, as that’s where the roots will come from.
If your “pulling” has a trap on it, clip it off before planting. Then, plant and care for it as you would a fully-grown flytrap. That includes using the right soil and water, lots of sunlight, and high humidity. It’ll take a couple of months for new growth to show up, so be patient and trust the process.
Propagating Venus flytraps by division is a less delicate process than cuttings. These plants spread by growing clumps of rosettes, like a succulent. So, when your mature flytrap has produced extra rosettes, you can split them into multiple plants. Propagate using division in the spring or early summer since active growth occurs during this time.
Start with digging up the entire root ball. Dust off the soil and carefully cut chunks from the rhizome. Pay attention to the leaves attached to each chunk. Ideally, each will have its own rosette (a split rosette is still likely to grow, though).
Then, plant the divisions into separate containers and care for them as normal. It should take less time than cuttings for new growth to appear since the roots are already present.
There’s only one species of Venus flytrap, but many colorful cultivars. Here are some of the interesting forms this plant can take:
Dionaea muscipula ‘Jaws’
This cultivar has the classic shape but with shorter, stockier, shark-like teeth. The interior of each trap turns a stunningly deep red. The traps are larger than normal, making them irresistible to unsuspecting flies.
Dionaea muscipula ‘Bohemian Garnet’
Beet-colored traps are the focal point of this cultivar. The leaf edges are sometimes tinged with green, but deep maroon is the main color. This cultivar is smaller than most flytraps, even when fully grown. However, the hue of the sawtoothed traps more than makes up for it.
Dionaea muscipula ‘B-52’
Venus flytraps are menacing, but the ‘B-52’ variety is downright monstrous. This is the largest of the flytraps, with traps growing over 2 inches long! The shape and color of this variety are pretty standard but no less fascinating.
Dionaea muscipula ‘Fused Tooth’
The teeth of this variety clump together like damp hair, giving it a unique appearance. The fused teeth usually only appear in the summer and early fall. This variety also features classic flytrap red, which may extend to the teeth as well.
The biggest challenge with keeping a Venus flytrap alive is meeting its care requirements. Like any plant, though, you should always watch out for pests and signs of disease. Here are the problems you’re most likely to run into.
When distressed, Venus flytraps turn deathly black. The discoloration starts at the traps and quickly spreads through the rest of the leaf.
This usually isn’t a sign of disease but that a care requirement isn’t being met. The first thing to check is the water quality. If the plant isn’t given purified water, you’ll have to change out the soil to remove any lingering minerals.
Discoloration can also be a symptom that the plant wasn’t acclimated to a new place properly. The plant may also be receiving too much water or not enough nutrients. Because there are so many possible causes, you’ll need to evaluate how you’ve been caring for your flytrap and adjust to the most likely culprit.
Venus fly traps eat insects, but what if the insects eat them back? These plants can become prey themselves, so you need to watch for common pests.
There’s hardly a plant that aphids won’t attack. They feed on plant sap, draining it of nutrients. Plus, they’re so small they’re unlikely to trigger your plant’s jaws. Aphids usually feed on new growth and will be most noticeable when your flytrap is actively growing (spring and early summer). Because Venus flytraps are so small and can’t support many pests, you can remove aphids by hand or with water.
Spider mites also have a taste for carnivorous plants. They weave spindly webs as they feed on the leaves. Their bite marks damage the plants, stippling the traps and turning them yellow or discolored.
If your Venus flytrap is planted outside, try controlling the spider mites biologically by introducing predatory mites, ladybugs, or lacewings (these beneficial insects will help control pests in your entire garden). Indoor plants can be treated with a gentle application of neem oil, although it’s best to keep this off of the traps themselves. Like aphids, you can remove the spider mites and their webs by hand.
If dead foliage isn’t cleared away, it’s susceptible to Botrytis rot. This fuzzy, grey mold eats away at blackened traps and can quickly spread to the rest of the plant.
Molds thrive in high humidity, so you’ll be more likely to see this disease in a terrarium. Prevent it by keeping part of the terrarium open to allow for airflow.
You can further prevent Botrytis rot by regularly applying neem oil. It would be best if you also cleared dead plant matter regularly. If mold does show up, treat it with copper fungicide or potassium bicarbonate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Venus flytraps need bugs to survive?
Yes, this is how they get the nutrients normally obtained through soil. In nature, they live in infertile soil, so they evolved this remarkable method of “eating.”
How hard is it to keep a Venus flytrap alive?
You can’t just stick this plant in your garden and expect it to grow. It has very specific care requirements. But, when these requirements are met, this plant is easy to keep alive.
Can you feed a Venus flytrap a dead fly?
Yes, but you’ll need to trigger the sensory hairs inside the trap. Do so by holding the fly with tweezers and gently brushing it around the trap until it closes (be sure to remove the tweezers once it moves).
Venus flytraps are other-worldly, making them a unique addition to your garden. Their carnivorous habits require special care, like planting them where they can catch food or providing it yourself. Though they’re somewhat intimidating to grow, you can easily keep them alive by providing the right conditions. It just takes some practice, and you’ll soon have a thriving, bloodthirsty plant.