Venus Flytrap Care 101

by | Gardening

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The Venus Flytrap is a common impulse buy at many grocery stores and plant nurseries, with the plant’s unique carnivorous features enthralling many children and adults alike and inspiring the creative minds of many writers and movie directors in popular culture.

Unfortunately, not many people understand how to care for the Venus flytrap, leading to the plant’s early demise and an unfair reputation for being a difficult plant to care for.

Because of its unique diet, the flytrap does not require a lot of the same care that a typical leafy houseplant might. As a result, it prefers slightly acidic, nutrient-poor soils, and obtains most of its nutrients by catching and digesting insects and small animals that land in its lobed traps.

In this article, HerbSpeak discusses Venus Flytrap care and how you can help your flytrap thrive, as well as information about feeding it, winter dormancy, and much more. 

Venus Flytrap Basics

Botanical Name: Dionaea muscipula

Botanical Family: Droseraceae (Drosera)

Life Cycle: Perennial

Common Lookalikes: The only lookalike for this plant is not a plant at all, but a sea anemone named after the flytrap. The Venus Flytrap Sea Anemone or Actinoscyphia aurelia is a unique, deep-ocean species of sea anemone.

Native Habitat: This plant is native to only a tiny region of the United States located in the coastal region of North and South Carolina. Specifically, most native flytraps are found within 100 miles of Wilmington, NC.

Growth Pattern: An upright herbaceous plant that grows out from a central bulb.

Foliage Type: A rosette with 4-7 flat, heart-shaped leaves ending in a photosynthetic petiole. At the top of these leaves are two terminal lobes hinged by a midrib, containing interlocking cilia at the edges. 

Size:  Most flytraps grow 5 inches in diameter, with the lobed traps reaching about 1 inch wide. Flytraps have been known to, on occasion, reach 6 inches in diameter and 1.8 inches wide traps. Many plants may appear clumped together to give it a bigger appearance.

The Anemone Lookalike of the Venus Flytrap

While this is not a plant, it is still an incredibly cool aspect of the natural world that must be showcased, even briefly. This deep-sea anemone is named after the Venus flytrap because of its close resemblance to the plant. It features venomous tentacles, instead of harmless cilia, which capture prey.

Once the prey is within its grasp, it injects it with venom which begins digesting the creature inside, similar to how to flytrap snaps the jail-like cilia closed and begins producing the digestive fluids from the inside of the lobe.

This particular anemone was filmed in the northern region of American Samoa and filmed courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research in 2017.

Venus Flytrap Care Requirements

The Venus Flytrap is not difficult to care for, so long as the correct precautions are taken, and you are prepared to guide the plant through dormancy.

Light Requirements: Bright, Direct Light

The flytrap prefers to live in areas where the canopy is sparse so it can absorb more sunlight. Because the plant still contains chlorophyll, it still goes through photosynthesis; the flytrap is not all carnivore, yet!

For best care, place the flytrap in a bright and sunny windowsill that receives full sun for a minimum of 6 hours. Because the plant goes into a dormant phase based on the day length, it will need to be sunlight and not a grow lamp so that it can tell what time of year it is.

Flytraps that do not get enough light will lose any red pigmentation and grow sickly and weak looking.

Soil Requirements: Well-Draining, Nutrient-Poor Soil

Most carnivorous plant soil mixes that the flytrap thrives in contain a 50/50 or similar mix of perlite and sphagnum moss or peat moss. Dionaea does not enjoy soils that provide any nutrients as it has evolved to obtain its nutrition through insects.

Potting Requirements:

Flytraps are generally repotted every year in the spring once they outgrow their current conditions. Since the rhizome is long and the place experiences a dormant period each year, make sure to plant the flytrap in a pot that is at least four inches deep. The deeper, the better.

Tolerant Temperatures: 32° F to 95° F

The flytrap can tolerate temperatures down to freezing during winter dormancy. Any lower than that and it will need some sort of insulation such as burlap fabric and pine needles, or another source of natural bedding, to help keep in heat and prevent the rhizome from freezing underground.

During the days, the flytrap can withstand heat up to 95° F, which is about the peak temperature of its native region’s summertime heat.

Tolerant Humidity: Medium

The Venus Flytrap prefers the humid bogs of the coastal Carolinas, but it does not need as much as some other tropical houseplants. If you need to increase the amount of humidity in the area, you can place the flytrap in a partial terrarium which helps hold in humidity but still has fresh oxygen and airflow.

Basic Venus Flytrap Care Routine

Establishing a care routine is important for any houseplant, but with the flytrap, it can be lax as it does not need to be fed too often, and most basic care needs are not required as with other leafy houseplants.

Watering the Venus Flytrap:

When watering the flytrap, take care to use reverse osmosis or distilled water. This water is purer, free of minerals that may harm the flytrap as it builds up in the soil. Rainwater is also a suitable option for watering the flytrap.

Only water until the soil is dampened thoroughly and allowed to dry. The soil should not be allowed to dry out completely and kept moist but not overly wet.

How Often to Fertilize the Venus Flytrap:

Never.

Never, ever fertilize the flytrap with any natural or artificial fertilizers unless you count feeding it an insectivorous meal every few weeks.

The Venus Flytrap is very peculiar in that it has evolved to never want soil nutrients. Adding fertilizer may burn and kill the roots of the plant. The only nutrition the plant needs comes from sunlight and captured insects.

How Often to Prune the Venus Flytrap:

Regular pruning is not necessary, though any dead, blackened stems may be removed to keep the plant sightly. Once the plant has blackened and gone dormant for the winter, the stems can be cut back as the plant will regrow in the spring, rather than reviving old, dead stems. 

Cleaning the Venus Flytrap:

There is no need to clean the Venus Flytrap, even when there is a dead insect’s exoskeleton sitting in the trap. It can be removed if it is especially unsightly, but the exoskeleton can help attract another meal onto the flytrap’s lobed traps.

Venus Flytrap Care: Do You Need to Feed Venus Fly Traps?

Yes, you do need to feed Venus flytraps to some extent; however, feeding them hamburger meat will likely kill the plant. (1) Indoor flytraps will still find a meal on occasion, but they need to be fed if they have not caught anything in a few weeks.

Outdoor flytraps generally do not need to be fed since they will be able to attract and capture insects on their own.

Venus flytraps eat a variety of insects and arachnids, mostly favoring ants, beetles, grasshoppers, flying insects, and spiders. If they are fed anything except insects, the plant may turn black, recede to the soil, and die, almost as if it had been poisoned.

It is true that traps can only eat – or close – a limited number of times, so inanimate objects, falsely capturing prey, and mischievous fingers finding their way into the traps are all detrimental to the plant to some degree.

“When flytraps catch live prey, the prey struggles within the trap, continuing to hit the trigger hairs and telling the trap to seal and begin digestion.  This saves the plant from attempting to digest something inanimate that entered the trap and will provide no nutrition.”

Francois Boulianne

So long as the plant receives sufficient nutrition and does not intake anything that will harm the plant, such as hamburger, then most flytrap owners can rest assured knowing their plant will continue to grow new traps as the older ones blacken and rot away.

Can You Feed a Venus Fly Trap Dead Bugs?

The Venus Flytrap prefers a live meal so it can trip the trigger hairs on the inside of the trap’s lobed leaves and capture the insect itself. If you prefer to feed the flytrap dead bugs, the hairs must be triggered for digestion to begin.

Flytrap enthusiasts often use dead flies and other insects that are found in easy to reach places, or, if recently killed insects are unavailable, you can also purchase a small tub of mealworms to feed the plant. Live mealworms are best as they will wriggle around in the trap, however, thawed dead mealworms will also work with the help of tweezers.

To feed your flytrap a freshly killed meal, first, make sure the insect is smaller than the trap lobes. The flytrap must be able to create a tight seal to properly digest the insect.

Next, place the insect between a pair of tweezers and bring it into the trap. Gently touch the trigger hairs on the inside of the trap twice within 20 seconds until the trap snaps shut. Gently remove the tweezers once the insect is in place and allow the flytrap’s natural process of digestion to take place.

How Often Should You Feed Your Venus Flytrap?

Contrary to what some believe, a flytrap does not need to eat every day or every week. Overfeeding a flytrap can kill it, just like underfeeding it can. Flytraps will keep a trap closed for up to 10 days as it digests its meal, leaving behind any exoskeletons, so you will be able to tell when the flytrap has had a meal recently.

Flytraps are capable of catching the occasional fly, spider, or ant, even indoors. Flytraps grown outdoors do not require manual feeding as they will be able to catch food at regular intervals.

Venus flytraps need to eat at least once every 1-2 months to survive, but to thrive they should have a meal once every two weeks. One feeding consists of a single trap being fed a freshly killed or live insect, not the entire plant.  

Venus Flytrap Care: Winter Dormancy

The Venus Flytrap requires a cold, winter dormancy to thrive in the following year. This dormancy period occurs between November and February. (2) When keeping a flytrap indoors, it is important to mimic the conditions of this dormancy so that the traps thrive and grow in the year to come.

“Be careful not to mistake this for a dying plant. Many will throw away a venus fly trap entering dormancy”

Dan Hodgson

This dormant phase can be likened to how humans sleep; every year, the flytrap needs a little rest to wake up feeling its best. Without this period of rest, the flytrap will slowly weaken and eventually die.

Dionaea’s dormancy period is triggered through photoperiodism – that is, the day length – which is why it is important that the flytrap receives natural sunlight, or highly-regulated indoor lighting such as a timed grow lamp. The plant senses the change in the day length and at a certain point, the days become short enough that the flytrap gets a signal telling it to begin dormancy.

Flytrap Dormancy Length

The temperature must drop with this shortened day length for the best results. Typically, because the plant is native to the Carolinas of the United States, its winter dormancy strikes between November and February, with new growth appearing again in March. The minimum time a flytrap must be kept in dormant conditions each year is 10 weeks.

Flytrap Temperature and Light in Dormancy

Flytraps in dormancy still require light so it can sense when to grow again, so it is unwise to move them to a dark location unless they are in temperatures less than 40° F.

Often, flytrap dormancy benefits from temperatures ranging between 32 and 55° F at night, and days as high as 70°F so long as the day length remains shortened.

Flytrap Water Requirements in Dormancy

They will require some water to prevent the soil from drying out as well, but because the plant is just a rhizome, it will not require nearly as much as an actively growing plant. Keep the soil medium moist, balancing the line between wet and dried out.

Venus Flytrap Flowers

Mature Venus Flytraps flower in the Spring, but for an indoor plant grown for personal enjoyment, the flower stalk must be cut from the plant once it has reached 2 inches tall. This is because the flytrap will devote its energy towards creating a strong and fertile flower ready for pollination, rather than new energy for traps.

In some cases, the flytrap will devote so much energy to producing and maintaining the flower that it will even kill the plant, starving it for nutritional resources for a stronger chance at reproduction.

If the flower is cut before it blooms, the plant will grow much more vigorously throughout the summer months, as the energy that would typically be given to the flower in the wild is now devoted to the growth of new traps, allowing the flytrap to make it to another spring where it has a chance a reproduction once again.

References
  1. Francois Boulianne, Feed a Venus Flytrap, https://www.flytrapcare.com/feed-a-venus-fly-trap/
  2. Dan Hodgson, Growing Instructions for Venus Flytrap (Dionaea Muscipula), https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/chiwonlee/plsc211/student%20papers/articles02/dhodgson/dhodgson.html

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About Destynnie K. Berard
I am a lifelong naturalist who believes a good sense of humor is essential to staying happy. ★ After traveling for years, I settled in New England, falling in love with the diverse landscape the Northeast has to offer, and began pursuing conservation in earnest. ★ My career background is in enterprise marketing and communications, which provides me with a unique perspective of ecological relationships.

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