Sarracenia Care

SARRACENIA

No terrariums. No myths. No nonsense.
Get the straight facts from guys who grow and propagate thousands of carnivorous plants each year.


Sarracenia, or North American pitcher plants, are native throughout the east coast, from northern Florida through the New England states and the eastern provinces of Canada. These plants get their name from their pitcher-shaped leaves. They capture insects by producing nectar along the rim of their pitchers. When an insect starts to lick up the nectar, it tries to get more by reaching in the pitcher. When it loses its footing, it falls straight in!

The inside walls of the pitcher are very smooth, so insects are not able to crawl out. They also can't fly out because there isn't any airlift! Eventually the insect dies from heat exhaustion or dehydration. As the insect decomposes, the plant absorbs its nutrients right through its leaves. Mmm....

USDA Zone of Native Habitat: Zone 4-8

Sarracenia occurs naturally in mostly zone 8 where temperatures in winter can sometimes reach as low as 10°F (-12°C) for brief periods of time. Some species occur in zones 4-7. In cultivation it is always recommended to follow proper winter care when growing it in zones 8 or colder, regardless of a plant's cold tolerance. See below for more information.

Where to Grow

Sarracenia grows best outdoors as a container or potted plant. It makes an excellent addition to any sunny deck or patio. You may also grow it in a pond or fountain, but keep the crown of the plant above water. Because of its specific soil requirements, avoid planting it directly into the ground, unless you have created a specific type of bog garden.

Sunlight

During the growing season, grow your pitcher plant outside in full sun. Provide 6 or more hours of direct sunlight for vigorous growth.

If full sun is not possible, provide a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight with bright indirect light during the rest of the day. Your plant won’t be as vibrant or sturdy as one grown in full sun, but you will be able to maintain some decent growth.

Heat Tolerance

Sarracenia is quite tolerant of the summer heat. It originates from areas where temperatures above 90°F (32°C) are a common occurrence in summer. (See above for information about its range.) However, in its native habitat, the soil temperature is moderated by a slow seepage of cool spring water.

At our nursery in Oregon, our plants are well accustomed to hot dry summers.
On occasion, our relative humidity drops as low as 12%.

If you grow your pitcher plant in containers, you will need to pay attention to soil temperature. While it may not be necessary to shade your plant during the hottest parts of summer, you may need to top water your plants daily to prevent the roots from over heating. Plants will over heat when the soil temperature approaches 110°F (43°). Monitor soil temperature whenever the daytime temperature rises above 100°F (38°C).

If you live in areas where temperatures routinely rise above 100°F (38°C) during the summer, watch Grow Carnivorous Plants DVD, Volume 1 for growing instructions specifically for desert climates.

Water

Keep the pot in standing water at all times. Never allow the soil to dry out completely. Most pitcher plants tolerate moderately hard water (50 – 100 ppm). However, you will need to top water regularly and change the soil yearly to prevent excessive mineral buildup. Whenever possible, use mineral-free water for best results. If you grow your plant in a pond or fountain, keep the water level no higher than halfway up the pot. Avoid drowning the crown of the plant.

Soil

Sarracenia requires nutrient-free soil that provides good drainage and aeration. Use a standard soil mixture of 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Never use potting soil, compost or fertilizer. These ingredients will kill your plant.

Winter Care

As winter approaches, your pitcher plant will slow down in growth and eventually stop growing. It’ll retain its leaves throughout the winter months, but the leaves will turn brown around the edges. This is perfectly normal. Pitcher plants require 3-4 months of winter dormancy triggered by cold temperatures (below 50°F or 10°C) and shorter daylight hours.

Even while dormant, your plant will still need to sit in a small amount of standing water to prevent its soil from drying out.

Don’t worry about overnight temperature dips as low as 20°F (-7°). While dormant, your plant can certainly tolerate overnight frosts with minimal winter protection. However, plants are very susceptible to freeze damage when grown in containers. You will need to protect your pitcher plant when the temperature falls below 20°F (-7°C) or whenever there is a combination of freezing temperatures and wind. Both types of winter conditions can certainly cause serious frost burn. To prevent frost burn, cover it with black plastic or a tarp, or move it into an unheated garage or shed. As soon as the freeze is over and the temperature climbs above 35°F (2° C), uncover your plant and allow it to continue its dormancy outdoors.

If you live an area where the temperature routinely goes below 32°F (0°C) for more than a week at a time, such as in zones 7 or less, you will need to winterize your container plants. Container plants can certainly tolerate brief freezes. But with prolonged freezes, your plants are at risk for frost burn. For more information about winter care in cold climates, watch Grow Carnivorous Plants DVD, Volume 1.

Our nursery is in USDA zone 8. We experience temperatures as low as 10°F (-12°C).

Early Spring Care

When the temperature slowly creeps up and daylight hours become longer, your plants will gradually emerge from dormancy. Clip off all leaves from the previous year to make way for flower buds and new leaf growth. Look for flowers in late spring.

Feeding

Although some growers like to feed their pitcher plant, it is not necessary. Carnivorous plants have adapted to capturing insects on their own, and insects will naturally be attracted to your plant. If you choose to feed your plant, use recently killed insects. Do not feed your plant meat. Feeding is not at all required during the winter months when the plant is dormant.

Repotting

For a robust pitcher plant, repot it every year. Change the soil, and if necessary, put your pitcher plant in a larger pot. Changing the soil restores soil acidity, improves root aeration and strengthens the health of your plants.

Repot during late winter and early spring, especially if you want really robust plants in time for summer. In general, however, you can repot your plants at any time of the year. If you choose to repot at a time other than early spring, make sure you keep the rhizome intact.

When changing pots, use a tall one that will easily accommodate the rhizome and its long root system. Pitcher plants tend to grow faster and larger when their roots have room to grow. Large pots will also give your plants added protection during the winter.

Indoor Care

Because of sun requirements and winter dormancy, we do not recommend growing Sarracenia indoors, including terrariums. They grow best outdoors as container plants or in bog gardens.