Venus Fly Trap Care: Watering Tips, Sunlight Needs & More
Intrigued by the thought of growing your own carnivorous plant to capture pesky flies buzzing around your garden or inside your home? Consider becoming a plant parent to the Venus flytrap. Here's everything you'll want to know about how to care for this curious critter.
Overview of the Venus flytrap
Native to North and South Carolina, Venus flytraps, also known as the Dionaea muscipula thrive with plenty of heat, sunlight, and water.
Because their roots are used to growing in bogs—a type of wetland—this is a plant that will need to be kept continually damp.
Venus flytraps are known for capturing insects and bugs. They do best when grown outside, although it is possible to grow indoors if you can create the right conditions.
You can purchase Venus flytraps from most nurseries, garden centers, and online plant shops.
How Venus flytraps work
Venus flytraps are a carnivorous plant, meaning they rely on insects for nutrients instead of soil, amendment, or fertilizer. They've evolved traps that have structures that look like hair and are able to shut and squeeze their prey.
"Once captured, the plant releases an enzymatic substance that breaks down the trapped prey into nutrients the plant can utilize," says Bloomscape's gardening expert Lindsay Pangborn. "If nothing is detected in the trap, it will typically open back up after a day."
Growing a Venus flytrap
Venus flytraps are unique plants that can be grown indoors or outdoors, though they have special soil needs and are best planted in containers.
"Because of its specific soil requirements, avoid planting it directly into the ground, unless you have created a specific type of bog garden," says Alfred Palomares, vice president of merchandising and resident plant dad at 1-800-Flowers.com. "You may also grow it in a pond or fountain but keep the crown of the plant above water."
When Venus flytraps are grown with proper care, the entire plant can get as big as five inches in diameter.
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Venus flytrap care tips
Venus flytraps aren't quite as simple or straightforward to care for as other houseplants. Though once you know their specific needs and provide the right conditions, you'll have a thriving carnivorous plant.
Venus flytraps love water and need to be kept moist at all times, unlike most plants where it's best to let the soil dry out until the next watering. "Venus flytraps should be kept consistently moist. Water when 25% of their growing medium has dried out," says Pangborn.
Palomares shares that depending on the time of year and where you live, you'll typically need to water every two to four days.
Although this plant needs moist conditions, you want to avoid overwatering them. "They should never be allowed to sit in water, as this will cause the roots to rot and eventually kill the plant," says Stephen Webb, gardening expert and founder of Garden's Whisper.
If you're used to using tap water for your plants, when it comes to Venus flytraps, you'll have to go the extra mile to keep them happy. "Be sure to use distilled or reverse osmosis water since tap water can contain minerals that can harm the plant over time," says Pangborn.
These plants need lots of sunlight and heat to thrive, and the more they receive, the faster they will grow. A minimum of six hours of direct sunlight is necessary, and according to Palomares, they do best if they have 10 to 12 hours of sunlight per day.
If you're growing your Venus flytrap indoors, make sure to place it next to a sunny window or supplement with a grow light. "Grow lights are not as intense as the real thing, so if this is your only option, leave the light on for 12 to 16 hours per day," Pangborn recommends. It's best to move your Venus flytrap outside during the summer months so it can soak up that bright sun.
Venus flytraps are finicky about their growing medium. "These plants have evolved to take in nutrients from their traps, rather than through roots in the soil like most other plants," says Pangborn. So what should you plant them in? "It's best to use sphagnum moss or a mix of peat moss and an aerating medium like perlite," says Pangborn.
You also don't want to give your Venus flytrap any added nutrients. In fact, you want to do the opposite and avoid any nutrient-rich soil or amendment. "Never use potting soil, compost, or fertilizer, as these ingredients will kill your plant," says Palomares.
What to feed a Venus flytrap
Typically, Venus flytraps fend for themselves when it comes to catching and eating food. They have evolved to be able to hunt prey without relying on plant parents to help them out.
"Although some growers like to feed their flytrap, it's not necessary; this plant has adapted to capturing insects on its own, and insects will naturally be attracted to it," explains Palomares.
That being said, if you're growing inside and there aren't any bugs in your space, you should consider feeding the plant. "A fly, spider, or other small morsel once every few weeks will keep your plant powered up," explains Pangborn. If you're wondering what's the best way to feed your plant, "you can use a pair of tweezers to gently put the bug into the trap," explains Webb.
"If the plant is not hungry, it will remain open for a while and then close up within an hour or two, which means it does not want to eat that specific bug," Webb adds.
You need to pay attention to size because not all bugs or insects are suitable for a Venus flytrap. "A good rule of thumb is to choose insects that are one-third of the size of the trap," says Palomares.
Common problems & how to fix
Look out for the following signs that your Venus flytrap isn't happy with its current conditions:
- Brown and crispy leaves: "Since Venus flytraps consistently need damp soil and high humidity, allowing the plant to get too dry can cause browning, crispy leaves, and traps," explains Pangborn. Make sure to keep your plant slightly damp at all times (but not soggy) and consider placing it next to a humidifier.
- Skipped dormant period: Resting and recharging are important for humans, and the same is true for Venus flytraps. As days get shorter and the weather gets colder, your plant should go into dormancy. "Venus flytraps naturally go dormant over the winter months, and it's best to let your plant follow its natural rhythm rather than forcing it to 'stay awake' over the winter," says Pangborn. Keep up with the aforementioned care tips, and your plant should make its way to dormancy on its own.
- Black spots: If you notice black spots or unpleasant odors on your plant, it's likely an issue with its growing medium. "This specific plant needs nutrient-free, mineral-free soil to survive," Palomares reiterates. "Any other type of soil will poison your plant."
Tips to keep in mind
With these final quick tips, you'll be ready to nurse your Venus flytrap to vibrant health:
- Move your Venus flytrap outside during the summer months if you're growing it as an indoor plant.
- "If you live in an area with cold, freezing winters, make sure to bring the plant back indoors before it gets too cold and the temperature drops below the mid-40s," says Webb.
- "While the Venus flytrap does require heat exposure, they shouldn't be in contact with heat surpassing 95 degrees Fahrenheit as it will dry out very quickly," says Palomares.
If you're wanting to add a carnivorous plant to your growing plant family, the Venus flytrap can be a fun one to bring home as a houseplant or garden addition. Although they aren't the easiest plant to care for, as Pangborn says, "Venus flytraps can be a challenging but rewarding choice!"
Lauren David is a Chilean-American freelance writer. She writes about gardening, food, health and wellness, and sustainability. She has been published in Allrecipes, Greatist, The Healthy, The Kitchn and more.
When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time in her garden, experimenting with ingredients in the kitchen, or spending time by the ocean. See her portfolio on her website.