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Past Articles Library | House Plants

How to Grow a Pitcher Plant


Pitcher plants are a unique form of carnivorous plant.  It contains long, slender leaves and pitcher-shaped flowers.   Depending on the variety and location, the pitcher plant can be grown inside or out, which makes it a fun plant to play with. 

Unlike the Venus flytrap, which traps its prey before consuming, the pitcher plant attracts its prey through its sweet nectar.  Once inside the pitcher, if the insect falls into the sweet smelling stew it will be digested.

This adaptation is also used when it comes to propagation.   The pitcher on the pitcher plant is designed so that the stigma must be passed before the insect can reach the nectar.  Once the nectar is reached, the insect comes in contact with the stamens.  To prevent the insect from pollinating the same flower, the insect can exit by pushing aside a flower petal.

If you want to give Mother Nature a hand when it comes to pollination, go ahead.  The process is very simple.  First, lift up a petal and look for the pollen on the style floor.  Once that is found, take a small, clean paint brush and gently brush across the style floor.   At this point, you can transfer you pollen to another plant or you can place it on aluminum foil.  If you choose the latter, make sure to freeze it.  Why would you want to do this?  Well, this is a great way of keeping it fresh for up to one month. 

After you have helped out Mother Nature, you will need to wait five months to see if your pollination worked.  How do you know if pollination has occurred?  Well, a “pod” will form.  Once this pod begins to turn brown, pick and place inside a paper envelop.  I know, you are shaking your head and going why.  The first reason to pick the pod when it starts turning brown is so that you do not lose the seeds.  If the pod completely ripens on the plant, the pod itself will open and spills the seeds, which are small.  On the other hand, if you pick the pod when it starts turning brown, you avoid this problem.

The second reason for harvesting the pod early and storing it in a paper envelop is two-fold.  First, paper breathes and in doing so you do not have to worry about moldy seeds.  Second, storing your pod in a container will guarantee that you will not lose any seeds. 

Now that you have your seeds harvested, the next step is planting them but do not jump the garden fork.  Pitcher plant seeds need to be stratified.  What this means is that placing the seeds in a cold environment.  While you could just put your seeds in the fridge, the correct way of doing this is placing your seeds in a small container that has been filled with dampened Sphagnum moss. 

If your seeds are old, soak them the night before in a little water and a dap of dish soap.   Mix the soap into the water before placing the seeds in the container.  

You may wonder why you cannot just plant your seeds.  The reason is the seed coat.  Pitcher plant seeds have a waxy seed coat that repels water.  To break open the seed coat, the seed will need to absorb water.  This is the purpose for the stratification.

Regardless of which technique you choose, you will need to expose the seeds to a cold, damp environment for four weeks. 

After the seeds have been exposed to the cold, the next step is to plant them.  The first step of this process is to clean the containers you are going to use.  The best size container to use to start your seeds is one that is three inches in diameter.  Once you have your container, clean it in hot, soapy water.  Rinse the cleaned pot in water that has had a capful of bleach added.  Remove and allow to dry out in the sun. 

Fill the pot with chopped, live sphagnum moss that has been damped.  Gently place seeds on top of the moss and cover with plastic or place in a clear, plastic bag.  Once that is done, place the plastic covered pot under grow lights.  Keep a look out for signs of germination but do not expect any for two to four weeks.

After signs of germination appear, remove the plastic from the pot and place in a terrarium, which should be located under grow lights.  At this point, your pitcher plants can remain here for up to two to three years and/or they have five leaves.

Once that happens, it is time to replant your pitcher plants.  At this point, you have two choices.  One choice is to plant nine baby pitcher plants in a 3-inch pot.  Utilizing this approach will allow you to keep them in the same container longer.  If you want to transplant them more often, place one pitcher plant in a 2-inch pot.  This close environment will cause the plant to grow faster and in doing so will need to be transplanted sooner than the latter.

Regardless of which method you pick, place the pot back into the terrarium with grow lights.

Now, that you have transplanted your pitcher plants what is next?  Pitcher plants can be grown outside or moved outside temporarily but this can be tricky.  First, if you place them out too soon in the spring, the plant will think it is time to go dormant.   On the other hand, if you set them out too late in the spring then the plant can burn.  Either one of these situations can set the plant back a year.  The best advice to follow is to observe your environment.  When the weather begins to warm and you are gradually placing your indoor plants outside and/or you are hardening off your seedlings then this is the time you should move your pitcher plants outside. 

While pitcher plants do get nourishment from insects that have fallen into the sweet smelling stew, they can benefit from fertilizer.  This can be done in two ways.  One approach is to feed your pitcher plant through foliar application of the fertilizer, which needs to be very high in nitrogen.  When using this approach, mix ½ teaspoon of fertilizer to a gallon of rain or purified water. 

The second approach is a great one especially if you are a forgetful gardener.  What is this approach?  Well, it is slow-release form of fertilizer that is applied to the potting medium.  Many of these slow-release fertilizers are good for four months, which would pretty much do for the pitcher plants growing season. 

But what if you want to feed your pitcher plant some meat?  The process itself is very easy and starts with grinding up blood worms.  While you could use live pests, it is just as easy to feed them blood worm dust.

Once the blood worms have been ground into a powder, tip a wooden toothpick into purified water and then into the worm dust.  Drop this dust into the pitcher plant bloom.  If you are successful, you will see a little dust on the surface of the sweet smelling liquid.

Yes, I will say that growing pitcher plants takes a lot of work but the effort is rewarded by the oddity of raising a carnivorous plant.


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