The Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula) attracts flies using sweet nectar in its traps. When the fly touches the plant’s sensitive hairs, it triggers an electric charge which snaps the jaws shut, ensnaring the fly and beginning the process of dissolving it into tasty, protein-packed plant food.
With their bright green colour and red-mouthed traps, these fascinating plants make a fun addition to any household, and can hold particular appeal to kids (and big kids alike!). Not only that, but they can serve a practical purpose too, helping to control the number of flies and bugs in your home.
Growing a Venus Fly Trap is an all-round rewarding experience – and the great news is, it’s not difficult; these plants are hardy and can thrive in the UK’s seasonal climate. Read on to find out everything you need to know about sourcing, growing and taking care of these blood-thirsty bug-eaters.
Feeding, Care & Growing Tips
Venus Fly Trap’s need direct sunlight in order to grow their strong, fly-imprisoning leaves. Try to find a sunny spot in your greenhouse, or if growing inside, position the plant next to a south-facing window. Failing that, they can also flourish in a terrarium under a powerful fluorescent grow light (providing you respect their winter dormancy period). They ideally need 12 hours of direct sunlight a day to grow to their full potential – although they can survive on less.
You can pot your Venus Fly Trap with carnivorous plant compost from specialist suppliers or garden centres, or you can make your own by combining sphagnum peat moss with perlite or horticultural sand (ratio 2:1). Avoid conventional potting compost and fertilisers, as the concentration of minerals can be harmful to your Venus plant, which naturally grows in nutrient-poor soil.
Venus plants need pure water to grow properly – they are used to acidic environments and the alkaline minerals found in tap or bottled water can be fatal to them. The easiest solution is to collect rainwater (there’s plenty of that going spare in Britain!), although you can also make pure water by filtering and boiling it in a kettle – or using a reverse osmosis system. Aim to keep the soil wet in summer and just damp in winter – but never let it dry out.
Only once you’ve taken care of all your Venus Fly Trap’s basic needs, can you start to think about feeding it insects, if you think it needs it. Aim to feed a healthy, indoor plant (outdoor plants will catch their own food) one small insect, once a week, making sure to feed a different trap each time. You can feed it live or (freshly) dead flies, or buy dried mealworms or crickets for this purpose. Aim for a size of around 1/3 that of the trap, and make sure not to feed it anything other than bugs.
It’s also important to remember that, however tempting it may be, you should not tease a Venus Fly Trap by tickling its hairs to get it to close its traps. Although this will work, it’s not good for the plant, as it uses a lot of energy to close a trap, and it won’t have a tasty bug snack inside to replenish its nutrients. Do this too much, and your plant will eventually die.
Habitat & Growing Conditions
The Venus Fly Trap’s natural habitat is limited to small areas of North and South Carolina in the USA, where it thrives in boggy conditions along the coastline. Their native sandy soil is moist and acidic, but not nutrient-dense – which is why they get most of their nutrients from ingesting bugs instead.
The temperature in Carolina fluctuates between 0 – 30°C from winter to summer, and therefore Venus Fly Traps are perfectly at home in the British climate. You will just need to protect your Venus Fly Trap from the harsher elements, either using a greenhouse, conservatory or terrarium.
Winter in the Carolinas runs from November to February, and during this time, the Venus Fly Trap enters a winter dormancy period (think of it like hibernation). The plant’s leaves turn brown/black and it will ‘die’ (but don’t worry, it will recover!)
You need to make sure to recreate this cold period for your plant – if you’re growing it in a greenhouse, it can stay where it is for British winter, but if it’s on a window sill in a heated home, you will need to move it somewhere cooler, such as a garage, or even outside. Bear in mind it will still require sunlight, and you should make sure the temperature doesn’t regularly drop below freezing.
Where To Buy A Venus Fly Trap
You can buy seeds or fully grown Venus Fly Traps from garden centres, flower shows or carnivorous plant specialists, as well as online suppliers – you can even buy them on Amazon. Fully grown Venus Fly Traps will usually be sold during season (mid-spring to mid-autumn), as this is when the plants look their best.
There are several variants of Venus Fly Trap available; if you’re just starting out, we recommend choosing one of the hardier varieties, such as the King Henry or Dingley Giant. Choose a plant which looks vibrant in colour and has no (or very few) dead leaves, and make sure it’s potted in suitable soil.
If you’re planning to grow multiple carnivorous plants, consider joining the UK Carnivorous Plant Society (CPS). For a membership fee of £20/year, you’ll get access to their carnivorous plant seed bank with over 500 species, and it includes four free seed packets.
How To Grow A Venus Fly Trap
If you’re growing your own Venus Fly Trap from scratch, here’s an overview of the equipment you need and process you should follow:
Plant the seeds in a 10cm plastic pot which has good drainage and is filled with suitable compost. Place the pot inside a tray or container and use stones to keep the pot secure (and give it a decorative look). Keep the outer pot filled with 1–2 cm of pure water (unless it’s wintertime), allowing the plant to draw in as much water as it needs.
Place the plant inside your greenhouse or conservatory, or by a window, in direct sunlight. If it’s summertime, you can also leave it outside. Make sure to choose a sunny yet sheltered spot, ideally next to water so that it has a plentiful supply of midges and bugs for food.
Once your plant has grown, you can start to feed it a small number of insects (one a week), to give it an added boost of nutrients. Your plant will flower in spring, but unless you want to harvest the seeds, you should prune the flower stalk as soon as you can identify it as such, to avoid draining your Venus Fly Trap of nutrients unnecessarily.
Keep an eye out for signs of greenfly, as Venus Fly Traps are unable to protect themselves from these pests and will require your intervention.
If you buy a Venus Fly Trap from a garden centre or similar, it will come potted in a suitable compost, and shouldn’t need to be re-potted that year. However, as your plant grows year-on-year, you may need to relocate it periodically into bigger pots, to give the roots more aeration.
If your Venus Fly Trap has outgrown its current pot, aim to complete the repotting process around the end of February/beginning of March, just after the winter dormancy period. Make sure to use specialised carnivorous plant compost in the new, larger pot.
What To Do If Your Venus Plant Starts Turning Black
If the leaves of your Venus Plant are slowly turning black during winter, don’t panic. This is a perfectly normal part of the winter dormancy period, as your plant dies back to its rhizome. Traps and leaves will die, and you should simply prune off the dead or dying leaves at the base once they begin to brown. It’s important to remove these black leaves as soon as possible, to prevent mould, which can spread to the rest of the plant.
You should move your plant to a cooler location, and significantly reduce watering whilst your plant is going through this winter dormancy process. Water the compost directly, rather than filling up the tray, and make sure to keep it damp, but not saturated. Other than that, leave your plant to do its thing, and try not to worry – if you’ve taken care of it correctly, it should be fine.
If your plant’s leaves are turning brown at other times of the year, this could be a sign that it is unhealthy or dying due to insufficient growing conditions. Trim the dead leaves, and make sure your plant has access to plenty of water and direct sunlight, and that the temperature is not exceeding 30°C. If the plant is outside and it’s very hot, you might try bringing it inside and placing it near a window instead, as the sun may be burning the leaves. Act quickly, and you may still be able to save it.