Fiona Kelly has an obsession with carnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants trap and extract food from other living organisms and have refined their food collection mechanisms to include traps, pitchers, sticky pads or suction techniques.
Living in Larbet, in the central belt of Scotland, Fiona started growing carnivorous plants in 2007 when she found herself at home with a long term, medical condition and like all forms of indoor or outdoor gardening, Fiona found caring for plants to be very therapeutic.
Undaunted by killing the first three plants she bought, Fiona sought out advice on the best way to care for carnivorous plants but found that all the online advice which predominantly came from America or southern England, did not suit the growing conditions in Scotland.
Fiona told us, “You read that in summer keep in 1cm of water in the plant base but I found doing this only caused damp conditions for the plants. They like wet soil but need a warm temperature too which is often not the case in Scotland for long periods of time and even in summer, the temperature can change from one day to the next.”
Types of Carnivorous Plants
Carnivorous plants can be divided into:
Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, probably the most recognisable species for the speed at which it can snap shut on an insect.
Sundew, Drosera, which are most commonly covered with brightly-coloured tentacles which allow the plant to quickly suffocate and digest insects which have become stuck in the glue-covered tips of the plant.
Butterwort, Pinguicula, which grow like a ground-hugging rosette with sticky leaves used to catch gnats and fruit flies.
Pitcher Plants are recognisable from their leaves shaped like tubes. Insects slip on the rim of the pitcher and fall inside. Sarracenia are the most common genus you will find on sale in garden centres.
Bladderwort, Utricularia, which capture prey using bladder-like organs on their underwater roots.
Fiona’s obsession grew and grew until her home was full of Venus Fly Traps (VFT) in every room that faced the sun. She now grows different types of carnivorous plants but still mostly prefers growing VFT, “The ones I collect are not because they are rare, I collect them because they are eye catching to me and know I can grow them in one of my three growing conditions.”
Best Growing Conditions
Fiona grows her plants in three conditions:
- Indoor plants grow in windowsills facing south or south west.
- A cold frame where outdoor plants stay all year round.
- Five large tubs which are covered with a cloche during the winter months which helps to bring the plants out of dormancy in spring
Using no special equipment, over the years, through trial and error in watering, light and growing media, Fiona is now well placed to give us some advice on the best way to grow carnivorous plants.
“I’d say the best beginner plant would be the Cape Sundew, Drosera capensis, which is quite easy to find but interestingly, it also comes in an alba (white) and red form too if you fancy starting a collection of your own. This is an easy one to grow on a windowsill and will allow you to learn the right soil, sunlight and watering care required.”
“When picking your growing medium, be sure it has no lime fertilisers in as this burns the roots and will kill your plants. For the inside and cold frame growing plants, I like to repot the soil every two to three years not only as plants outgrow their pots but to keep up the nutrient levels and to prevent poor aeration within the pot. I prefer my pots to be square and black as I feel that this absorbs the heat and allows the plant to grow better.”
“For the outside ones, I leave repotting to every five to six years as they are in much bigger pots. It is best to do your potting when plants are dormant, generally around early springtime.”
“I never let the soil get completely dry but I check the soil before watering and if it still feels moist or soil sticks to my fingers, I leave alone. I will spray the plants with a fine mist at night after the sun has gone down as I feel this helps with the formation of traps by increasing humidity.
“If it has been hot day for the outside growing ones, I will water with a hose set to a fine spray, otherwise I just let the rain water them.
“Luckily we can use tap water in Scotland to water carnivorous plants. Further south, they need to use rain water as the water needs to be under 40ppm TDS with pH of 7 to 8.
“For VFT Sundews, Bladderworts and Cephs (Cephalotus follicular, Australian Pitcher plant), I use the tray method, watering from below and letting plants take up the water they need. Do not leave them sitting in water for too long though unless we get a really hot spell.
“For Nepenthes, Cobras and Helia, I water from the top so water gets to run through the pot as most of this species live near moving, flowing water. Cobras are the only one I would water during the day on a really hot day, just around the soil of the plant to cool it down as they do not like excessive heat.”
“All plants inside and out feed themselves, I do not feed them any bugs. I know people do this but I just don’t. I may give a light spray of orchid feed in the growing months to the Pinguiculas, just once a fortnight or less to help with flower production.”
“All plants flower. I hand prune my VFT, the rest I let flower. This is because when they flower they put all the energy into the flower and in very young plants, this can kill them as it just takes too much out of them.
“The best time for my plants is from April to end of October where they put on a great display although some of the some Pings do flower in winter.
“The plants will have a dormant time starting in October when they slow down and some of the VFT will go back to nothing. This is where a lot of people think they have died as they can look in a sorry state. My advice is to never give up on a plant, it can come back the following year in as late as mid summer.
“You can let the plants go drier in the winter months especially when it gets colder. I do not spray them with water during this time but I feel winter can be more stressful especially for a new grower. I check the soil a lot more in winter and I like to take all the dead traps off the ones in the cold frame and windowsills to reduce chance of rotting.
“For the ones outside, the wind helps against rot. I mostly rely on rain in winter for outside watering but I do check them now and again, using fingers to see if the soil is dry.
“During really frosty days and nights, I put a tent over the plants and take off when we get some sunny winter days. When March comes you can chop the Sarracenia to the soil leaving only new growth if this has already started and this will let the light in to the that growth.”
If Fiona has inspired you to start growing carnivorous plants, then you can keep up with her ever-growing collection on her Instagram page.