Pitcher plants (Sarracenia species) are fascinating carnivores that thrive in specific natural habitats—especially bogs and wetlands. Cultivating them at home can be a very rewarding experience. Yet, even if you don't have the ideal boggy garden spot, they can be successfully grown in containers. This approach provides greater control over their environment, making it especially appealing. Understanding their natural habitats can influence both our choice of containers and our cultivation methods.
The roots of most pitcher plants are not particularly deep but spread laterally beneath the surface, often intertwining with sphagnum mosses. Virtually any container can be made to accommodate your plants. We've used decorative flower pots, cement mixing troughs, Rubbermaid® storage bins. The best size and style will depend on your ambitions and available space. For those aiming to replicate a miniature bog ecosystem complete with several pitcher plants and companion flora, larger containers will be necessary.
Our aim is to mimic the evenly moist, but not waterlogged conditions that pitcher plants prefer. There are two effective methods:
- Use a closed-bottom container that will hold water
- Use a traditional container with drainage holes in the bottom and place it on a shallow tray of water.
Commercial soils are not suitable for pitcher plants. The ideal mix would replicate the acidic, nutrient-poor conditions of a bog. Avoid any mixes that contain added fertilizers or moisture retainers.
Some effective mixtures include:
- 100% sphagnum moss, which provides the acidic conditions these plants love.
- A blend of peat moss and sand, usually at a ratio of 1:1.
- A blend of four parts peat moss and one part rinsed perlite, with an optional addition of long-fibre Sphagnum as a top dressing. The ratio is not critically important, but 4:1 provides a good starting point.
Fill you container with an appropriate medium. For containers with bottom drainage, leave a few inches at the top. For close-bottom containers, fill the container all the way to the rim. Situate the pitcher plant, ensuring its rhizome is even with the surface. Do not bury the leaves and pitchers. Water gently, ensuring the medium settles around the roots without compacting it.
A layer of live sphagnum moss or long-fibered moss can act as a mulch, helping retain moisture and prevent the medium from washing away. It also replicates the natural growing conditions of many pitcher plants.
Water and Fertilizer
Rainwater, distilled, or reverse osmosis water is absolutely required. Pitcher plants are adapted to nutrient-poor conditions, so tap water, with its dissolved minerals, will harm them. If your tap water is low in salts and minerals, it might be suitable, but use at your own risk.
These plants rarely require fertilizers due to their insectivorous nature. However, if you choose to fertilize, ensure it's very dilute.
Pests and Predators
Aphids, thrips, and other insects can occasionally pose problems. Regular checks and early interventions, like insecticidal soaps or neem oil, can be effective. Physical barriers can deter larger pests. Racoons like to root around in the substrate searching for grubs. While they won't eat your plants, they may cause considerable damage in the process.
While many pitcher plants are hardy, container-grown specimens need some protection during the colder months. Relocating to an unheated garage or storage shed is a great option. Check periodically for the growth of mold or fungus and apply a suitable fungicide if necessary. Containers may also be mulched in-place. We like to use dried straw (a good way to repurpose those Halloween hay bales!), applying it to a depth of roughly 4" on all sides. If you first cover the containers with landscape fabric or floating row cover, you'll provide an extra layer of protection and removing the mulch will be much easier come springtime.
As temperatures warm up, gradually reintroduce your pitcher plants to their growing location. Ensure they're protected from late frosts, and be prepared to cover them if cold snaps are forecasted. Plants that have overwintered indoors should be gradually reacclimatized by placing them in a protected location. For those overwintered outside, remove the mulch slowly over the course of a few weeks.
Growing pitcher plants in containers can be a rewarding venture. It allows enthusiasts to bring a slice of the bog right to their doorsteps. With careful attention to detail, patience, and a touch of experimentation, lush, bug-eating beauties can thrive in your care.
In our garden, we've successfully cultivated a range of pitcher plant species, each with its unique charm. We're excited to share our experiences and photos in future posts.