Carnivorous Casserole

From “Container Gardening Complete”

Reprinted with permission by author Jessica Walliser and publisher (Quarto Group).

 

CARNIVOROUS-PLANT CONTAINERS

Carnivorous plants are surprisingly easy to grow in containers, if you provide them with conditions that mimic their natural habitat. Like other plants, carnivorous species use sunlight to make their own food, but they also digest small insects that get caught in their jaw-like leaves, trapped on their sticky surface, or fall into their waterfilled, tubular leaves. The plants then digest their victims with the help of numerous enzymes.

Carnivorous plants do best in bright areas with high humidity, and they require wet, but not constantly saturated soil. Though not all species of carnivorous plants are winter hardy, some are. If you want your containerized carnivorous plants to survive the winter outdoors, make sure you choose varieties hardy to your area. Some species are fully hardy through much of the northern United States and Canada.

Carnivorous plants naturally grow in boggy areas, where the soil is lean and acidic. To accommodate their needs, the following project uses a casserole dish with no drainage holes as a planter, but you can grow carnivorous plants in any bowl-like container that lacks drainage.

At season’s end, if you’ve selected winter-hardy plants, bury the container in the garden or compost pile so the top of the pot is level with the top of the soil and forget about it for the winter. Or if you’ve selected non-hardy varieties, move the pot indoors into a cold, but not freezing, basement or garage with a small window. The plants need to shift into winter dormancy for a few months, during which time the soil needs to remain damp, but not waterlogged. When spring arrives, the container should be moved outdoors again.

 

CARNIVOROUS CASSEROLE

 

MATERIALS NEEDED

  • 1 ceramic or stoneware casserole dish
  • Enough sphagnum peat moss or peat-based potting soil to fill 2⁄3 of the dish (do not use a potting soil with added fertilizer or compost; they’re too “rich” for carnivorous plants)
  • Enough clean, sharp builder’s sand to fill the rest of the dish
  • 3 to 5 carnivorous plants
  • 1 selection of another bog plant; I used a dwarf umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius ‘Gracilis’)
  • 1 handful reindeer or sphagnum sheet moss

 

Carnivorous plants are some of my favorite underused container gems. They garner a lot of attention and fascinate old and young visitors alike. As long as you’re willing to care for them properly and choose the best varieties for your gardening zone, container-grown carnivorous plants will live for many years.

Note: Never collect carnivorous plants from the wild, even if it’s on your own property. Instead, purchase only nursery-grown plants that have not been collected from the wild. There is a sly comic irony to this project. Planted in a casserole container, this garden is not meant to be eaten, but to do the eating.

 

Types of Carnivorous Plants Suited to Container Culture

  • Pitcher plants (Sarracena spp.)
  • Sundews (Drosera spp.)
  • Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
  • Butterworts (Pinguicula spp.)

 

STEP 1 Mix the peat moss or potting soil with the sand in a small bucket or bin, and fill the container with an inch or two of the mix. Carefully remove the plants from their containers and plant them one by one into the casserole dish. Loosen any pot-bound roots as you plant. After all the plants are in place, fill in around them with more of the peat moss/potting soil and sand blend until the container is filled to within an inch of its rim.

STEP 2 Cover the exposed planting mix with decorative reindeer moss or sphagnum sheet moss to aid in moisture retention and give the container a finished look. When you water your carnivorous casserole planter, use rainwater or distilled water and fill the container until it’s completely flooded. Then, over the period of a few days, let the water level drop, but never let it dry out completely. Add more water when the soil is merely damp.

STEP 3 Put your carnivorous casserole where it will receive 4 to 6 hours of full sun per day. Contrary to popular belief, do not feed your carnivorous plants raw hamburger. They’re unable to digest the proteins in it. If you leave your carnivorous plants outdoors, the plants will trap plenty of insects on their own.

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