The easiest and most obvious way to feed carnivorous plants is to let them do what they’re designed for and that’s to catch bugs! But what if your carnivorous plants are indoors and don’t have a chance to take part in the bug buffet outside or you don’t have time to collect bugs for them? In this article, we’ll cover some alternative food sources along with how to feed carnivorous plants so they don’t miss out on important nutrients.
Alternative food sources
Fish Flakes & Crushed Pellets
Fish flakes or crushed pellets are a great alternative to bugs for carnivorous plants. They contain several nutrients that can be easily absorbed by the plant. We have used both TetraFin Goldfish Flakes and TetraFin Floating Pellets (crushed) with good success.
Freeze dried Bloodworms are another good food source for carnivorous plants and they may even boost disease resistance. Bloodworms contain a polymer called chitin in their exoskeletons; a polymer also found in the cell walls of fungi. Carnivorous plants (along with most plants) have the ability to detect chitin fragments from fungal infections, triggering a defense mechanism that protects the plant. The extra chitin in bloodworms helps activate the plants defenses without introducing actual fungus. This immunity can be important for helping prevent infections in vulnerable plants like Mexican Pinguicula (Butterworts) which are prone to browning heart disease.
Fertilizers like Maxsea and Oscomote are another option for carnivorous plants, but use them sparingly. Sarracenia and Heliamphora both appreciate small amounts of fertilizer in their soil or pitchers and often Nepenthes can benefit from pitcher-fed fertilizer. If you notice pitcher or leaf burn, this is a sign the fertilizer is too strong and needs to be diluted further.
The Carnivore Girl also has a great article that explores fertilizer for carnivorous plants in more depth.
Carnivorous plants and meat
Despite the name, carnivorous plants rarely eat meat. (Except for some Nepenthes which have been known to snack on rodents). Meat doesn’t contain many of the nutrients carnivorous plants need and it will invite harmful bacteria to start growing, so it’s usually best to stick with one of the food sources mentioned above.
How do I feed my carnivorous plant?
Feeding depends on the type of carnivorous plant in question:
Butterworts do a pretty good job of catching food on their own. If they seem to be having trouble though, sprinkle some fish food or bloodworms on a sticky leaf or two every 2-3 weeks. Try to keep food away from the sensitive crown though to minimize bacteria and mold growth.
Some Butterworts will enter a state of dormancy during certain times of the year. They will stop producing sticky leaves and the plant will usually shrink in size. There’s no need to feed Butterworts during this time.
Pitcher Plants are probably the easiest carnivorous plants to feed. During their active growing season, drop bugs, fish food, or fertilizer pellets in a few of the pitchers every 2-3 weeks. If the pitchers are dry, squirt water in them with a pipette or eyedropper after feeding, otherwise they won’t be able to absorb the nutrients. If you move plants after the pitchers are full, do so carefully. Partially digested food from a spilled pitcher smells atrocious.
Sundews can be one of the more difficult carnivorous plants to feed. If they aren’t catching bugs on their own, feed a few of the dewy leaves dry fish food or bloodworms every 2-3 weeks. If you’re in a hurry, store the food in an old spice shaker and give it a few shakes over the plant occasionally. Just be careful not to pour too much out or get food near the crown of the plant.
If you’d like a more targeted approach, use a pair of pointed tweezers to stick food on the tentacles. After feeding, most sundews curl their leaves around prey within about 20 minutes. If a sundew doesn’t have dew on its tentacles, this could be a sign that it’s stressed. Only feed it after the dew returns.
Venus Flytraps are some of the most fun carnivorous plants to feed! Using tweezers, gently brush a bug, damp fish food, or bloodworms against the hairs inside one of the traps. The trap will snap shut after a couple of strokes, getting a mouthful of food. The amount of food you give each trap depends on the size of the trap. Generally, the size of the food should be about 1/4 of the size of the trap.
For food that isn’t fed live, gently massage the trap after it has snapped shut. This mimics a bug moving inside and stimulates the trap to seal more tightly and produce extra digestive enzymes. Learn more about this amazing process here. Feed a few traps every 2-3 weeks during the plant’s active growing season.
Now who’s hungry?
This article gave a brief overview of what and how to feed carnivorous plants. Hopefully you found it useful but please check out some of the linked resources for more specifics. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave questions and comments below, we’d like to hear from you!
Fungus Gnats are a common pest that often plague indoor plants. They are small and dark in color and can often be seen flying near the surface of damp potting soil. They are also drawn to the CO2 you breathe out which is why they have a habit of always flying around your face.
Although they can be pesky, adult Fungus Gnats aren’t harmful to plants. While in their juvenile stage though, the larvae can cause severe damage. Fungus Gnats like to lay their eggs in the damp soil of potted plants and once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the fungi, organic matter in the soil, and your plant’s roots. Plants damaged by Fungus Gnat larvae may become unhealthy and slow their growth, become yellow, or wilt.
Fungus Gnat Prevention
There are many ways to combat Fungus Gnats, the best of which is to prevent them in the first place. Preventative measures include:
- Allowing the top two inches of soil to dry out in between watering. This makes the soil unattractive to adult gnats looking for a place to lay eggs.
- Ensuring there is adequate airflow around plants to discourage fungal growth. Again, this creates an unattractive location for eggs.
- Isolating infested containers to keep uncontaminated plants from becoming infested.
How to Fight an Infestation
You are probably here though because the situation is beyond prevention. You’ve already seen gnats and maybe even the larvae crawling around in the soil. Fortunately, there are several ways to get rid of Fungus Gnats if you discover an infestation.
The fastest way to take care of an infestation is to replace the soil in the pot. Remove the plant from the pot and discard the contaminated soil outdoors. Rinse the roots and container with a clean stream of water to knock off remaining larvae that may be still attached. Also kill any adult gnats in the area. After removing all of the contaminated soil and clearing the area of adult gnats, repot the plant with fresh soil and then follow ongoing preventative measures.
If repotting isn’t an option, natural pesticides are another way to manage infestations. In order to fight them more effectively though, we need to better understand the life cycle of the Fungus Gnat.
Life Cycle of a Fungus Gnat
Adult female Fungus Gnats live about 7 days and can lay up to 1,000 eggs during their lifespan. Once the eggs are laid, they will hatch in 4-6 days. Once hatched, the larvae begin tunneling through the soil in search of food and damaging plant roots by feeding on them. The larvae stage lasts 10-14 days. Once the larvae are old enough, they spin a cocoon in the soil and enter the pupa stage which lasts 4-7 days. At the end of the pupa stage, the adult exits the cocoon, begins mating and laying eggs soon after and the cycle starts over. A full cycle takes 25-34 days to complete.
The key to successfully eliminating the infestation is apply each form of treatment at least once a week for 1-2 full life cycles of the gnat. This timing totals to around 2 months of treatment. The frequency ensures larvae are killed even if they haven’t hatched during the first couple of treatments and gives any stubborn larvae extra pesticide doses. Consistently spraying or vacuuming up the adults catches any that were in the pupa stage during larvae treatments and prevents them from laying more eggs. With a little persistence, the cycle will be broken and the Fungus Gnat infestation eliminated.
Source: Fungus Gnats by G.R. Nielsen, Former Extension Entomologist, Plant and Soil Science Department