My Love-Hate Relationship With the Blue Poppy

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How can anyone resist a plant that looks this good in a photo? Photo: http://www.premierseedsdirect.com

Yes, the famous blue poppy! What gardener doesn’t dream of adding to their resumé, under Accomplishments, “Successfully bloomed a blue poppy.” It’s not just because it’s beautiful and comes in such a remarkable shade (although blue is sooo rare in flowers), but because it’s reputed to be such a challenge to grow. 

My own experiences with this plant go back to my childhood. I was about 10 years old and had seen a picture of the blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) in my dad’s seed catalog. It looked so exotic and striking that I knew right away that I was going to try to grow it. But my dad refused to buy seeds for me, claiming that the blue poppy was not a good choice for little boys … which, of course, made trying to grow it all that much more irresistible.

The seeds I ordered came in a pack much like this. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

Three years later, having managed to grow begonias from seed, my idea of the utmost gardening challenge at the time, I was sure I was ready for anything the gardening world could throw at me. And I now had an additional advantage: freedom to purchase! Yes, I now had a budget (thanks to money made mowing neighbors’ lawns … with my dad’s lawn mower) and didn’t need my dad to order seeds for me. I could order them myself, thank you very much. 

So, I did …and it was a disaster. Not a single seed sprouted! The following spring, I tried again, with no greater luck. Is it possible that fathers somehow do know best? 

At any rate, I put aside making “growing a blue poppy” my life’s main ambition, at least for the moment, and concentrated on being a teenager. 

A Dream Comes True

In fact, it was almost 30 years later before I dared try again.

By then, I was a serious gardener and, in fact, was making a living as a freelance garden writer (as I do today). I’d grown with success all sorts of challenging plants and lived to tell the tale. Somehow, though, I felt I needed another horticultural feather in my cap and looked back lustily at my old nemesis, the blue poppy. 

Of course, I could have bought a plant and saved about 15 steps and a lot of time, but that would be taking the easy way out. I decided to go all the way and start my own blue poppies from seed, then grow them to full bloom. So, I yet again ordered a pack of blue poppy seeds.

There must have been 200 seeds in the pack, as fine as dust. And the smallest seeds are always the most challenging. However, now I had research behind me. I had read and absorbed the advice of the best experts in the field …taken from books, of course (the Internet did not yet exist). How could I fail?

My main challenge was a borderline climate. Blue poppies come from the Himalayas and like cool, alpine conditions. My climate was certainly cool enough from fall through spring and they’re very cold hardy (zone 3), so my cold winters weren’t a problem, but summers where I live can be hot. Well, fairly hot. Not Miami hot, but still, sometimes up into the 80s (26˚C and above) and extremely humid. By providing reasonable shade, careful watering (moist soils are cooler than dry ones) and a decent mulch, though, it ought to be doable. 

I had learned my failed first attempts came from starting the seeds too warm. Yes, 99% of seeds germinate under warm conditions; blue poppies are part of the 1% that like things cool. Some authors (but not all) also suggested a cold treatment after sowing to break seed dormancy. So, I did both. I sowed the seeds in my cold frame in the fall and left them there, their pots in sealed plastic bags, until spring.

Blue poppy seedlings are small and fragile. Photo: gardenofeaden.blogspot.com

Eureka! By May, I had 10 tiny blue poppy seedlings. 

Now, to be honest, that wasn’t much of a germination rate (10 seeds out of 200 sown; about 5%), but I only needed a few plants to meet my goal.

Of course, with summer coming, the cold frame soon started heating up and I had to move the seedlings elsewhere, outdoors under the shade of some spruces, but even there, it wasn’t easy supplying cool temperatures. By summer, I could tell they weren’t happy. They essentially stopped growing. And I started losing them. Maybe the soil got a bit too dry or it got to be a bit too hot. At any rate, the now three surviving plantlets still looked too small and fragile to plant out and by fall, I decided to put them back in the now cooler cold frame for winter. 

The plants were now strong enough to plant out. Photo: http://www.growsonyou.com

That seemed to perk them up and the next spring, they began to grow more lustily. By summer, they were about the size they should have been the first year. So, the second fall, I dared planting them out, in shade. In moist, acid soil. With plenty of mulch.

When spring came around again, there was only one plant left … but at least it was producing flower buds!

Experts advise you to not let the plant bloom its first year, so clip those buds off. Photo: http://www.gardentags.com

The expert advice, however, was to not let a blue poppy produce flowers in its first cycle; otherwise it was likely to act like a biennial and die after flowering. Cut back the buds, they said, and wait for another year. That can perennialize it.

I felt almost sick at heart cutting back the buds of my sole plant after so many years of effort, but I did it. And waited patiently.

The Flower Thief

The following spring, my unique blue poppy was still alive and again bearing flower buds. In fact, more than the previous year. It looked healthy and robust. I proudly watched the buds grow and swell. I was finally going to bloom my first blue poppy!

I was this close to seeing the first flowers. Photo: flowers.cveti-sadi.ru

I had to leave for a few days to give a series of lectures, but wasn’t too concerned. Blue poppies bloom over a period of weeks. Still, I was anxious to get back, because I knew that the flowers would be open and I was so looking forward to seeing them. Upon my arrival, I, of course, left my suitcase in the car and ran up the garden steps to see them!

They were gone! There were just stubs where the stems had been. 

I immediately felt a murderous rage come over me. That groundhog would pay for this! I mean, what else could it have been? But, looking more carefully, I saw the stems hadn’t been nibbled back, but carefully snipped. Someone—a human—had cut them!

I’m not going to tell you who I suspected, because she would kill me, but I quickly confronted the most likely culprit. 

“What happened to the poppies?” I shouted.

“What poppies?”asked the suspect, honestly puzzled.

“The blue poppies!”

“Ah, the blue flowers! What a disappointment,” she lamented. “I cut them to make a bouquet for the office, but they didn’t even last a day!”

The offender was eventually forgiven and warned never to cut any blue flowers. Ever.

Finally, Flowers!

If the flowers were gone, the plant was still alive and thriving. So, another year went by. 

What a sense of accomplishment when the plant finally blooms! Photo: http://www.holywelllaneplants.co.uk

The following spring, of course, the buds were watched like a hawk. And this time, they did bloom. The flowers were beautiful, the same stunning, incredible blue as in the catalogs. And the whole show, from the first bloom to the last, lasted over a month. Friends and neighbors were invited over, strangers dragged from the street to gawk. I even brought a bus tour I was guiding over for a look. I was so proud!

But that was the beginning of the end. Although I deadheaded the plant to keep it from going to seed, by next summer, it was just a patch of dead leaves. It had decided its biennial nature was not to be thwarted and it simply gave up the ghost. 

Well, so much the better! I was honestly sick of blue poppies. I never want to grow such a capricious plant again! I already have enough challenges in my daily life. I want easy plants and easy gardening. I’ll leave the damn blue poppy to others.

The Moral of the Story: Cheat

If ever you feel the need to grow this diabolical plant, here’s my suggestion: buy yourself a blue poppy plant in bud, plant it in your flower bed, do not remove its buds and, when the flowers open, take a selfie, with your smiling, proud face at their side …then post the picture everywhere on the Internet: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. That way, everyone will know that you have reached the pinnacle of success in the gardening world and you won’t need to go through 35 years of frustration to get there. 

Then just let the little monster die.

And don’t worry: I won’t tell anyone!

Moral of The Moral

Yes, the blue poppy is gorgeous, but life is too short to bother with such a temperamental plant!

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What are Soil Aggregates?

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Soil aggregates retained on a 4.75 mm sieve after wet sieving experiment. Credit: Nall Moonilall

This article by Nall I. Moonilall of Ohio State University is from the excellent site Soils Matter, Get the Scoop! of the Soil Science Society of America, a go-to source for valuable and honest information on the soils we garden in.

The ground beneath your feet might seem like a uniform material, but it’s really a mixture of soil particles, organic matter, and other mineral/organic components. For a soil to be healthy, it must have good structure. Soil is made up of a combination of primary particles—sand, silt and clay. These particles can be bound together into what soil scientists call “aggregates.”

These aggregates are clumps of soil that range from the micro level (less than 0.25 mm in diameter) to the macro level (greater than 0.25 mm in diameter). Furthermore, they can resemble various shapes: granular, blocky, etc. These varied shapes allow for healthy soil to have pores—spaces for air and water—, needed for healthy plant growth.

Aggregate formation is a complex process. Soil aggregates are formed through physical, chemical and biological activity below ground. They are even influenced by human factors, like tilling, walking on the surface, or even how you fertilize your garden. Formation of aggregates begins with finer soil primary particles binding together. You may know that clay particles have a negative charge. And the fertilizers you use include salts that have positively charged cations (things like potassium nitrate, etc.). The positively charged cations allow the negatively charged clay particles to bind together creating “floccules.” The type and amount of clay minerals in the soil often play an influential role in aggregation formation.

Soil crust formation on a soil exposed to simulated rainfall. You can see the crust formation on the surface of the soil as well as how deep the crust extends. (This really is soil—not cement!) Credit: Nall Moonilall

The second part of aggregate formation deals with cementation. Here, the clay floccules and other soil particles are bonded together by some type of cementing agent. (Here the word cementing means “binding”—not cement like in concrete!) Examples of cementing agents include organic matter and liming materials like calcium carbonate. Even types of oxides, like iron and aluminum, can help cement particles together.

In the case of organic matter, it is broken down by the soil microorganisms and soil fauna (earthworms, etc.). When breakdown occurs, these organisms secrete organic compounds that are the “glue” that makes cementation occur. Plant roots also play a role in aggregate formation by secreting organic compounds called root exudates. These help bind soil together near the root zone. Fungal hyphae also contribute to aggregate formation by entangling and weaving around soil particles.

As you can see, aggregate formation is the result of many interactions and feedback loops occurring below ground.

Soil aggregates play a major role in soil structure formation and soil health. In agriculture, the stability of aggregates is critical to how well an agroecosystem will function. The pore spaces in soil influence air and water storage and gaseous exchange. They create habitat for soil microorganisms, and allow for plant root development and penetration. They also assist in nutrient cycling and transport.

Soils that have high aggregate stability are less susceptible to erosion. They hold their shape when exposed to disruptive forces, like water, and do not easily break apart.


Keep soil covered! Crop residues on the soil surface help to protect soil from erosive forces. Credit: Nall Moonilall

Poorly aggregated soils disintegrate easily when exposed to erosive forces. They tend to break down faster, leading to soil degradation. Poor stability can lead to pore spaces being filled in and can ultimately result in the formation of soil crusts. This can lead to reduced infiltration and gaseous exchange. Poorly aggregated soils can reduce crop productivity.

Soil management often influences aggregate size, shape, and stability. Favorable practices that promote and maintain greater stability include:

  • Minimizing soil disturbance, like minimal tillage. This reduces aggregate destruction because they are not physically or mechanically broken apart;
  • Adding organic matter enhances aggregate strength and stability;
  • Keeping soil covered is essential to keeping soil intact. Vegetative cover on the soil reduces the impact of erosive forces;
  • Promoting a diverse cropping system. Systems that promote perennial plants or meadows have expansive rooting systems and require no tillage. Promoting this kind of diversity within a system will ensure that soil’s function is not reduced;
  • Managing for grazing. Grasses have strong root systems, but if animals graze too long, that can be disruptive to the forage system. There are many ways to graze animals and preserve or enhance soil stability;
    soiand,
  • Managing for pest control. The choice of plants and how they are managed (e.g. annual vs. perennial, cover crops, rotation) are highly influential.

To recap—soil aggregates are the building blocks that make up soil and their stability is extremely important in the long-term. Soils that are well-aggregated exhibit greater soil health, ensure greater agronomic productivity, are less susceptible to soil erosion, and can play a role in carbon sequestration.

How Can Tomato Seeds Survive Cold Winters?

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Tomato seeds are pretty much indifferent to cold. Ill.: ndgbotanicals.com, clipartlook.com & jewel1067.com, montage: laidbackgardener.com

Question: I don’t understand how tomato seeds can survive the cold winters while I live, down to -15 °F (-25 °C), then come up and produce plants in the spring!

Tomatoes come from northwestern South America, a tropical region. How do tropical seeds survive such cold weather? And it’s the same for eggplants.

Does this mean that the seeds have a greater cold tolerance than the plant does?

Louise Lebrun

Question: Yes, that’s exactly the case.

The secret is that the seeds of most plants go fully dormant and, during deep dormancy, are not bothered by extreme cold. Tomato seeds have even been stored in liquid nitrogen at -321˚F (-196˚C) and sprouted afterwards.

That’s why seed companies can ship seeds with no special protection even under the worst cold of winter without fear for their survival. (Read Yes, You Can Order Seeds in the Dead of Winter.)

You can order seeds in the dead of winter and they’ll come through in fine shape. Ill.: http://www.okclipart.com

Now, there are some plants whose seeds never go completely dormant. (Clivia seeds, for example.) These seeds won’t tolerate frost and can’t be shipped in cold weather, but they’re exceptions rather than the rule. The majority of seeds, even those of tropical plants, will tolerate freezing without difficulty as long as they are fully dormant.

Seeds Survive, Plants Die

On the other hand, when plants are in full growth, they’re all sensitive to frost to a certain degree. Even a fir tree from the Far North, perfectly capable of tolerating temperatures of -31 °F (-35 °C) in the middle of winter, will suffer severe cold damage if a significant frost occurs while it’s growing. But any cold-hardy plant slowly goes dormant in the fall and its resistance to cold gradually increases as temperatures drop. It eventually reaches a point where it can withstand severe cold, although exactly how much cold depends on its natural degree of hardiness, a factor that varies from one species to another.

Frost-damaged tomato plants. Photo: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca

On the other hand, nature never taught tomato plants and eggplants to prepare for oncoming frost, so they continue to grow late into the fall, as long as the weather permits. Unlike their seeds, the plants are totally intolerant of freezing and even the slightest touch of frost will damage their tissues if not out and out kill them. But their mature seeds can live on, ready to replace them when spring comes.

So, the next time a comet hits the earth and the resulting years-long impact winter wipes out most of the animal species, many plant seeds will simply wait the cold out and germinate when warmer weather returns.

Ain’t nature wonderful?

When Celery Has Hollow Stems

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Celery: not the easiest vegetable to grow. Photo: http://www.wearefound.com

Question: I have a problem with my celery. It looks fine, but the stalks are hollow. Why?

Andree

Answer: This is a common problem with celery (Apium graveolens dulce), not the easiest vegetable to grow under most conditions.

It may help to understand that wild celery is a plant of marshes and stream edges, used to a rich, organic, very humid soil. As a cultivated plant, celery’s short roots aren’t very efficient at reaching minerals or moisture, so it prefers a soil that is always moist, light and very rich in minerals. And as you can imagine, celery loves compost, so add more annually! 

Heat and drought are its two worst enemies, leaving it with hollow stalks and a stringy texture. Drought-stressed celery may even start to go to seed, leading to a bitter taste.

Also, mechanical damage can make the situation worse. If possible, avoid hoeing at the base of celery plants. That injures the roots and can lead to further drought stress. 

Mulch to the Rescue

Mulch helps keep celery cool and moist. Photo: http://www.attainable-sustainable.com

Even home gardeners who don’t normally mulch their crops should make an exception for celery. Mulch it heavily with an organic mulch about 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) thick. That will help keep the soil cool and moist. Mulching also keeps down weed germination (therefore, you won’t need to hoe!) and helps make sure that grains of sand don’t work their way into the heart of the plant, often an annoyance with store-bought celery.

And, of course, water early and often. As soon as the soil feels the slightest bit dry to touch, you should be out watering your celery. 

Preventing Blossom-End Rot on Tomatoes

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A severe case of blossom-end rot. Photo: http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com

Blossom end rot is a common deficiency disease seen in tomatoes, but also peppers and squashes. It’s characterized by a lesion that forms on the tip of a young fruit ready to ripen, on the opposite side to where it is attached to the plant. This is the point where the flower was originally found, thus the name “blossom-end” rot.

The lesion is light brown, small and watery at first, then grows and becomes dark brown or black, sunken and hardens. The lesion may eventually cover more than half of the fruit and can be invaded by other organisms.

Blossom-end rot occurs when fruits are growing rapidly and therefore have a high need for calcium, yet are unable to get enough. The solution might seem to treat the plant with a calcium-rich fertilizer, such as chicken manure or almost any other organic fertilizer (nearly all contain calcium), and in fact, applying calcium is often recommended as a treatment. However, studies show that simply applying calcium has no significant effect. Even if the calcium-rich fertilizer is sprayed directly on the plant’s foliage and no other treatment is applied, the calcium tends to remain in the foliage and very little reaches the fruit.

The Real Culprit: Moisture Stress

Keep tomato plants well-watered and you’ll never see blossom-end rot. Ill.: hubpages.com

In fact, blossom end rot is almost never due to the absence of calcium (calcium is abundant in most garden soils), but to the inability of the plant to absorb calcium from the soil. And that is most often due to irregular watering. If the plant lacks water during the critical period of fruit formation, less sap reaches the fruit which will therefore not receive its share of calcium and voilà! Blossom end rot sets in. Typically, blossom-end rot occurs when the plant is repeatedly stressed by irregular watering or rainfall, going from very dry to moist to very dry again. It tends to occur more often in container-grown plants … because they dry out very quickly.

Blossom end rot almost never occurs when tomato plants are mulched. Photo: http://www.tomatodirt.com

The solution? Always ensure constant moisture to the roots of tomatoes, peppers and squashes and blossom-end rot is unlikely to occur. Applying mulch to the soil at the base of the plant is ideal because it helps keep the soil evenly moist.

Epsom Salts Aren’t Helpful… At All!

My dad used to treat blossom-end rot by watering his tomatoes with a solution of Epsom salts … and it worked! But not because of the salts! Epsom salts are simply magnesium sulfate. They can add sulfur and magnesium to the soil. But, as you’ve read, blossom-end rot is due to a lack of calcium, a very different mineral. Watering with a solution of Epsom salts can therefore help tomato plants … not because of the salts themselves, rather because of the H2O they were diluted in. Read more about Epsom salts in the garden here: Garden Myth: Read Epsom Salts as a Cure-All.

Other factors to consider are:

  • Adjusting the soil’s pH to close to 6.5. Calcium tends to remain insoluble and thus unavailable in soil that is either too acid (pH below 6) or too alkaline (pH above 7).
  • Avoiding the excessive use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers (those with a higher first number, such as 15-10-10). They cause overly rapid green growth, draining calcium to the plant’s foliage rather than its fruit.
  • Avoiding hoeing at the foot of the plant. This severs plant roots and thus disrupts the flow of calcium-bearing sap to the fruit. Here again, mulch can come to the rescue! A good mulch prevents weeds from growing, so there will be no need to hoe the soil around the plant and blossom end rot will therefore be less likely.
  • Some varieties, like ‘Big Boy’, ‘Fantastic’ and ‘Whopper’ and most paste tomatoes (‘Roma’, for example), are more sensitive to blossom-end rot than others.

Adapted from an article originally published on August 5, 2015.

Sow in August for a Fall Harvest

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There are many vegetables you can sow in August. Photo: http://www.gardenersworld.com

In the home vegetable garden, the month of August is usually a month for harvesting. Tomatoes, beans, peppers, carrots, beets: the least you can say is that there is no shortage of fresh vegetables for the table!

On the other hand, by reaping the fruits of your labors, you end up leaving empty spaces in the vegetable garden, spaces that could be put to better use by sowing fast-growing vegetables, a technique called succession planting.

There are actually quite a few vegetables that can be sown in August (and sometimes even in September) which you can, depending on the region, expect to see produce a decent harvest before frost hits. And the other advantage of succession planting is that by filling empty spaces in the vegetable garden with growing plants, you also keep weeds down, as they like nothing better than moving into spaces you left bare.

Can You Start From Scratch in August?
If you don’t even have a vegetable garden, but suddenly decide that you want one, yes, you can start from scratch in August! As they say, it’s never too late to do the right thing! Here’s an article that explains how to prepare a new vegetable garden in just half an hour or so: A Fast and Easy Vegetable Garden. Moreover, your “new vegetable garden” can be as simple as placing a big pot on the balcony or the deck, filling it with soil and sowing a few seeds!

Which Vegetables to Choose?

Lettuce is one of the fastest-growing vegetables and is ideal for succession sowing. Photo: http://www.jardiner-malin.fr

Fall, with its cool nights and sunny days, is particularly suitable for growing leaf and root vegetables. If the soil is hot, just sow the seeds a bit deeper than in the spring and water well: they’ll soon sprout.

Some vegetables, on the other hand, have a hard time germinating if early August starts off with a heat wave, especially lettuce and spinach. But you can cheat a little. Sow them in peat pots, moisten well, then put the pots in the refrigerator for three to five days. Then, the cold having stimulated their germination, move them to a semi-shady spot outdoors where they’ll start to grow. They’ll be ready for transplantation into the full sun of the vegetable garden in a week or two.

Here are the vegetables most suitable for August sowing:

  1. Beet (50-60 days)
  2. Broccoli (70-80 days)
  3. Brussels sprouts (90-100 days)
  4. Cabbage (60-80 days)
  5. Carrot (50-75 days)
  6. Cauliflower (60-80 days)
  7. Collard greens (40-65 days)
  8. Coriander (cilantro) (40-50 days)
  9. Dandelion (40-70 days)
  10. Endive (85-100 days)
  11. Green onion (60-70 days)
  12. Kale (50-60 days)
  13. Kohlrabi (50-60 days)
  14. Lettuce (25-60 days)
  15. Mesclun (30-60 days)
  16. Miner’s lettuce (40-55 days)
  17. Mizuna (20-40 days)
  18. Mustard greens (30-50 days)
  19. Pak choi (30-50 days)
  20. Pea (55-85 days)
  21. Radicchio (60-65 days)
  22. Radish (25-40 days)
  23. Rocket (arugula) (25-50 days)
  24. Spinach (45-60 days)
  25. Swiss chard (55-65 days)
  26. Turnip (35-60 days)

Of course, the best time to plant garlic (from cloves) is even later, in September … but that’s, for a harvest at the end of next summer, not for this year’s crop.

Note that many of these vegetables won’t arrive at their full maturity from an August sowing (Brussels sprouts, full-size beets, long carrots, etc.) in all climates, vegetables harvested young are just as delicious as mature ones. Indeed, sometimes they even taste better!

Frost Is (Not Yet) An Issue

Floating row cover can offer frost protection for those early frosts. Photo: wimastergardener.org

Don’t worry too much about frost for the vegetables mentioned above: the first frost is usually quite light and won’t bother them at all. And to protect them from the deeper frosts that follow, you can cover them with floating row cover and gain several degrees of frost protection, allowing your crops even more time to mature.


So, go for it! Sow new vegetables as you harvest the mature ones: you still have time!

Carnivorous Plants: August 2019 Houseplant of the Month

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Freakish to look at, unusual shapes and a good story: carnivorous plants attract spiders and insects with their colorful and bizarre appearance. They then catch and digest these creatures to obtain their nutrients. The best known carnivorous plants are the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia), sundew (Drosera) and tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes).

Their hunting techniques differ from plant to plant. The Venus flytrap uses trap leaves that slam shut incredibly quickly. With sundew the prey gets stuck to the tentacles on its leaves. The ingenious trumpet pitcher’s leaves are pitcher-shaped and insects are trapped in them. The tropical pitcher plant also uses pitchers that hang from the ends of its leaves.

Origin

In the wild carnivorous plants grow in fairly damp regions with nitrogen-poor soil such as swamps. The tropical pitcher plant does that in Southeast Asia, the Venus flytrap and the trumpet pitcher come from North America while various species of sundew grow on all the continents apart from Antarctica.

What to look for when buying carnivorous plants?

Consider using magnifying lenses to show off the subtle traits of the smaller carnivorous plants. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

• For each species, the color, the length of the pitcher (Nepenthes) or trumpet (Sarracenia) and the number of leaves (sundew and Venus flytrap) can be factors in your choice.
• The plant’s growing mix must be sufficiently damp at purchase time.
• Avoid plants with drying or yellowing leaves.
• Their need for high humidity and light means that they should not spend a long time at the point of sale.

Range and Assortment

Carnivorous plants are often sold in mixed trays. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

The tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes) is usually sold on its own, while Venus flytrap (Dionaea), sundew (Drosera) and trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia) are often offered in mixed trays, often in mini-greenhouses.

Tropical Pitcher Plant
(Nepenthes spp.)

Tropical pitcher plant. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

This bizarre feature plant’s pitchers range in length from an inch or so (a few centimeters) to up to more than 1 foot (30 cm). They are actually modified leaf tips that develop when the plant gets enough light. Insects find nectar on the lid above the pitcher and creep around into the pitcher in search of more. Just beneath the edge of the pitcher they do find more nectar, but directly below it is a waxy surface. They slip on this and so fall into the pitcher. The insects’ struggles activate the glands in the pitcher which then release a strong acid. In the space of two days, this acid digests the insects. Only the insect’s casing remains. The plant grows on trees as a climber or epiphyte.

Venus Flytrap
(Dionaea muscipula)

Venus flytrap. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

Venus flytrap is the most spectacular of the carnivorous plants. The leaves of this carnivore consist of two parts that can slam shut. Contact by an insect or small spider triggers the closing mechanism. However, the plant is not easily fooled. To be sure that the prey is present and not just a fallen leaf or a raindrop, they must touch two trigger hairs on the leaf or a single hair twice in rapid succession. The leaves won’t react to a single touch.

Sundew
(Drosera spp.)

Sundew. Photo: curiousplant.com

Sundew forms perfect rosettes on the ground. Its leaves come in various forms, but are always equipped with red tentacles with a glistening drop of sticky mucilage at the tip that glitters in the sunlight. This gives the plant its common name: sundew. Small insects and others get stuck on the mucilage and are then pushed by the active but slow-moving tentacles towards the leaf surface, where they are digested.

Trumpet Pitcher
(Sarracenia spp.)

Trumpet pitcher. Photo: http://www.gardentags.com

The trumpet pitcher is very effective at catching insects. The plant lures the creatures with nectar and they then tumble into the pitchers where they are digested. 

Care Tips 

• Most carnivorous plants like full sun.
• Simulate a swamp environment: the plants like acidic damp potting soil.
• High humidity is a must. In many homes, they’ll need to be grown in terrariums.
• Carnivorous plants prefer rainwater, distilled or soft tap water. Don’t water them with hard tap water (and most municipal water sources are hard), too rich in minerals for their taste.
• They don’t need any fertilizer—they catch their own meals.
• Remove dead or brown leaves and pitchers to prevent fungi.
• Repot them in the spring every other year.
• Don’t give carnivorous plants any meat; this can cause the traps to rot. However, they’ll gladly accept the occasional fly or mosquito.
• In many species, the plant’s traps will wither in winter. Don’t worry—they’ll reappear in the spring!
• The Venus flytrap needs to go entirely dormant in the winter. Keep it cold but not freezing and cut back on watering.

Display Tips

Grouping carnivorous plants together brings out their interest. Photo: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Small carnivorous plants do well in open or closed terrariums or in a large low bowl that can be set up as a mini swamp, meeting their growing needs.

The specimens look best in their own cachepots, but can provide interesting tableaux when grouped together. 

Nepenthes is a real soloist that is best grown as a hanging plant to show off its spectacular pitchers. 

The plants’ primeval look contrast nicely with modern geometric cachepots. However, for a more natural display, you dress a table with bark, stones and water plants and create your own little carnivorous plant environment.


Carnivorous plants: no, they won’t bite you, but they will fascinate you!

Text adapted from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties