How to Care for Your Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant Basics
Don’t let their exotic look fool you. Pitcher Plants can thrive with little maintenance in bogs and streams throughout much of the U.S.
Pitcher Plants are carnivorous, using their tall tubular pitchers to lure and trap unsuspecting insects. Unlike Venus Flytraps or Sundew, Pitcher Plants remain stationary as they catch their prey. Once a bug has fallen into a pitcher, hairs and a wax-like coating on the inside of the plant prevent it from escaping. The plant then drowns the bug in digestive liquids, leaving only the exoskeleton.
Because of their carnivorous habits, Pitcher Plants thrive in low-nutrient soils where other plants would starve. They require constant moisture, though, making them a great choice for bogs and streams. They also make an attractive centerpiece for floating islands.
Most species of Pitcher Plant bloom in the spring, displaying showy one-of-a-kind flowers. These flowers stand on stalks high enough above the pitchers to safely attract pollinating bees.
Pitcher Plants prefer moist soil or shallow water up to 1 or 2 inches deep. They’re a perfect fit for streams and bogs.
These plants perform best in full sun but will also do well part shade.
You have three options when it comes to putting Pitcher Plant in your pond: keeping it in the pot it comes in, replanting it in a fabric plant pot or planting it directly in the pond.
Planting Your Pitcher Plant
We recommend planting Pitcher Plants directly into the pond or stream whenever possible. Doing so not only takes away the burden of an unsightly pot but also gives your plant the ability to pull nutrients out of the water. This natural filtration helps prevent string algae and keeps your fish happy and healthy.
To plant your Pitcher Plant, remove the plant from the pot. You can do this by carefully dumping out the contents or cutting the pot away with a soil knife. Then gently press the soil and roots against the pond liner and cover with enough rocks and gravel to keep it in place. That’s it!
Keeping the Store Pot
If you keep your plant in the pot in which you bought it, simply place the pot in an inch or two of water and surround with rocks to prevent it from tipping over. When choosing a spot, make sure your plant is safe from koi or other fish that might try to play football with an unsecured pot.
Some people like to add a thin layer of gravel to the top of the plant for decoration or to contain dirt if the top of the pot is submerged. For additional aesthetic appeal, cut away the top rim of the pot.
Moving to a Fabric Planter
Moving your plant to a fabric planter will give it a little more space to spread its roots.
If you choose to go this route, simply place the plant – soil and all – into the planter and fill in the remaining space with aquatic planting media.
Add gravel to the top if desired, then slowly lower the planter into the pond at an angle to keep as much of the soil in the pot as possible.
Dealing with Dirt
Regardless of how you choose to display your plant, you might see a little bit of soil make its way into your pond. This is normal and will clear up on its own if you have a skimmer.
If you like to keep your pond spotless and don’t want to wait for the dirt to settle, place a Fine Filter Pad (available at Splash) in your skimmer to catch the extra tiny particles of dirt. Simply place the pad anywhere in the skimmer where the water will pass through, then remove the pad as soon as the water is clear.
Add a flocculant like Rapid Clear for even faster results.
In-Season Pitcher Plant Care
Pitcher Plants don’t need much from you during the growing season. Because they catch their own food, they do not require fertilizer.
Winter Pitcher Plant Care
Pitcher Plants must have a rest period of a few months every year. When the days become shorter and cooler in the fall, the plants begin to slow down and not grow as much. Some species of Sarracenia, such as the leucophylla and leucophylla hybrids, put out their best pitchers just before dormancy.
The majority of our Sarracenia are winter hardy here in Zone 6. (Zones are areas defined by the USDA that describe the harshness of specific climates and which plants are likely to thrive there. Much of southcentral Pennsylvania is in Zone 6.) If you still have the tag that came with your plant, check to see what hardiness zone it is recommended for. If it’s Zone 6 (which most of the pitcher plants we sell at Splash are), it should be fine. If it’s Zone 7, you may want to consider protecting it during the coldest parts of the winter.
Even when the plant is dormant, your will still need to sit it in a small amount of standing water to prevent its soil from drying out. It will retain its leaves throughout the winter months, but some will turn brown around the edges. This is normal. A mature plant in mid-winter often looks old and miserable.
You can leave any pitchers that turn brown more or less alone until March or so, at which point you can cut off any that aren’t green. By cutting off the brown pitchers, you’ll allow sunlight to reach the rhizome (a kind of underground stem that stores nutrients and helps your plant survive the winter) and promote growth of new pitchers.
Plants to Pair with Pitcher Plants
Each type of plant you add to your pond pulls a different kind of nutrient out of the water. A yellow flower takes out different nutrients than a red one, and a wide leaf takes out different nutrients than a narrow one.
These nutrients will go on to feed string algae if left to grow unchecked, so the more and the wider variety of plants you have in your pond, the better.
Choose plants with a variety of colors, shapes, heights and bloom times. This mix will not only maximize nutrient uptake but also keep your pond looking beautiful throughout the season.