Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Grow a Pitcher Plant

Pitcher plants are a group of carnivorous plants that catch insects in their namesake columnar traps. There are a wide variety of pitcher plant species that vary in color, shape, and care needs. While these plants may look a bit scary, they make a great addition to any houseplant collection. However, they can be difficult to care for but once you learn the key fundamental basics of proper pitcher plant care, these plants can live for years. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know to successfully grow and nurture a pitcher plant at home including potting, planting, light preferences, watering, feeding, pruning, and propagation techniques. Let’s go! 


How to Grow Pitcher Plants – The Essentials

Botanical Name:Sarraceniaceae family and Nepenthaceae family.
Also Known As:Pitfall traps, monkey cups.
Care Difficulty:Moderate to difficult.
Light Requirements:At least six hours of bright, direct light.
Temp & Humidity:Depends on the species; aim for 65-80ºF during the day and 50-65ºF at night. Keep humidity medium to high.
Watering:Keep soil moist spring through fall and allow it to dry slightly in the winter. Use distilled water or rainwater.
Soil:Slightly acidic, well-draining, and low in nutrients.
Feeding:Avoid applying fertilizer, feed a small insect once a month.
Growth Expectations:Expect slow to moderate growth indoors – about a foot each year.
Toxicity:Non-toxic to humans and pets.

About Pitcher Plants

About Pitcher Plants

The pitcher plant is the generic name for a large group of carnivorous plants that covers multiple families. 

Plants in the Nepenthacaea family and Nepenthes genus are tropical plants that are native to Southeast Asia. The genus name means “without grief” and refers to the plant’s ability to spark joy.

Plants in the Sarraceniaeceae family belong to one of three genera: Sarracenia, Darlingtonia, and Heliamphora. Sarracenia plants are native to the Eastern and Midwestern United States, Darlingtonia californica is native to the West Coast of the United States, and Heliamphora plants are native to South America.

The Hungry Carnivore

All species of pitcher plants are carnivorous. They use their modified pitcher-shaped leaves to trap prey. While most pitcher plants only eat insects, some larger species can consume small lizards and mammals.

Plants use either their own enzymes or symbiotic bacteria to digest the trapped prey.

Some species of pitcher plants have two types of pitchers, upper pitchers, and lower pitchers. Other species have only tall, upright pitchers.

Due to the popularity and relative rarity of pitcher plants, poachers often collect them from the wild. This has led many species to become threatened or endangered.

Popular Pitcher Plant Species to Grow at Home

Since there are so many species of pitcher plants, some are easier to grow indoors than others. The following are popular species to keep which work particularly well as an indoor hanging houseplant:

  • Sarracenia purpurea
  • Nepenthes ventricosa 
  • Nepenthes x ventrata

People sometimes consume pitcher plants to treat issues including constipation, digestive problems, and urinary tract problems. However, this is little research supporting the effectiveness of this treatment.

Pitcher Plants Meaning & Symbolism

Pitcher plants don’t hold any specific symbolism, but they are revered around the world for their interesting shape and growth form.

From 1938 to 1947, Newfoundland pennies featured a purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea).


How to Grow Pitcher Plants at Home

How to Grow Pitcher Plants at Home

Are Pitcher Plants Considered Easy to Grow at Home?

Pitcher plants aren’t the easiest plants to grow indoors. They are recommended for advanced rather than beginner growers.

Pitcher Plant Growth Expectations

Pitcher plants are slow-growing to moderate-growing. The growth rate varies between species and environments.

The max size varies between species. Some Sarracenia pitcher plants max out at a few feet tall. Many Nepenthes plants can trail down multiple feet.

What to Do Before Planting

Before you bring a pitcher plant into your home, think about if you have the right conditions for it. Pitcher plants require lots of bright, direct light as well as high humidity. Examine your house to see if you have a bright enough location.

If you have a trailing pitcher plant, make sure the plant has space to grow downwards. If you have an upright plant, make sure it has room to grow up.

Another thing to check is the origin of your plant. Perform due diligence to ensure the plant was not poached from the wild.

What’s the Best Soil Mix for Pitcher Plants?

What’s the Best Soil Mix

Pitcher plants need soil that is well-draining yet can stay moist. They also prefer soil with a slightly acidic pH.

If you want to use a store-bought potting mix, your best bet is to combine a mix designed for orchids with peat moss. Aim for a one-to-one ratio.

To make your own pitcher plant potting mix, combine the following.

  • One part peat moss
  • One part perlite
  • One part pine bark

How to Plant

Pitcher plants are easy to plant.

Find a container that is just just a bit bigger than the plant’s current container. Make sure the container has drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. 

Fill the container half full with a suitable potting mix.

Add the pitcher plant, and fill the remainder of the container pot with potting mix. Ensure all the pitcher plant’s foliage is above the soil line.

Some pitcher plants have an underground stem called a rhizome. Cover the majority of the rhizome with potting mix, but allow the very top to be exposed. This will encourage new growth.

Water well and place your plant in a bright location.

Pitcher Plant Light Preferences 

Pitcher Plant Light Preferences

Pitcher plants require at least six hours of bright, direct light. However, they prefer 10-12 hours.

Unlike many houseplants, pitcher plants will suffer if they only receive indirect light.

A space near a large south-facing window is often the best place for a pitcher plant.

If you don’t have a bright enough area for your plant, you can use grow lights. Hang the lights one to two feet above your plant, and keep the lights on for 10-12 hours each day.

Pitcher Plant Temperature & Humidity Preferences

The ideal temperature will vary between species. However, most indoor pitcher plants prefer a temperature that is between 65-80ºF during the day and a bit cooler at night.

Many pitcher plants require a cooler winter dormancy period. During this time, place the plant in an area where the temperature is 40-55ºF at night and 50-70ºF during the day.

Pitcher plants need high humidity. If your home is dry, you will need to provide extra moisture.

While misting your pitcher plant will provide some humidity, a humidifier is a better option.


How to Care for Pitcher at Home

How to Care for Pitcher at Home

Watering Pitcher Plants

How you water your pitcher plant depends on the species.

Species in the Sarraceniaeceae family are bog plants and prefer very wet soil. To mimic bog conditions, allow the soil to soak up extra water that escapes through drainage holes.

Nepenthaceae family pitcher plants require soil that is always moist yet not saturated. Use a well-draining potting mix and a container with drainage holes. Empty any water that escapes through the drainage holes and collects below the pot.

To keep the soil moist, water your plant at least once a week. If you notice the top of the soil is becoming dry, it’s time to water again.

Plants will require less water in the winter than they will in the summer.

All types of pitcher plants are sensitive to minerals in the water, so you should use distilled water or rainwater.

How, When, and Why to Fertilize a Pitcher Plant

Like most carnivorous plants, pitcher plants don’t require much, if any, fertilizer. It’s more harmful to over-fertilize a pitcher plant than it is to under-fertilize a plant.

Your plant will live just fine without any fertilizer. However, the plant does need to consume insects.

If you have any flies in your house, they will likely make their way to the pitcher plant. If your home is free from insects, feed your plant a small fly or any once a month. You only need to feed the plant once; don’t place an insect in each pitcher.

Do Pitcher Plants Need Pruning? 

Pitcher plants don’t require any pruning. Like with most plants, you can remove any dead leaves.

Propagation 

Propagation

The best way to propagate a new pitcher plant is via stem tip cutting. 

To propagate a new pitcher plant, follow these steps.

  1. Use a sharp, sterilized knife to take a stem tip cutting that contains two to three leaves.
  2. Place the cutting in a sealed plastic bag and in a dimly lit location.
  3. Wait for roots to form. This could take up to a year.
  4. Once you see roots, place the cutting in a pot filled with an orchid soil mix.

When and How to Repot a Pitcher Plant

Since pitcher plants are slow-growing, they don’t require frequent repotting. However, they can benefit from new potting soil.

The best time to repot a pitcher plant is in the late winter.

To repot, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the plant from its old container. 
  2. Shake off any excess potting mix from the plant’s root ball.
  3. Fill the new pot a quarter of the way with the new potting mix.
  4. Place your plant in the new pot.
  5. Fill the remainder of the pot with potting mix.
  6. Water well.

Common Pitcher Plant Problems & How to Treat Them

Common Pitcher Plant Problems & How to Treat Them

Unfortunately, it’s common for pitcher plants to face a variety of issues.

Brown Pitchers

If the pitchers on your pitcher plant appear brown and dry, one of two issues is likely to blame.

The first possible cause is not enough water. Pitcher plants will suffer if their soil dries out. Make sure to keep the soil moist at all times.

Another possible cause is low humidity. To increase the humidity near your pitcher plant use a humidifier or mist your pitcher plant with water.

Yellowing Foliage

Yellow foliage could be caused by a wide number of environmental factors.

One possible cause is not enough water. If you notice the soil is dry, you need to water your plant.

Another cause is using water with excess minerals. Pitcher plants are sensitive to minerals found in tap water, so use distilled water.

One more possible cause is not enough nutrients. In most cases, pitcher plants will thrive without any fertilizer. However, they will need to absorb an insect about once a month.

If you notice your plant is yellow, try feeding it a small insect.

Stunted Growth

Stunted Growth

While pitcher plants are relatively slow-growing, a serious lack of growth is a sign that something is wrong. If your plant is not producing new pitchers or leaves, check out its environment.

A lack of light is a common cause of stunted growth. Make sure your plant is receiving at least six hours of bright, direct light each day.

Another cause of stunted growth is improper temperature. Pitcher plants do not like temperatures below 50ºF.

Spider Mites

Even though pitcher plants consume insects, they can still be harmed by pests.

Spider mites are small arachnids that show up in large numbers. They suck plant sap, leading to discolored foliage.

Another sign of spider mites is shiny webs.

If only a few spider mites are present, you can remove them using a wet rag. If there is a large infestation, spray the pests with insecticidal soap or neem oil.


Essential Tools

As mentioned above, pitcher plants cannot thrive with tap water. You will need distilled water or rainwater.

If your home is free from insects, you will also need to collect small insects to feed your plant.


Wrap Up

While pitcher plants are the easiest plants to keep indoors, their stunning shape and interesting habits are worth the effort.


Growing Pitcher Plant FAQs

No! A pitcher plant cannot eat a human. While these plants are carnivorous, they stick to small prey like flies and ants. Some pitcher plants can dissolve small lizards and mammals.

No, pitcher plants are not poisonous to humans or other animals. However, you should not consume them.

Pitcher plants prefer high humidity, so misting your plant can help. However, you should watch out for fungal diseases caused by misting.

Yes, you can grow pitcher plants indoors and outdoors. Different species have different cold tolerances, so check specific plant requirements.

While pitcher plants may eat a few mosquitos, they won’t eat enough to make a noticeable impact.


Author

Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University. She manages a small market garden where she grows vegetables and herbs. She also enjoys growing flowers and houseplants at home.

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