Bring the bog to your garden with these carnivorous plants
Story and Photos by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon
Carnivorous plants are amazing! These plants are engineered to capture and digest thousands of insects and even some small animals that may slip into their watery graves. Why not set aside a moist corner of your yard or patio for cultivating a few of these stunning insect-eaters?
Multitudes of colorful species call the United States home. Several, including the brilliant pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), the small but fearsome Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula), as well as the diminutive sundews, (Drosera spp.) and butterworts (Pinguicula spp.), can be grown in the home landscape or in containers.
There are many ways to bring the bog into your garden – from creating a bog garden by sinking a prefabricated pond or liner in the ground to just adding some attractive glazed or plastic planting bowls with saucers to your patio or balcony.
Early spring is the best time to plant a bog garden, but most temperate climate carnivorous plants can be transplanted anytime the soil is workable. Bog gardens require at least five hours of sunlight in summer.
Unlike Audrey Jr. in Little Shop of Horrors, it is not necessary to feed carnivorous plants that are kept outside. In fact, to do so can be harmful – so please, no meat, chemical fertilizer, or chlorinated and/or chemically softened water for these plants.
Creating a Bog Garden
Dig a hole in the desired shape for the shallow preformed plastic or fiberglass molded pond, baby pool, or good quality liner of your choosing. If a liner is used, place old carpet in the hole first to prevent stones and roots from piercing it. Fill with 50 percent gravel or local soil then 50 percent peat moss. Add water and let it settle overnight. Place flat stones or pavers around the edges if desired.
Position your plants in an attractive arrangement, perhaps with the tall pitchers in the center and the shorter or prostrate ones around the edge. I like to transplant patches of different types of moss, including sphagnum, around each plant. This adds another level of color and texture to the garden.
Baskets in Water Gardens
Larger pitcher plants in standard plastic pond baskets lined with landscape fabric and filled with peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite do well in the shallows of a pond. Place washed gravel or clumps of green moss on top. Water well before placing it into the water, and set it so that only the roots are submerged. Blocks or flat stones may be necessary to obtain the correct placement.
Containers with Saucers
For patios, half of a wooden barrel makes a fine “mini-bog.” If metal containers are used you must line them with plastic to prevent corrosion from the acidic soil. Large plastic or glazed terra cotta bowls or pots (with or without drainage) can be arranged for enjoyable viewing. If a drainage hole is present, place the pot in a saucer or tray and keep it filled with water. To kill possible mosquito larvae, add dunks or pellets of Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) to the soil.
Pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.)
The leaves of pitcher plants are very colorful and secrete sweetly scented concentrations of nectar around the opening of the pitcher to lure both flying and crawling insects. When insects try to scale the slippery area of the pitcher, they often slip into the digestive liquid and are consumed by the plant.
Pitcher plants do well in moist, acid, humus-rich soil such as a mixture of sphagnum peat moss and horticultural sand, vermiculite, or perlite. I have had success mixing a professional seed-starting soilless mix with sphagnum moss, some bagged sandy topsoil, and soil polymers. The roots of pitcher plants like constant moisture, but the “ankles” and stems need to be dry.
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
These small plants have leaves with active traps that close on insects that step onto the colorful pads. They do well in containers placed outside in sun to part-shade and must have a cold period in winter to survive. The largest one, ‘King Henry’, is a whopping 6 inches tall. They produce clusters of white blooms on long stems in spring. Most of today’s plants are propagated by tissue culture, which has increased the availability of this unique little plant.
Tiny sundews are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Most are only a few inches tall. There are two main types, one sporting a rosette of leaves and another with long tendril-like stems that resemble petite conifers. All are covered with sticky nectar drops on hairs that trap insects and digest them. Sundews are best planted in pots, otherwise they’ll get lost in the landscape.
Common rosette-leaved species native to the southeastern United States include the pink sundew (D. capillaris), which is 1-2 inches across with reddish leaves and pink flowers. ‘Alba’ is all green with white blooms. Both perform as an annual or short-lived perennial and reseed after a hard frost. The long tendril-leaved varieties include D. filiformis var. filiformis and D. filiformis var. tracyi. All would make attractive “other-worldly” tabletop displays in colorful ceramic bowls.
“Pings” are gorgeous small (2-4 inch) flowering plants. Mexican species have the most spectacular flowers. The leaves of these teacup-sized beauties are covered with tiny hairs and glands that produce a sticky glue to trap insects. They usually grow in moist soil in sun to part-shade.
P. primuliflora, a popular North American species with pinkish-violet flowers, grows in part-shade along stream edges and ponds in the coastal areas of the Florida panhandle west into Louisiana. They spread by producing plantlets on their leaf tips.
THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS