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How to Create a Carnivorous Garden

Create a miniature bog garden that's sure to subtract a few insects and entertain the kids. They will love delivering snacks to the leafy bug eaters.

Some plants are meat eaters — for them, a juicy bug is a delicious treat. These plants don't derive all of their nutritional needs from insects. In fact, they mostly get their food the way other plants do: they make it. But an occasional buggy snack gives them a boost of vitamins and minerals they wouldn't otherwise get.

Carnivorous plants love high humidity, moist soil and bright light, so we're creating a container bog garden that you can keep by a very sunny window or move outside on the patio. Just be sure that the bog garden gets as much sun as possible (or, supplemental lighting with fluorescent tubes) and maintain an inch or three of water in the bottom.

Materials Needed:

  • carnivorous plants (used here: Venus flytrap, pitcher plants, sundew)
  • wide, shallow container with no drainage hole
  • dried Spanish moss
  • water that's low in salts and minerals (rainwater is preferred; if not available, use distilled or reverse-osmosis water)
  • fluorescent lights (if you're keeping indoors and don't have an atrium or sunroom)
  • pinecones, pine needles, decorative objects (no alkaline materials)

Plan the Layout

Place the plants, still in their pots, in the container and arrange them until you're pleased with the look.

Water Your Garden

Add about two inches of water in the bottom of the container.

Add Decorative Material

Place dried Spanish moss, pinecones and other items that will give your garden a boggy look.

How to Care for Your Plants

Your carnivorous garden needs bright light — full sun for most of the day is best, but if kept indoors, put in a south-facing window. Supplemental lighting may still be necessary.

Venus flytrap. When an insect lands on a Venus flytrap, hoping for a taste of sweet nectar, the hinged leaf snaps shut over the prey, trapping it. The insect dissolves in the plant's enzymatic juices. The process takes several days to a week; after that the trap reopens. A single leaf can handle about 3 feedings before it dies. If healthy, the plant will produce new traps.

Your Venus flytrap likes insects such as flies, spiders, crickets and slugs. The critter should be no bigger than about 1/3 of the size of the leaf. Avoid feeding the flytrap ants and, most importantly, don't feed meat. The Venus flytrap is less hungry for insects than you might think: It needs a bug meal only about four or five times during the growing season and never during the dormant season. If you feed it too often, it will die.

Don't fertilize your Venus flytrap. It gets all the nutrients it needs from the peat it's planted in and from the occasional bug meal. In fact, fertilizer salts are detrimental to its health.

Another thing the Venus flytrap doesn't like is having its traps artificially activated. It's ok to trigger a response once or twice, but too many "false alarms" can kill the plant.

These plants need about four months of dormancy in the winter. Reduce watering, provide cooler temperatures and eliminate artificial light.

When you need to repot your plant, put it in a 3:1 mixture of rich peat or long-fibered sphagnum moss: coarse sand (not beach sand) in a container with a drainage hole, and gently firm the soil around the roots.

Sundew. There are 130 species of sundew, and they vary from flat rosettes of leaves near the surface of the soil to large plants with leaves up to 2 feet long to large climbing plants with small leaves. Sundews trap their prey passively: Tiny insects like gnats are attracted by the scent of nectar and come to investigate, only to become stuck in the thick, sticky "dew" that's secreted by glands on the plant's leaf. The plant secretes digestive enzymes that then consume the insect.

Pitcher plant. This plant's leaves are long, hollow funnels. Bright colors and the sweet scent of nectar tantalize insects, which descend into the tube, only to wind up in the plant's juices in the bottom of the "pitcher." The digestive juices contain a tranquilizer that sedates the insect before it drowns. The temperate varieties of pitcher plants are native to the warm wetlands of the Southeast, so they also need moist to wet soil, high humidity and plenty of bright light.

When time to repot, use a 3:1 mix of peat or long-fibered sphagnum moss, soaked for a half hour in water, and coarse (builder's) sand. You can use a container without a drainage hole; if the container has a drainage hole, place it into a tray or a larger, shallower container that holds an inch or two of water. Most pitcher plants get too tall for a terrarium.

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