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Pretty Predators: Add Carnivorous Plants to Your Garden

Give your garden a live-action feature with insect-eating predatory plants. These carnivorous plants aren’t tough to grow once you learn the basics.

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Add Excitement with Predatory Plants

Watching plants grow feeds the soul; seeing plants gobble a few insects falls somewhere between fun and freaky. Predatory plants take gardening to a whole new level as they catch — and eat — bugs. More than 50 different species of predatory plants are native to North America and many adapt readily to containers and home gardens. If goth gardening is on trend in 2024, shouldn't these pretty predators be a part of your garden plans?

Also known as carnivorous plants, these natural beauties stir wonder with their unusual forms and feeding habits. Like other plants, predatory plants turn sunlight into plant food through photosynthesis, but they gain the bulk of their nourishment from prey — everything from flies, to beetles, to small frogs. Discover common predatory plants, like this venus flytrap (above), along with tips for successful growing.

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Photo: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Venus Flytrap

One of the most well-known predatory plants, venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), thrives in the wild as far north as New Jersey. When an insect hits trigger hairs inside a leafy trap, the two lobes snap shut. As the prey struggles to escape, the trap slowly tightens until it seals shut, so digestive juices can turn the prey into plant food. It typically takes two to five days for the plant to digest an insect. Feed plants just an insect or two a month.

Like all carnivorous plants, venus flytrap prefers bright light. Indoors, any window but north should work. For best growth, use a bright plant light on a timer set for 12 to 14 hours. Look for venus flytrap varieties that are hardy in Zones 5 to 10.

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Photo: Felder Rushing

Pitcher Plant

American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) thrive in bogs and fens where there’s plenty of moisture and an abundant insect supply. The tubular pitcher is actually a type of leaf that lures, traps and digests all kinds of buggy prey, including ants, wasps, beetles, flies and stinkbugs. Look for pitcher plant varieties that are hardy in Zones 2 to 8.

When growing predatory plants, use a mineral-free soil to mimic the habitat where these plants grow in the wild. A mix of sphagnum peat moss and horticultural (silica) sand, chicken grit or perlite in equal parts works for most carnivorous plants.

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Photo: Bernard DUPONT for Fieldstone Publishing

Roundleaf Sundew

With its alien looks, roundleaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) is the stuff of nightmares for insects. Hair-like tendrils on leaves are tipped with sugary, sticky droplets that unsuspecting insects mistake for nectar. Once a mosquito, fly or gnat zips in for a sweet sip, they’re trapped by the stickiness and the leaf slowly wraps around its prey, engulfing it and eventually consuming it. Look for varieties that are hardy in Zones 5 to 9.

Predatory plants hardy in temperate regions need a dormant period each year to thrive. Dormancy demands cool air that's above freezing (40 to 45 degrees works), like you’d find in an unheated porch or garage.

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