How to Care for Nepenthes (Tropical Pitcher Plants)
Nepenthes are carnivorous tropical plants native to parts of Southeast Asia, India, Madagascar and Australia. These plants are usually sought after because of their unusual-looking pitchers, which come in a variety of colors ranging from black, red, green and purple. There are many different species of nepenthes, although they’re divided into two major groups – lowlanders and highlanders. The care depends on the species. Nepenthes are tropical plants, so they do require higher humidity levels and warmer temperatures than other plants. By monitoring their growth environment and water intake, you can get your nepenthes to thrive.
Creating the Right Growth Environment
Determine the species of your plants.Nepenthes are divided into two species groups – highland and lowland. The two species are divided based on the altitude of their natural growth habitat, so they need slightly different care to thrive. There is also a less common intermediate group that can grow in both highland and lowland conditions. The species mostly dictates the temperature and amount of light the plants need. Most of the other growth conditions are about the same for all species.
- A few examples of lowland species are N. ampullaria, N. alata, N. eymae (infundibuliformis, eymai), N.khasiana, N. mirabilis, N. ventricosa, N. bicalcarata, N. gracilis and N. maxima.
- Some examples of highland species are N. Ventricosa, N. burbidgeae, N. lowii, N. rajah and N. villosa.
- A good example for an intermediate species is N. Sanguinea.
Provide species-appropriate temperatures.The lowlanders prefer night temperatures that are above 70°F (20°C) and day temperatures between 85°F and 95°F (29°C and 35°C). They are sensitive to cold temperatures. The highlanders prefer a cooler environment. They like night temperatures between 45°F and 65°F (7°C and 18°C) and day temperatures between 65°F and 85°F (18°C and 29°C). They can be sensitive to higher temperatures.
- Most species of nepenthes are able to grow in daytime temperatures ranging somewhere between 65°F and 80°F (18° and 27°C).
- In general, most nepenthes can thrive at temperatures between 55°F and 95°F (12°C and 35°C).
Expose the plants to direct sunlight at least four hours each day.The amount of light required by nepenthes varies wildly from species to species. Research the species you have, find out its natural habitat, and try to recreate that as closely as you can. As a general rule, they need at least four hours of direct sunlight each day, along with very bright (but not direct) sunlight for the rest of the day.
- No matter what species you have, avoid putting nepenthes in full shade. They won’t thrive.
- If you can’t replicate the light requirements needed by your plant, look into using broad spectrum lights.
Provide a humidity level of 60% or higher.Nepenthes come from tropical climates, so humidity is essential for them. In general, they like humidity levels of 60% or more.They will tolerate lower humidity levels, but it can cause them to stop making pitchers. Lowlanders prefer a steady humidity level. Highlanders, on the other hand, will tolerate low humidity levels during the day, as long as they get higher during the night. If you live in a warm, humid climate, you can try putting your plants outside. Always bring them in when the temperature drops under 50°F (10°C).
- Many people use indoor humidifiers to create the right environment for their plants. If you do, make sure the area is well-ventilated.
- Greenhouses and terrariums are other humid spots many nepenthes species enjoy.
Grow them in porous, low-fertility potting materials.Because of the way they evolved, nepenthes prefer nutrient-free soil. This means the potting material should have little to no trace minerals in it. They need to grow in a medium that provides plenty of aeration and drainage. Most nepenthes enthusiasts like to create their own planting mix using several different kinds of potting materials. The most common ones used are coconut husk, dried sphagnum moss, perlite (or pumice), peat moss, and silica sand.
- Feel free to create your own mix using these options.
- Other growth media to consider for mixes – charcoal, lava rock, orchid bark, cedar chips and limestone.
Watering, Feeding and Repotting Nepenthes
Water every few days with purified water.The precise amount of water will depend on factors like type of potting material used, humidity level and so on, but as a rule you should make sure your plant remains in moist media at all times. Never allow the potting material to dry out completely – if the topsoil is starting to dry out, it’s time to water your plant. Just like their soil, nepenthes need water that has little to no trace elements in it.
- They will tolerate a low level of minerals, but rain, distilled or purified water are the best options. They dislike salt.
- Tap water is acceptable, but only if it’s under 250 ppm.
- In general, lowlanders tend to need more water than highlanders.
Check for adequate drainage.A nepenthe should never be left in standing water, since this will rot their roots. The key to avoiding this is adequate drainage. Select potting material that is porous, well-drained and open enough that air can reach the roots of the plant. Tree fern fiber, chopped fir bark, long fiber sphagnum moss, peat moss and perlite are all good choices. A mix of several of these is typically used for best results.
- After watering, always make sure there’s plenty of drainage.
- If the potting material starts to break down (which can happen over time), or if you notice that your plant is drying out very quickly, the issue may be too much drainage. The solution is repotting.
Avoid feeding your plant unless it has limited access to insects.Carnivorous plants like nepenthes eat insects for food. Generally, you’ll never need to feed insects to your plant. Most homes have insects in them, and the plants have adapted over time to survive on very small amounts of nutrients. An adult nepenthes only needs two or three insects every month to thrive.
- If you choose to feed your plant, it should only eat freshly killed insects. Make sure the insects will fit comfortably into the plant’s pitcher.
- Never feed your nepenthes actual meat.
Repot your nepenthes in fresh media every year.After about a year, most potting materials start to break down. Nepenthes like to be repotted annually with new potting material and, if necessary, a bigger planter. Changing the potting material helps to improve soil aeration. You can safely repot your plants at any time of the year.Be sure to water your plant right after you repot it.
Diagnosing Common Problems
Reduce light exposure if you see yellow leaves.Yellow leaves, and sometimes red spots, indicate that the plant is getting too much sunlight. If you see any red or yellow on your nepenthes, check for burned leaves on the areas of the plant that face the sun. After you reduce light exposure, you’ll usually find new and normal-colored leaves beginning to grow soon after.
Increase light exposure if your plant looks thin and won’t grow pitchers.You will know light exposure is too weak when nepenthes appear scrawny or frail. Poor coloration can also mean the light exposure isn’t adequate. You plant may refuse to make pitchers if it’s not getting enough light, although occasionally this can be caused by inadequate humidity levels.
Cut off dying leaves and pitchers.It’s normal for leaves and pitchers to start dying around fall or winter. The pitchers only last a couple of months, about the length of one season. Then they age, turn brown and die. Prune dying pitchers off your plant by cutting them off at the end of their tendrils.
- Remove browned and dead leaves.
- Avoid pruning off more than 30% of your plant’s foliage at one time.
QuestionDo I need to do anything about pesky small spiders setting up a web in my pitchers?Top AnswererYou can leave them or remove the web. If your plant isn't catching insects, remove them.Thanks!
QuestionMy Tropical Pitcher plant only has long strings growing off of the leaf stem. They are green and very skinny with brown tips. Do I prune these "strings" or leave them?Top AnswererLeave them. These stems can become new pitchers if the plant needs it. If the stem doesn't transform into pitchers, it means that the plant has enough nutrients without them.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I divide my plant or start new ones from the mother plant? I can't find this answer anywhere.Top AnswererDon't divide the plant, that can kill it. If you want to start new plant, cut the main stem to have 3 or 4 leaves on the cut. Then, cut 2/3 of the leaves and put the stem in sphagnum moss. After 6 weeks, you can place the stem in a pot.Thanks!
QuestionI potted only with sphagnum moss. Will I have good results?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, sphagnum moss is a good solution to retain humidity without watering too much.Thanks!
QuestionWhat level of water should be in each pitcher?Top AnswererThe water level in the pitchers isn't important. The only important thing is that there shouldn't ever be water in the saucer beyond the pot.Thanks!
Video: Nepenthes Basics: How to Grow Nepenthes Carnivorous Pitcher Plants
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