Hanging pitcher plants are carnivorous (meat-eating) plants with pitcher-shaped leaves that form a pitfall trap for falling insects. These mysterious plants require unusual care. However, amateur indoor gardeners, as well as pros, can successfully grow hanging pitcher plants by absorbing information like that found in this guide.
How do you care for a hanging pitcher plant? Pitcher plants have a unique set of care instructions to grow healthy and give delight for years to come. Here are eight crucial care instructions for caring for a new hanging pitcher from taking the plant home to when the hanging pitcher plant is mature.
- Obtaining the hanging pitcher plant
- Choosing a location for the plant
- Providing good drainage
- Providing proper watering
- Keeping the habitat warm and humid
- Feeding the hanging pitcher plant
- Winter maintenance for hanging pitcher plants
- Divide and repot if needed
Let’s break down each instruction and explain each step.
What is a Hanging Pitcher Plant?
All species of pitcher plants are perennial (growing for more than one year) from the herb family.
Native to far-flung regions on the Earth such as North America, Southeast Asia, and Northern Australia, pitcher plants are found in the wild in a range of habitats with poor soil conditions. They are found in sandy coastal swamps, pine barrens, and bogs. Pitcher plants can grow in hot, humid conditions with some varieties favoring cooler temperatures.
As previously stated, hanging pitcher plants are carnivorous and grow in nitrogen-poor soil in nature. All plants require nitrogen to survive, and hanging pitcher plants derive theirs from the insects they eat.
Obtaining the hanging pitcher plant
Buy the species you wish to grow by seek a reputable greenhouse and purchase a plant. Growing pitcher plants from seeds or cuttings are done, but beginners are urged not to do so (see more below).
Tip: You may buy pitcher plants online, but they may get damaged or die in route.
Choosing the location at home for the young plant
Hanging pitcher plants prefer bright sunny spaces where they can receive at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. They also love temperatures of between 60-85 F.
Many people grow pitcher plants in a greenhouse or in a terrarium. The latter may sound expensive, but you can make a version of terrarium using a saucer and soda bottle. Just cut the top of the bottle and place it upside down over the plant on the saucer.
After the plant has matured, you can then transplant it to a pot and hang in a window or other sunny spot.
Tip: The coloring of the pitchers on the plant will more intense if the plant receives at least two hours of bright, full-strength sunlight each day.
Provide good drainage for a hanging pitcher plant
However, searching for and researching the type of soil and the ratios right for a specific type of pitcher plant is important. If the pitcher plant doesn’t like the soil it is growing in, it will not thrive and can die.
Tip: Never use potting mix or fertilizers on a pitcher plant as they grow best in soil that is poor in nutrients. If the soil they are placed in is too rich, the plant will become overwhelmed and die.
Keep the soil very wet during the growing season
The growing season extends from May through October, and during this time the plant will need frequent watering. Never allow the plant to dry out and make sure the water used is rainwater or distilled with minimum levels of salts. Adding air to the water before it is placed on the plant helps it to grow.
Tip: To aerate the water, fill a container halfway with water, cap the container, then shake briskly.
Keep the area where a hanging pitcher plant hangs humid
If the humidity is inadequate, pitcher plants will stop making pitchers. This is why pitcher plants are often grown, at least in their first stages, in greenhouses or terrariums.
About 35% humidity is good for hanging pitcher plants and will ensure they grow well.
Tip: Be sure to ensure proper ventilation, so the plant isn’t subject to air that is overheated or stagnant.
Feeding a hanging pitcher plant
Although fertilizing the soil for a pitcher plant is ill-advised and not done, using a balanced soluble fertilizer to feed the plant by putting it into its pitchers is fine. If the owner of the plant cannot afford fertilizer, then placing a fly, cockroach, or another small insect inside the plant’s pitchers is also acceptable. There is more on this topic below.
Tip: If using fertilizer, the cups of the pitchers should only be filled to 3/4 their capacity for proper feeding.
Winter maintenance for hanging pitcher plants
Added to the above care instructions is the maintenance list that needs to be done to protect hanging pitcher plants and help them grow.
Clip off the dead leaves when winter begins. Pitcher plants love to go dormant during the winter for around 3-5 months depending on the species. During winter, the plant should be kept cooler and dryer than normal.
Also, during winter, pitcher plants need any developing pitchers to remain in the pot covered by a thick layer of mulch and covered with a plastic container.
Tip: During this time, it is possible to allow the plant to sit outdoors. Here is a guide to taking care of a pitcher plant in winter.
Divide and repot if needed
When the hanging pitcher plant comes out of dormancy, and before it cycles into rapid growth, is the ideal time to divide and repot the plants.
Tip: A properly maintained hanging pitcher plant can live for many years if it receives proper care.
Caring for a Hanging Pitcher Plant: What to Feed It
The best way to feed a hanging pitcher plant is to put them in a place where the plant has access to insects. However, if this is not a possibility, the plant will be reliant on its owner to feed it. If there is no time to collect live insects to feed the plant, then there are alternative food sources that will work fine.
Fish Flakes and Fish Pellets are lovely alternatives to bugs. These food sources contain many nutrients that are easily absorbed by the pitcher plant. Goldfish flakes are the best type of fish food to use but crushed the pellets will work as well.
Fertilizer is another healthy food source for carnivorous plants. Fertilizers such as Maxsea or Oscomote, as found on Amazon, are fine, but they need to be used sparingly. Hanging pitcher plants can only tolerate tiny amounts of diluted fertilizer, or they will form leaf burn.
Bloodworms are an excellent food source for hanging pitcher plants. They boost the plant’s resistance to disease by allowing the plant to detect and destroy fungal infections by introducing chitin fragments to the plant and giving it immunity.
Tip: Although hanging pitcher plants are called carnivorous, they rarely eat meat in their natural habitat.
How to Feed a Hanging Pitcher Plant
Pitcher plants are easy to feed, even if their food is somewhat unpalatable to humans. Hanging pitcher plants only need fed during the growing season and never through its dormant season in winter.
When feeding a pitcher plant insects or blood worms, gently place the food inside the funnel of the trap and allow the lid to snap shut. Do not place too many or too large of pieces of food into the pitcher plant as this can cause disease that will kill the plant.
When feeding the pitcher plant fish food or fertilizer, liquefy it in distilled, purified, or rainwater and squirt it into the pitcher using a pipette or eyedropper until 3/4 way full.
Feed the plant every 2-3 weeks.
Tip: Be careful not trip the trap on the plant too early as it may not reopen or cause distress for the plant.
Be cautious what you feed a hanging pitcher plant as using the wrong food, such as meat meant for human consumption, will kill the trap it is put into. The size of the insects you choose is important as well. Choose insects that are around 1/3 as large as the trap you are placing it into.
Tip: You can use dead or alive insects.
Watering a Hanging Pitcher Plant
Pitcher plants will grow fine in most environments as long as the air is not too dry. If the room lacks sufficient humidity, at least 50%, hanging pitcher plants will stop producing pitchers. To compensate, increase the humidity in the plant’s environment by using a humidifier or placing them in a greenhouse.
Another method to water a hanging pitcher plant is by applying a layer of wet gravel or pebbles on a plate then setting the plant on top. By keeping the pebbles or gravel constantly wet, the plant can absorb enough moisture to remain healthy.
It is vital to keep the bottom of the pot above the water inside the pebbles to prevent root rot and death.
Pruning Hanging Pitcher Plants
Pruning a hanging pitcher plant helps to keep it healthy and to live longer. Although pruning is needed only occasionally, doing so will increase its vigor and allow for a fuller plant.
Your plant is ready for pruning if the foliage looks untidy and overgrown.
Below is the procedure for pruning a hanging pitcher plant.
Use the right pair of scissors like these ones to cut just below the yellow part of the tube you are removing. Make sure that only the green part of the plant is left. The green stem allows for the plant to continue absorbing sunlight.
If the plant has been well maintained or is old, it will accept a severe pruning as long as each stem to a reasonable length.
Pruning a pitcher plant is important because the leaves, like with any plant, will naturally die, and need replacing. By pruning a hanging pitcher plant new green vines and stems are encouraged to grow.
Tip: If your hanging pitcher plant blooms, it is not harmful to cut off the blooms after they have wilted to improve the plant’s appearance.
How to Propagate a Hanging Pitcher Plant from Seeds
Although pitcher plants may seem exotic, they are no harder to propagate than any other type of plant. Propagating from your or a friend’s hanging pitcher plant can be done in a number of ways, but using seeds or roots cuttings are the most common.
To grow pitcher plants from seeds, drop them into a sandwich bag with a fungicide such as Captan and shake the bag to coat all the seeds. Pour the seeds and fungicide onto a paper towel and gently blow off any excess powder.
Next, spread the seeds onto another paper towel, roll up the towel and place inside a zipper bag into the refrigerator for two or three months.
Sprouting the seeds after their period of dormancy in the refrigerator by sprinkling them onto a mixture of sand and moss and allowing them to sprout under grow lights eighteen hours a day. Germination may take weeks with the seedlings remaining under the lights for an additional four months before they can be safely transplanted.
How to Propagate a Hanging Plant from Plant Cuttings
Propagating a pitcher plant from plant cuttings is faster and easier than doing so by using seeds.
First, cut off stems that have only two or three leaves on then and clip off half of each leaf. Remove the bottom end of the stem diagonally and cover it with rooting hormone powder.
Next, after filling a pot with wet sphagnum moss, make a pencil-sized hole in the moss and place the powdered stem into the hole pushing the moss securely around it.
Then, water put more water on the pot and place the entire thing into a large plastic bag and under grow lights. The pitcher plant cuttings should grow roots within two months and then can be transplanted after new leaves appear.
Transplanting a Hanging Pitcher Plant
Pitcher plants can be planted in a variety of fashions for a good display. However, for the purpose of this guide, we shall concentrate on those that hang from a suspended pot.
First, purchase the size pot right for the size plant you will be potting. Be sure the container is large enough to accommodate growth in the future.
Line the container with plastic, such as a used compost bag, and fill the pot with compost adding handfuls of perlite and lime-free sand. Stir the mixture up with your hands and loosely firm it down into the container.
Choose the hanging pitcher plants you wish to grow. It is alright to have a mixture of plants of different heights and colors as they add texture and beauty to your arrangement.
Next, gently knock the hanging pitcher plant from its pot and carefully tease out the roots and spread them out. Make a hole in the soil of the new pot and place each plant into position.
Water thoroughly with rainwater or distilled water.
The Top Reasons Hanging Pitcher Plants Die
It is perfectly natural for a hanging pitcher plant to have some browning or yellowing of the plant is to be expected as the plant ages. Even the collapse of the tubes of the plant is to be expected if the plant is older or large and is nothing to be concerned about.
As winter approaches, pitcher plants will begin the process of going dormant and stop replacing shed pitchers. This too is no cause for worry.
However, if the plant is turning brown or yellow all over, there is a huge problem.
Pitcher plants, although found in bogs, do not tolerate standing in water. It is wise to reduce watering to dry out the soil around the plant’s base. Remember to not use water containing heavy minerals such as tap water. However, it is completely okay to utilize filtered tap water.
Checking the environment of the plant is growing in is vital to discovering the cause for a hanging pitcher plant’s becoming diseased. Hanging pitcher plants require some specialized care such as a slightly acidic PH. Other hints to addressing environmental problems of a pitcher plant are making sure the plant is in a sunny area, an area where there is enough humidity, and making sure the plant is fed properly.
How Do Hanging Pitcher Plants Digest Their Food?
The pitchers on the plant are really specialized leaves that hang below its leaves with some growing up from the ground. Each pitcher has its own lid to keep the rain from entering and to protect the digestive fluid at the bottom.
When an insect is drawn to the sweet-smelling nectar around its rim and falls into the trap then drowns in the bottom where it is slowly absorbed.
They consume their food by capturing their prey using a tube (a pitcher) formed from specialized leaves. Insects are drawn to the pitchers on the plant by sweet-smelling nectar, and when the insect lands to feed, they become trapped when the lid closes on the trap.
Inside the trap, the insect is consumed by acidic digestive juices that are not harmful to pets or humans. The digestive juices at the bottom of a hanging pitcher plant do not kill the insect through any digestive means. In fact, the digestive juices are not poisonous. Pitchers have special enzymes similar to that located inside animals, that breaks down the insect’s body before absorption.
Digestion can take anywhere from a few hours to days.
Tip: On some rare occasions mild digestive upset has been observed in cats and dogs.
Two of the Many Different Species of Hanging Pitcher Plant in North America
The deceiving beauty of a pitcher plant is what began humans breeding them in captivity and bringing them into their homes as houseplants. The fact that they are carnivorous has led many peoples, especially those indigenous to North America, to give to them magical powers of healing.
Because pitcher plants cross-pollinate easily, there are an endless variety of different plants one can choose from.
The hanging pitcher plants most commonly used in homes come in a wide variety of subspecies from two major species:
- The Old-World Pitcher Plant (Nepenthaceae)
- The American Pitcher Plant (Sarraceniaceae)
The Old-World Pitcher Plants
This guide shall examine each species of pitcher plant and their specific needs and challenges.
The Old-World Pitcher Plants occur in about 70-75 species. They grow in the wild around the Indian Ocean from Madagascar to Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and northern Australia.
Old-World Pitcher plants are an excellent choice for beginners as, unlike their endangered cousins in Western Australia, they grow in abundance in the wild and are easy to care for indoors in a home. These plants are very hardy and can tolerate temperatures ranging from 38-105 F, making them popular in all regions of the world.
Two of the Many Varieties of Old-World Pitcher Plants
There are two varieties of Old-World Pitcher plans found in modern homes.
- Nepenthes stenophylla
- Nepenthes alata
These two different varieties of Old-World pitcher Plant have distinct characteristics and unique needs such as:
Nepenthes stenophylla has a narrower but still wide range of temperatures it can tolerate from 50-98 F and grow well in hot areas of the world or in a greenhouse.
Nepenthes alata is easy to care for, with bright red pitchers that can grow to 7 inches long and are popular for growing in hanging baskets.
The American Pitcher Plant grows well along the southern coastal plains of North America in sunny, open wetlands. The greatest diversity of American Pitcher Plants is found in South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia in the United States and extends northward into the Upper Midwest and Canada.
Beautiful Hanging Pitcher Plant Arrangements
One of the desirable qualities of hanging pitcher plants is that they can be arranged either alone or along with another species.
There are eight distinct species of pitcher plants that grow in North America including yellow trumpet plants, and parrot pitcher plants with hundreds of varieties and hybrids. Both the yellow trumpet plant, with its dramatic, long pitchers standing tall, and the parrot pitcher plant with its purple foliage make wonderful additions to any home either alone or displayed in the same pot.
Another trendy fashion to display hanging pitcher plants is to use a terrarium. While the plant’s foliage will not be within the same space as its owner, its lovely pitchers will still spill over into the interior of the terrarium.
Terrariums similar to this one are available for prices ranging from twenty to hundreds of dollars and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
As long as a hanging pitcher plant receives enough sunlight and humidity, they will grow and bloom, bringing delight to any home for many years. The varied colors and shapes of the pitchers when displayed together form a dramatic display that is sure to be cause for discussion among guests.
Miscellaneous Information to Keep in Mind About Hanging Pitcher Plants
When it is necessary to use tap water, make sure to water deeply with distilled water to clean out any harmful minerals that have built up from the plant’s soil.
Placing a hanging pitcher plant in a group with others helps to increase the humidity around the plants. Also, avoid air-conditioned environments due to lack of appropriate humidity.
While pitcher plants can live in acidic soil, they thrive best in sandy soil with peat being the best choice. As has been stated in the care instructions, commercial potting soil is not an appropriate choice. However, sandy soil or peat moss works well.
Never use any chlorinated water on a pitcher plant. Always use distilled or captured rainwater. Using the wrong type of water on a pitcher plant can either seriously stunt its growth or promote rot and eventually, death.
Pitcher plants require a lot of sunshine to thrive, and partial shade will lead to their death. However, if the petals are wet, do not place the plant in direct sunlight or they will experience a plant’s version of a sunburn that could kill it.
There are a wide variety of pitcher plants that are not well-established in public interest because they are either endangered or too difficult to raise in captivity.
Growing and caring for hanging pitcher plants may seem a bit complicated. However, the beauty and exotic charm they bring to homes make all the research and work well worth the effort.
Collect hanging pitcher plant seeds in the late fall by pressing open the dried flowers over an envelope or paper towel. Store them in the back of the refrigerator until ready to plant.
Now with all of this information at your fingertips, you should be well on your way to having healthy hanging plants that will thrive for quite some time.