By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Sundews (Drosera spp.) are carnivorous plants with an ingenious way to catch their prey. Carnivorous sundew plants have sticky pads that trap insects. The plants are also attractive, often brightly colored rosettes. Growing sundews is common in terrariums or other warm, moist areas that mimic their natural bog habitat. A few tips on how to care for a sundew will have you on your way to enjoying this fascinating plant.
There are over 90 species of sundew. The majority are found in Australia and South Africa, but they also grow in hot, humid areas of Georgia, Florida, and other similar climates. The plants prefer acidic soils and are usually where there is a bog or marsh and often grow on top of sphagnum moss. Sundews are in the genera Drosera and common varieties are often seen in houseplant stores.
Sundew plant information wouldn’t be complete without explaining the trap mechanism. The plant has tiny arms or stems covered at the tips with sticky filaments. These filaments secrete a substance that will not only catch small prey but will also digest them. The arms fold in to hold the insect for four to six days until it is completely digested.
Whether you grow them indoors or out, carnivorous sundew plants are excellent for controlling gnats and other tiny insects. Sundew plants thrive as potted plants in a mixture of sphagnum moss and vermiculite or perlite. The pot must be kept constantly moist and an atmosphere of humidity is best for maximum growth.
Carnivorous sundew plants need warm temperatures and moist conditions. Outdoor plants do well when planted near a water feature or even in soggy soil. When growing sundews outdoors, till soil completely and mix in sphagnum moss to increase the acidity. Full sun situations suit the plant best, but you can also grow them in dappled light.
Potted plants do not need fertilizer but do require either distilled or rainwater, as they are not tolerant of high levels of minerals.
Provide a humidity level of 40 to 60 percent. This is easy to do by setting a saucer filled with small pebbles under the plant and filling it with water. The evaporation will help moisten the ambient air.
Cut off spent stems and leaves as they occur. Transplant them when they outgrow their pots.
There are some varieties of Drosera that are more hardy than others. Check with your extension office for plant recommendations for your area. Follow the instructions on how to care for a sundew and grow a fascinating and useful plant in the garden.
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Tropical sundews are as weird and wonderful as carnivorous plants can get. They come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, and colors, and most are surprisingly simple to keep! Below are a few of the most common tropical sundew species you might find in cultivation:
While there are certain characteristics to each variety, the general care is the same for all of them. Use the following guide as a general rule to growing tropical sundews.
Tropical sundews originate from warm climates of the world. South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America are all hotspots for tropical Drosera. In their native habitat, frost never or rarely occurs, and it never snows. Their preferred habitat is mostly open, wet fields, or cliff-side seeps with thin, weak soil where they can get lots of sunlight.
Where to Grow
Many tropical sundews can be quite adaptable. A sure-fire way to keep them is indoors as a tropical houseplant on a sunny windowsill. If you live in a tropical climate where the temperature rarely drops below 55°F (13°C), you have the option of growing your plants outdoors. Regardless of where you grow them, always protect tropical sundews from excessive wind, harsh sunlight, and especially freezing temperatures.
Provide partial sunlight (several hours of direct sunlight with bright filtered light during the day). Avoid full shade. Direct sun can burn them, though with determination, the tougher species such as Drosera capensis can be acclimated to more extreme heat and direct sun over the length of a few seasons. Other species, including Drosera spiralis and D. graomogolensis, should be kept inside to protect them from harsh weather.
If a sunny window is not possible, you can use strong fluorescent lights (a minimum of 40 watts in actual output). Start with the lights approximately 12 inches above the plant. Monitor your plant and adjust the height of the light source if you are not satisfied with its growth. Use an electrical timer to maintain a photoperiod (consistent daylight hours - 14 hours is sufficient throughout the year).
All sundews require mineral-free water. If your tap water is relatively pure (less than 50 parts per million in dissolved minerals), then you can safely water your sundews with it. Otherwise, you can use distilled bottled water. Keep the soil wet at all times. You can do this by setting the plant in small amounts of standing water, up to halfway up the pot.
Use a soil mixture of 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Never use potting soil, compost or fertilizer they will kill your plant.
Before we dive in and discuss how to grow and care for a cape sundew, we want to provide you with a brief overview of this plant. We find that having a better understanding for a plant creates a deeper connection with it, and thus, means that gardeners will tend to it with greater care.
Compared to other varieties of sundews, the cape sundew is fairly easy to grow, care for, and propagate. The unique beauty and the fact that it is carnivorous, are sure to make this plant an interesting addition to any indoor garden.
After your sundew is comfortably in its new home, you’ll have to take some extra care with it until it gets established in its new pot. You don’t want to skip any waterings or go on vacation for a week after splitting and repotting your sundew.
After you have split and repotted your sundews, you will want to take care of the flower and foster its growth. To do so, consider a few things when watering your sundew.
Watering your sundew is clearly not as simple as it seems. Some sundew owners like to use the tray method of watering. In this method, you place a tray with an inch or two of water it in under the sundew plant. The plant is able to draw on this water as needed. This helps avoid overwatering.
If you’ve accidentally overwatered your sundew, there are a few things you can do to help remove some of the excess water. One overwatering is probably not going to kill your sundew, but if you continue to overwater, it will cause problems eventually.
Obviously all plants need access to light in order to perform photosynthesis, but after splitting and repotting, you should take special care that your sundew has adequate access to light.
Your sundew is going to be weakened, and it is going to need to repair any damage that has happened during the repotting process.
Sundews prefer full to partial sunlight and require 4-8 hours of full sunlight per day. Too much direct light can harm them. If you keep your sundew outside, you may need to move it so that it doesn’t get too much direct sunlight during the day.
If you grow your sundew indoor, you should consider an indoor fluorescent or LED plant lighting system. This will allow you to get the proper amount of light for your sundew even if you don’t have good access to light indoors, or the winter sun is making it difficult to give your sundew the light it needs.
If your plant isn’t getting enough light, it will let you know with some telling signs.
The temperature that sundews require will vary depending on the variety that you have. In most cases, you should keep your sundew in an area that averages between 55° to 80°F. For most of us, that is any part of our home.
Beware of things that can cause temperature fluctuations in your home like heaters, air conditioners, and exceptionally sunny or drafty windows.
Where to Grow
Cold hardy sundews grow best outdoors as a container or potted plant on a sunny deck or patio. You may also grow them in a pond or fountain, but keep the crown of the plants above water. Because of their specific soil requirements, avoid planting them directly into the ground.
During the growing season, grow cold-hardy sundews outside in partial to full sun. Provide 4 or more hours of direct sunlight for vigorous growth.
Most cold hardy sundews, such as Drosera filiformis, Drosera intermedia, and Drosera trayci, tolerate the summer heat well. They originate from an area where temperatures above 90°F (32°C) commonly occur in summer. Other sundews, such as Drosera rotundifolia, prefer mild temperatures.
Sundews require mineral-free water. If your tap water is relatively pure (less than 50 parts per million in dissolved minerals), then you can safely water your sundews with it. Otherwise, use bottled distilled water. Keep the soil wet at all times. You can do this by setting the plant in small amounts of standing water, no more than halfway up the pot.
Use a soil mixture of 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Never use potting soil, compost or fertilizer these ingredients will kill your plant.
Cold hardy sundews require 3-4 months of winter dormancy triggered by cold temperatures (below 50°F or 10°C) and shorter daylight hours. As your plants enter dormancy, they will drop their leaves and stop growing altogether. While dormant, your plant can withstand overnight frosts down to 20°F (-7°C). As long as temperatures rise above freezing during the day, you don't need to protect your plants. However, even while dormant, your plant will still need to sit in a small amount of standing water to prevent its soil from drying out.
If you live in zones 7 and 8, protect your plants prior to the onset of an Arctic front, so pay attention to weather alerts. Shelter your plants from freezing wind by covering them with a tarp or bringing them into an unheated enclosure. Resume normal outdoor care when the Arctic front passes.
If you live in zones 6 or colder, areas where the temperature routinely drops below freezing for more than a week at a time, you will need to mulch your container plants for the winter. Maintain soil moisture whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Uncover your plants in early spring.
Just about wherever you find another type of carnivorous plant, you will have this companion beside it somewhere. This is a diverse plant that extends North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. There are many types of Sundews.
The types of Sundews are: Tropical/Sub Tropical, Cape, Forked, Tuberous, Pygmy, Wolly, and Temperate and
Many of these plants will enjoy a mix that is 50% sand and 50% peat moss. Sometimes it will be heavier on the sand than peat moss. But this is a good starting point.
As with all carnivorous plants, this plant will do best with Distilled, Rain or Reverse osmosis Water. Other waters ( Tap, drinking, mineral, purified, bottled ) will contain salts ( not listed ) and other minerals and chemicals that are harmful for the plants development.
It is best to never let your Sundew dry out. Just about all will take the tray method for watering. 1 -1 ½ inch of water.
Most will take full sun to partly shady conditions. There are some ( like the D. adelae that prefer shade, almost full shade ). Rule of thumb: More light will equal red plants, but small growth. Less light will equal green plants with bigger growth. Depending on what is important to you.
These plants will require a humid environment to maintain the ‘dew’. 60% or greater is recommended to keep the dew on the plants. During the winter, the humidity for some will be less. These plants grow well in a terrarium.
Most will take a range in temperatures from mid 60’s to mid 90’s. It is not recommended to have the temperatures higher than mid 80’s to low 90’s. Within this range of temps, your plants will thrive!
Your Sundews will catch small gnats, mosquitoes, flies, spiders, ants…anything that can’t break free from the dew. These plants will feed year round and are a great companion to a Venus flytrap or other carnivorous plants to control fungus gnats ( an Eco-friendly alternative to chemicals ).
You can fertilize your Sundews ( with the exception of Tropical, Australian ones – D. schizandra, D. adelae, D. prolifera ). Diluting an Orchid Fertilizer ¼ strength or an Epiphytic fertilizer, once monthly will help those that aren’t catching a lot of insects. Or for those that you would like to give a boost to.
Some types of Sundews include:
D. adelae – tropical this plant requires more shade and more moisture and humidity than most sundews.
D. schizandra – tropical: same as adelae
D. prolifera – tropical same as adelae, as these plants are all from Australia
D. spathulata – sub tropical, very easy to grow. More light equals redder smaller plants, less light, greener and larger plants
D. aliciae – sub tropical, from Africa nice rosette popular and hard to find.
D. slackii – sub tropical, from Africa awesome plant if you can find it.
D. binata – forked from Australia, can grow to a foot tall. This plant needs dormancy in the winter. Can take light frosts, but roots cannot freeze.
D. multifida – forked no dormancy is tolerant of light frosts.
D. ‘Marston Dragon’ – forked awesome hybrid, large plant that requires no dormancy.
D. capensis – Cape easy to seed ( self pollinating ). Easy to care for. No dormancy
D. indica – Woolly These plants will need summer dormancy. Grown in the Winter/Spring. From Australia.
Last Updated: September 14, 2020 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Maggie Moran. Maggie Moran is a Professional Gardener in Pennsylvania.
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Sundews, also known as Drosera, are a type of carnivorous plant. Just like the more well-known Venus flytrap, these awesome plants survive by catching and eating bugs! Sundews use their colorful leaves and tentacles to make a sticky dew that digests their prey. Since there are lots of different types of sundews, start by picking which one you’d like to grow. Then, start the seeds. Finally, provide your sundew with the perfect environment to keep it happily growing for years to come.