Caring for Sarracenia -North American Pitcher Plants
Sunlight: Pick a location that gets five or more hours a day of direct sun. Indoor growing under lights is usually difficult and Sarracenia prefer strong sun. The Purple Pitcher, S. purpurea and the Parrot Pitcher, S. psittacina do well with 30-50% shade or in the shadows of taller plants. Spindly growth that is floppy usually indicates the plant needs more sun. Much less sun is needed when the plant goes dormant in the late fall through winter.
Water: Keep moist to wet and do not let the soil dry out. Periodic flooding is good as the escaping water carries away deposits that might otherwise accumulate to toxic levels. Rain water can be excellent, depending on pollution. Avoid salty water. Sprinklers can fill leaves of taller types and break or damage them. Use a slow soaking method such as a soaker hose or hand watering close to the soil's surface.
Soil: We recommend a mix of two or three parts sphagnum peat moss to one part of sand. Sarracenia like acid, nutrient-poor, moisture retentive soil. Avoid rich soil and clay. In clay, sink containers with drainage and fill with peat/sand mix.
Winter: We have had plants survive -15 degrees F, with and without a few inches of pine needle or oak leaf mulch. Guard against rodents in problem areas. Mulching is probably not needed in USDA zones 7 and above. If greenhoused, put near a cold wall. Sarracenia go dormant and do best with a cold dormancy of two to four months. Remove thick mulches in the spring or when new growth appears. Trimming dead leaves is easier in Feb.-March, before new growth begins.
Containers & Planting: Containers are the easiest way to enjoy Sarracenia. You can sink plastic pots, laundry tubs or even wading pools into the ground or you can line a hole with plastic film. In any case,we recommend drain holes or slits in the bottom to discourage stagnant soil. Plastic containers reduce watering needs by preventing the surrounding soil from pulling moisture away from the peat mix. Bog Gardens are also good as long as the spot is sunny. If you have a spot that is sunny and always wet, the peat/sand mix can be added to the planting hole prior to planting. Most larger Sarracenia need a depth of about 12-16 inches and spacing between the plants of about 12 inches. Smaller species require less space (8-10 inches.) Repot/replant when crowded. The following illustration shows proper planting depth. The back rhizome (away from the crown) can slant deeper, if needed, to keep existing leaves vertical. Water well after planting.
Flowers are produced on larger plants during the late spring. Small plants usually grow faster if the small round flower bud is removed. Flower bud removal can often encourage earlier pitcher formation Sarracenia flowers are beautiful and in a variety of colors. S. flava and its crosses tend to be unpleasant smelling while S.rubra and its varieties have a wonderful delicate smell. A great many types have mostly odorless blossoms. After petals fall, removal of the spent flower or "deadheading" is beneficial. Seedlings can be grown but tend to be tricky, variable and erratic.
Pitchers are often seasonally produced. S. flava and its hybrids tend to be strong spring performers while S.alata, S. leucophylla and S. rubra usually are at their best in the late summer and fall. By planting a mixture of types, you can create season-long appeal and a more interesting display. If pitchers routinely get dark burn spots from catching too many insects, or if cleaner leaves for for cutting/drying are desired, the newly opened pitchers can be plugged with Reemay, hosiery pieces or other material to prevent insect capture. This usually increases the duration of the pitcher and, if not done to each leaf, doesn't harm the plant. Hoop or cross-branch supports for the leaves can be helpful, especially with wide-mouthed varieties and plants with tall tops that are newly transplanted. These supports are optional.
Feeding: Do not fertilize or give meat! Left outdoors, Sarracenia feed themselves.