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The care and feeding of creepy, carnivorous house plants

Many tube-shaped green pitcher plants unfurl their magenta-dappled leaves in the sun.
Gleti/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Some carnivorous or meat-eating plants, like sundews or pitcher plants (shown) grow wild near bogs in Vermont. With proper care, you can keep some of these plants indoors as house plants.

Certain plants like carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews don't consume a plant-based diet in order to grow and thrive.

Pitchers, sundews and the infamousVenus Fly Trap have all evolved to eat insects as a means to enrich their diet. Though not native to Vermont, some of the bigger carnivorous plants will eat larger critters, like frogs and lizards.

These plants all grow through photosynthesis, but they often need to supplement their diet with insects because the soil they grow in isn't nutrient-dense.

Fly traps are native to the East Coast near the Carolinas, but pitchers and sundews grow in wet areas in Vermont near bogs and streambanks.

Growing some carnivorous plants at home can be fun, though keep in mind: these plants are finicky. And Venus Flytraps - once hugely popular as house plants - are now actually listed as vulnerable to being endangered due to habitat loss and over-harvesting.

Instead, look for sundews or pitcher plants to grow indoors!

Inside your home, as in nature, they'll thrive best in a high-humidity situation. If you have a terrarium, that might be the perfect spot. Or you can put the plants still in their containers on a pebble tray filled with water.

These bug-eating plants are also just fine with the temperature you keep your household. They will grow and thrive if your house is in the 60s or 70s indoors during the day and cooler at night.

Some will even go dormant in the winter and drop their leaves. If that happens, no need to fret, as the leaves should grow back.

And if you're growing carnivorous plants indoors, note that they really like sun. Place them in a south-facing window or under grow lights.

You'll want to provide just the right soil mix, too. For best results, use two parts sphagnum peat moss and one part sand.

For an indoor pitcher plant, you might even want to mix in extra perlite or vermiculite for better drainage.

A really vital part of your indoor carnivorous plant adventure is knowing when and what you water them with.

These plants don't like the chemicals and minerals in tap or hard water, so avoid those. Instead, try distilled water or special bottled water.

And the biggest tip of all, of course is what you're feeding them and how often.

Though these house plants look vicious, they don't have a voracious appetite! As tempting as it may be, limit feeding to one insect or spider per week.

Q: I've got a small fig tree and a small lemon tree that I got as an experiment. After listening to you last fall, I learned I could put these in my cool, 50-degree basement in fall and they would go dormant for the winter. But the fig tree has started putting out leaves! - Erica, in Greensboro

A: It is very common for fig trees to put out a few leaves and even small fruits right about now, as you have them stowed away, hoping they'll be dormant all winter.

Want more from Vermont Public about growing figs? Fancy up your fruit-growing this summer and plant fig trees in containers.

That can happen when they're in a basement area overwintering. And fig trees have their own internal clock that will signal the plant to start pushing out leaves if the temperature is a bit too warm.

For now, keep your fig tree in the cool, dark basement. You can even throw some snow on top of the soil to cool it all down!

Then, in March when it starts getting a little bit warmer, move the fig tree to an unheated garage or a shed where temps will stay around or just above freezing.

Even if some of those fig leaves get frostbitten and drop off - as long as the top of the plant stays alive and the roots stay alive - it should leaf out and grow fruit this summer.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes.

You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition with Vermont Public host Mary Williams Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vermontpublicWe've closed our comments. Read about all the ways to get in touch here.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.