Alright, there’s a lot of misconceptions about this topic so here’s the skinny on carnivorous plants and fertilizer. You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet, but you know me! I’m giving you the facts and I’ll do my best to be accurate.
Before going into the nuances and caveats, here is the final answer to this question:
Yes, you can use fertilizer on carnivorous plants.
However, you shouldn’t use any ol’ fertilizer at the recommended strength on the package. An incorrect application will likely kill them. I’m going to explain in this post how fertilizer should be applied to carnivorous plants and recommend two different ones that are most commonly used.
Generally speaking, fertilizer must be applied differently to carnivorous plants than non-carnivorous. Remember your typical non-carnivorous plants get plant food or compost mixed into their soil, so they receive nutrients though their roots.
But also remember, carnivorous plant roots are far more sensitive to minerals than non-carnivorous plants. This is why we give them distilled water, and low nutrient media like peat moss with inert amendments like perlite and silica sand.
Your typical garden soil will kill a carnivorous plant by mineral burn faster than you can name it Seymour or Audrey.
So how do we apply fertilizer to carnivorous plants?
The same way they receive nutrients in the wild: by feeding it to them.
This may be a duh moment for some folks, it certainly was for me. Feeding carnivorous plants is, with few exceptions, analogous to fertilizing them.
But don’t they need bugs to live?
For the most part, no. Many carnivorous plants can and do live just fine without eating any bugs. Catching bugs does give them a boost of nutrients and growth, but is not completely necessary for survival.
By the same token, you can grow herbs and vegetables without any fertilizer, but they probably won’t make it on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens unless you give them a little juice. Make sense?
But are there actual, non-insect fertilizers you can use on carnivorous plants?
Yes, there are! Here are the two most tried and tested fertilizers by experienced carnivorous plant growers.
Maxsea 16-16-16 is a gentle kelp-based fertilizer that can be use for nearly all carnivorous plants (and non-carnivores too!). Maxsea comes in powder form which you mix with water, which is then sprayed onto the leaves of plants. This method is called foliar feeding.
Maxsea at full strength is 2 teaspoons to a gallon of water. This is still WAY too strong for carnivorous plants! The nitrogen burn is likely to set them back, if not kill them completely.
For our beloved carnivores, use no more than 1/2 a teaspoon to a gallon. Some people even go gentler and start with a 1/4 teaspoon.
Spray this solution onto your seedlings for a growth spurt! I spray it on my sundews and pings as well. Apply once or twice a month for best results.
If you have teeny, tiny Sarracenia seedlings, spray it on them too! But if they’re big enough to stick a plastic pipette in there, filling their pitchers with a big gulp of Maxsea will get you the best results.
For more awesome photos of Sarracenia seedlings getting jacked on Maxsea, check out this thread on The Sarracenia forum!
I haven’t seen this done, but I imagine you can fill up Nepenthes and other pitcher plants like this too.
Another fertilizer suitable for carnivorous plants is Oscomote pellets.
Peter D’Amato, author of The Savage Garden, discussed feeding Oscomote pellets to various Nepenthes species here, with fantastic results!
Peter mentions to not feed Oscomote to tall Sarracenia and Darlingtonia, due to them having dry pitchers. This means they don’t have a digestive liquid sitting in them like Nepenthes or Sarracenia purpurea, which means they won’t break down the Oscomote pellet at all. Better to feed them the liquid stuff, Maxsea.
He doesn’t mention it in the article, but I’ve read several accounts of people feeding Oscomote pellets to their Cephalotus as well.
Some growers have successfully placed Oscomote pellets in the soil of their carnivorous plants, which is how it’s normally used with non-carnivores. Do this at your own risk! John Brittnacher of the ICPS conducted an experiment with Oscomote pellets and Sarracenia seedlings. He published his experiment in the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, which you can read about here.
Here’s a quote from his article:
Soil fertilization could cause more problems than it is worth if the Sarracenia plants are not grown under enough light and in warm conditions.
Just to reiterate, proceed with caution if you try soil fertilization!
So there you have it! Maxsea and Oscomote are the two fertilizers with the most recommendations from experienced carnivorous plant growers. As time goes on, I’m sure more experimentation will be done with other fertilizers, and we’ll have even more options!
To be honest, I’m not sure how the No Fertilizer for Carnivorous Plants EVER sentiment came about. My theory is it came from urging new growers to not use Miracle-Gro or other products with fertilizer included in the soil mix. It was just easier to tell new growers to avoid fertilizers completely than write a blog post like this. 😉
That being said, if you are a new grower, I recommend getting the experience of raising your plants for a year or so before attempting to fertilize. It’s very easy to overdo, in case I haven’t stressed that enough!
Lastly, I don’t bother fertilizing my outdoor plants that are excellent at catching their own food. My Venus flytraps and adult Sarracenia fend for themselves and don’t get any hand-feeding from me.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post has answered some questions and cleared up confusion for you. If you still have questions, please leave a comment and I’ll answer it as best I can!
If you found this post helpful, please share it via the buttons on the left! The more folks know the truth about fertilizing carnivorous plants, the more amazing plants we can grow and share with each other. 🙂
Thanks again! Catch you next time!