The fall equinox is almost upon us! As temperatures cool and daylight escapes us, we must protect our plants from the imminent harshness of winter. Or for some people, create winter-like conditions in order to induce a dormancy. While I’ll be discussing Venus flytrap dormancy in this post, these methods work equally well for Sarracenia (North American pitcher plants) and temperate sundews.
Why is dormancy necessary? Can I skip it?
Venus flytraps evolved as temperate perennials. In order to continue propagating their species, they had to adapt to the cool winters of their natural habitat. Dormancy is a lot like hibernation in animals. They need to rest and store their energy for the growing season. If they didn’t go dormant, they would be extinct. You can skip it if you are okay with your Venus flytrap dying within 2-3 years.
Okay! So how do I make them go dormant?
If you don’t already know, you should find out the hardiness zone of where you live. If your region falls anywhere between zone 8 to zone 11, congratulations! You don’t have to do ANYTHING! (and everyone else is jealous!) Hopefully you keep your plants outside already, and you can simply leave them outside all winter. Your winter temperatures are just cool enough to trigger a natural dormancy that will not harm your plants at all.
If you live in Zone 7 or below, or Zone 12 and up, you have just a bit of extra work to do. Here are some options!
Protected Outside Dormancy
If you live between zones 4 and 7, you can still keep your plants outside in the winter as long as they’re properly insulated. You may want to bury your potted plants in the ground like a bog garden, as above-ground pots are very susceptible to the elements and not likely to provide adequate protection. Once temperatures hover around freezing, cover the plants with burlap or shade cloth (you can trim off Sarracenia pitchers). Secure the cloth at the edges with rocks or bricks, then cover the top of the cloth with pine needles, leaves, or straw. This method will keep moisture in, and help prevent the plants from freezing. If you get snow in your climate as well, don’t panic! Snow also makes great insulation.
If making a bog garden is not feasible, consider building or buy a cold frame. This may be a better option if your collection is still on the smaller side. If most of your plants are young and in small pots, a mini greenhouse will do nicely too. Set it up against an outside wall for extra protection and your plants will survive easily.
Cold Inside Dormancy
If you live in zone 3 or lower, it would be best to bring your plants inside to a cold room, like a garage, patio, or basement. This room should stay above freezing temperatures, but no warmer than 55 F (12 C). Ideally, plants should be kept by a window so they can still receive natural light during dormancy. Keeping plants inside your house is not recommended, as temperatures comfortable to humans is too warm for a plant’s dormancy. The warmer temperatures inside a house may bring a plant back out of dormancy too soon, and cause it to become seasonally confused.
Refrigerator Dormancy (last resort!)
If you’re from somewhere way too cold for the above methods, or you live in a tropical region where temperatures never go below 55 F (12 C), refrigerator dormancy may be for you. I want to stress though, that this is a last resort option. By having a constant temperature and no light, a refrigerator does not adequately simulate a natural winter dormancy. It’s possible you may lose some plants. With this in mind, read on…
Ideally, you’ll want to slowly decrease the photoperiod (hours of light) and temperature before putting the plants in the fridge. Your plants have a better chance of surviving if you make the transition as least shocking as possible.
You can either keep your plants in their pots, or uproot them. If keeping them in pots, put the entire pot inside a plastic bag before putting it in the fridge. Thoroughly dust or spray the play with a fungicide like this. Check the plant for mold and fungus every couple of weeks. Give more light dosages of fungicide if necessary. Keep them in the fridge for at least three months.
If uprooting your plants (more convenient and space-saving), follow these steps:
- Gently rinse off the potting media around their roots until they’re completely bare
- Cut off any dead or dying growth. On Sarracenia, you can even trim green pitchers off. This gives less real estate for fungus to grow on
- Mist or dip the entire plant in fungicide
- Wrap the plants in damp (not soaking) paper towels
- Put the plants in plastic ziplock bags. Squeeze all the air out of the bags before sealing them
- If space allows, put the plants in the vegetable drawer of your fridge. Check for mold every two weeks
- You can bring the plants out of dormancy after three months
Things to remember!
- If you are inducing dormancy, slowly decrease light and temperature, and slowly increase
them when bringing the plant out of dormancy.
- Try to keep temperatures between 32 and 55 F (0 -12 C). Occasional light freezes are no big deal.
- Do not water as often during dormancy. Allow the plants to dry out slightly before watering again. I’ll water mine maybe every 2 weeks in the winter, sometimes longer. And that’s if they haven’t been rained on.
- Receiving light is still good! If your plants are outside or in a window, allow them to soak up as much natural light as possible. They can still photosynthesize and store that energy for the growing season.
If this will be your first Venus flytrap dormancy, hopefully this post offered some clarity on the subject! If you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help!