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How to set up a carnivorous plant terrarium

We’ve all owned a succulent terrarium, an air plant terrarium and heck, maybe even one with reptiles. It’s time to do something new! How about a carnivorous plant terrarium?

Some carnivorous plants thrive in terrariums. Nepenthes pitcher plants, for example, come from habitats that are naturally quite humid and they’ll appreciate something similar in the home. The perfect choice for your carnivorous plant terrarium.

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on setting up up your deadly terra. We’re using a Nepenthes here, but this works for almost all species so feel free to get creative and maybe even mix a few.

Note: Not sure how to care for a Nepenthes pitcher plant? Try having a look at the caresheet for Nepenthes ventrata, one of the most commonly sold varieties.

In need of more carnivorous plant inspo? There’s an entire category devoted to it on Houseplant Central here: Carnivorous plants.

Hanging carnivorous plant terrarium with Nepenthes pitcher plant | Full guide on setting up a carnivorous plant terrarium

Carnivorous plant terrarium step 1: What do you need?

Let’s start with our list of items needed to set up this terrarium. You won’t need much nor is it going to be very expensive: anyone can start their own terra!

  • Your carnivorous plant(s): We’re using a Nepenthes in the photos, but you can also go for Pinguicula, Drosera (sundew), Dionea (Venus fly trap) or another species.
  • Your accent plant(s): I like to use some Utricularia (bladderwort) around my other carnivores for a nice effect. This tiny carnivorous plant looks somewhat like grass and produces the most gorgeous little flowers. There are also other plants that will do well in a terrarium, like the ones on this list.
  • Your terrarium: Duh! It doesn’t have to be large in most cases, as most carnivorous plants stay relatively small. Some Nepenthes varieties can reach quite the size, but you can always prune them to keep things under control. Make sure the terrarium isn’t completely closed off. Fresh air still needs to be able to get in.
  • Soil mixture: We’ll go into this below, as you’ll need a special soil mixture for your carnivores to thrive.

PS: Not sure where to find your carnivorous plants? Not every plant store sells them, and if they do the plants aren’t always in the best condition. I love shopping for plants online and there are many stores out there that sell carnivores.

Carnivorous plant terrarium step 2: Soil mixture

Carnivorous plants have evolved their ability to obtain nutrients by catching insects for a reason. The areas these plants grow in are often characterized by their poor soil. Not many nutrients to be found there that the plants can absorb through their roots, so they developed their traps in order to catch their own.

Carnivorous plant roots are not adapted to absorbing nutrients. In fact, they’re not adapted to nutrients at all. This means being in rich soil can very quickly cause root damage and the eventual death of your carnivores; you’ll need to mix your own soil instead to imitate their natural habitats.

There are many different “recipes” for carnivorous plant soils to be found on the Internet, all adapted to specific plants and with their own advantages and drawbacks. The following materials are nutrient-free and commonly used:

  • Perlite
  • Sphagnum peat moss
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Silica sand

The most common carnivorous plant soil mix consists of equal parts perlite and peat. Because peat is an unsustainable resource, some plant growers prefer the slightly better sphagnum moss instead.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to find these materials yourself, you can always buy a pre-made carnivorous plant soil mix.

Hanging carnivorous plant terrarium with Nepenthes pitcher plant | Full guide on setting up a carnivorous plant terrarium
I mixed moss, perlite and the peat this Nepenthes came shipped in for this hanging terrarium.

Carnivorous plant terrarium step 3: Set-up

Setting up your carnivorous plant terrarium is easy as pie.

Get all your supplies together and make sure your soil mix is ready to go. Think a little about what you want the final product to look like and get planting!

If your plant(s) didn’t come shipped bare-root, very carefully remove the pot(s) and free the roots. I like to reuse the medium my carnivores came planted in as it’s usually peat and I don’t want to waste it. So mix the peat into your soil mix if you’d like and then carefully plant the carnivore(s) in the terrarium.

Add anything else you want now: moss, bladderwort, accent plants and decorations. That’s all there is to it!

Necessities for a carnivorous plant terrarium with Nepenthes pitcher plant | Full guide on setting up a carnivorous plant terrarium

Carnivorous plant terrarium step 4: Maintenance

Maintaining your carnivorous plant terrarium isn’t too much of a challenge, but there are some important things to keep in mind if you’re growing carnivorous plants.

Watering carnivorous plant terrarium

First off, water. Very important. As we discussed earlier, these plants don’t like being exposed to nutrients as they haven’t evolved to absorb them like other species have. Normal tap water will damage them, so you’ll have to use nutrient-free distilled or demineralized water.

Because a terrarium is a relatively closed environment you won’t have to water your carnivores as often as you would if they were in regular pots. Try to keep the soil moist at all times: many species originate from bogs and won’t mind quite a bit of water at all.

Slow things down during winter or stop watering entirely if the plant you own requires a dormancy period (like Venus fly traps).

Close-up of Drosera rotundifolia growing in sphagnum moss.
Drosera rotundifolia is an easy sundew to start with.

Carnivorous plant terrarium lighting

Then there’s lighting. Most carnivorous plants, with the exception of Nepenthes, like as much full sun as you can give them. With a terrarium you can’t just put your plants in the sun, though. These enclosed environments can heat up very quickly during summertime and burn your beloved plant to a crisp!

Make sure the plant gets enough light but doesn’t overheat. A lot of carnivorous plant growers like to use artificial lighting, as it can be difficult to provide carnivores with what they need indoors.

Carnivorous plant terrarium feeding

Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t required to constantly be tossing bugs into your terrarium. Carnivores can go for quite a while without food and even if you do decide to feed, you can easily use freeze-dried bloodworms (normally sold as fish food) instead of nasty live bugs.

Just place a soaked bloodworm into one of the traps and then wait until the plant has digested it entirely before feeding again.

Close up of Cape sundew (Drosera capensis)