If you’ve tried searching for the right soil, potting mix or planting media for carnivorous plants, you’ll see a wide variety of suggestions. Coco peat, perlite, peat moss, sphagnum moss, and silica sand are just a few of the options in different guides.
However, it can be challenging to find the right planting media if you’re new to the hobby, especially in the Philippines. Many local gardening shops aren’t familiar with carnivorous plants, leading to using the wrong media—which very likely kills your plant.
This guide aims to help you understand the kinds of planting media most local growers use and identify the kinds you shouldn’t ever use. Hopefully this lets you grow your bug-eating plant babies with peace of mind.
Please note though: this is not an exhaustive guide on media. This is to help newbies understand the basics and allow them to experiment on what works for them, based on my own experience and research. Everyone’s garden is different and many factors are involved when it comes to getting the best growing results, including the kind of plant you’re growing.
Venus flytraps, pinguiculas (butterworts), drosera (sundews) and nepenthes (pitcher plants) all have varying needs, and even different varieties of the same plant can have opposite needs (like Mexican vs. tropical pings). There is no universal “best media for carnivorous plants” or special formula. To really know what the best is, nothing can beat research and your own observation.
What kind of plant media to use
Carnivorous plants grow in nutrient-poor media. This is how they became carnivorous in the first place; they evolved to take their nutrition from sun and bugs. Their natural environment is usually very wet and frequent rain or running bodies of water constantly wash nutrients away while keeping their media loose. Because of this evolution, minerals and stronger fertilizers will burn their roots, which are only meant to take in water and provide anchorage.
The media options I’ve listed below are commonly used, and honestly, they’re often used out of preference. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. While some are better for specific kinds of carnivorous plants, choose what to use based on the type of plant you have and what you have available.
Commonly used, coco peat or coco coir is different from peat moss. Coco peat is a more sustainable natural fiber created from coconut husks. Peat moss is created from dead fibrous material formed when mosses and other organic materials decompose in peat bogs.
There are also sustainability issues surrounding peat moss, which isn’t considered a renewable resource due to the long period of time it needs to break down into the final product.
Where I use it
I use coco peat mixed with perlite for my byblis, and for most of my sundew seed propagation tubs. This is because I can see seedlings better in coco peat, and it forms algae less easily.
🌱 Easy to source
🌱 Less susceptible to algae
🌱 Needs heavy washing with low ppm water
🌱 Dries out easily
🌱 Can build up minerals
Sphagnum moss comes in dry and live options, but hydrating dry sphagnum doesn’t bring it back to life.
This is more challenging to find if you’re new to the hobby due to how sphagnum moss is often mistaken for or considered synonymous to java moss (see pic below). They’re not the same, and java moss can’t even used for carnivorous plants (I think due to acidity). They’re used interchangeably in most gardening stores because they’re both used for orchids, and most stores aren’t familiar with carnivorous plants.
Sphagnum peat moss is a term that also floats around the net, but sphagnum moss and peat moss for the purposes of this guide are also different. Sphagnum moss is made from actual moss that grows in cool, shaded areas with high humidity, colored a light tan when dry. Peat moss is as defined above, and is a very dark brown.
Where I use it
I like using sphagnum (sometimes mixed with perlite) for my Venus flytraps and my sundews. This is because sundews can’t get overwatered, but they are in higher danger of drying out. Flytraps can get overwatered but are more sensitive to ppm levels. Most growers also have great success propagating leaf cuttings from sundews and pullings from Venus flytraps in sphagnum moss (you can learn about propagation in my flytrap guide).
🌱 Retains water well
🌱 No washing needed, but you can remove debris like twigs and dried leaves if you want
🌱 Can be grown in the right conditions if you start with live moss
🌱 Much more expensive than coco peat
🌱 More likely to form algae
🌱 Often mistaken for java moss by gardening or online stores
Additional planting media: perlite, silica sand and coco cubes
These options are more amendments to media, added for better aeration or drainage for certain plants to encourage them to thrive better. These are also all optional–you don’t necessarily need to use them, but some growers have better growing results with them. It’s ultimately up to you.
Perlite is a white, highly porous and light media addition that aerates other media like coco peat, sphagnum moss, and even gardening soil for regular plants. This helps keep media loose, draining and uncompacted.
Perlite is optional, but I personally prefer mixing it into my coco peat (and layering into sphagnum for venus flytraps) for aeration purposes.
Silica sand is sometimes used for drosera/sundews (mixed with coco peat) or pinguiculas/butterworts (mixed with other rocky media like perlite, akadama and coco peat).
It’s fast-draining, compact and helps prevent overwatering for Mexican pings like Moranensis or Sethos in particular. However, I can’t give as much advice here because pings are still my most challenging plant to raise. I’ve only been able to raise P. Primuliflora, which I keep in sphagnum moss as it likes a wet, humid environment.
Coco cubes are often used for nepenthes/pitcher plants to maintain an airy mix. Most neps, especially highland neps, prefer a light mix that doesn’t get soggy.
Chunky coco cubes ensure that their roots don’t rot by keeping the planting media from getting compacted.
I’m not sure if media mixes for other plants would benefit from coco cubes, but like with all media options in this list, always ensure that it’s washed with low ppm water to flush minerals out.
Can you mix these different medias together?
Some growers do, depending on their setup. The mixes vary on how much a certain carnivorous plant needs. Taking into consideration what each media option can give, you can experiment yourself: do you need more moisture? Try to incorporate sphagnum. Do you need a drier, more draining mix? Stick with coco peat, or even add rocky, non-absorbent amendments like silica sand, perlite, pumice, and other chunky media options (as long as they’re all thoroughly rinsed).
I personally don’t like mixing sphagnum moss and coco peat. I find that using sphagnum to line the bottom of my pots makes it smell like sewage. At most, I only mix perlite into either coco peat or sphagnum, or use sphagnum as a top layer to help retain moisture. I read about layering from another grower and will be trying it out with some propagation tubs.
Planting media you shouldn’t use
Since carnivorous plants grow in nutrient-poor media, you unfortunately can’t use most media meant for regular plants. This means no garden soil, vermicast, or any potting mix with fertilizer like Klassman and other pre-packaged gardening media.
However, there’s a way you can tell if your media is ok for sure, since some growers are able to use pre-packaged gardening media with enough washing. The best way to know if your media can be used—and the best tool you can get to help your carnivorous plant hobby—is a TDS meter.
TDS stands for Total Dissolved Salts, and a TDS meter measures ppm levels, or parts per million. To put it simply, it tells you how much minerals are in your media, or your water. As long as your level is below 50ppm, you’re ok! The lower, the better. Our aircon water is at a happy 3ppm and I’ve been using it on top of collected rainwater. Some growers even found out that their water refilling stations have ppm levels below 15, giving them more options.
A TDS meter also lets you know if your media has mineral build up. For example, I check my water trays once in a while and find that the levels rise sometimes. In cases like that, I flush with low ppm water until the levels lower. It’s much easier than eyeballing things.
Research and observe!
I hope this guide helps! If you have any questions (that aren’t already answered here) or would like to share your own experiences, please comment below! Even though I’ve been growing carnivorous plants for a while, I welcome new insights and experiences since I’m constantly learning too.
I share these learnings on my Facebook page or Instagram, where you can find posts of my carnivorous plant collection and how I use different kinds of planting media. I also post carnivorous plants, Maxsea fertilizer and carnivorous plant media for sale.
I also have care and grow guides for carnivorous plants here!
Hope to see you there, and happy growing!
View this post on Instagram