Chic and Simple Carnivorous Plant Terrariums





Introduction: Chic and Simple Carnivorous Plant Terrariums

About: I'm an animation director by day and Queen of the monsters by night. I picked up most of my costume and prop building skills through hands on experimentation with materials. Experimentation led to addictio...

Carnivorous plants are fascinating, and come in so many exciting varieties. Chances are that you've given a venus fly trap a shot at some point, but it didn't last long. The mass merchant garden stores that sell carnivorous plants rarely have much info how to keep them thriving once you bring them home, and may have left you thinking you're just "not good" with these bog-dwelling beauties. This super simple DIY terrarium tutorial will turn that around and make you a master! It only takes about 10 minutes to build the swampy conditions your pitcher plants, sundews, and fly traps need, all housed within classy, glass decor that looks gorgeous in your home and office.

Step 1: Choose Your Plant(s)

Choose Your Plant-- This will help determine your container shape. Pitcher plants and Cobra Lilies will do best in a tall jar, while Venus Fly Traps are suitable for more squat/round containers. Sundews and Butterworts are a little tricky. They are short plants, but grow one or two tall stalks when they are about to flower. I'd go for a tall container myself, to allow the full beauty to display at this time. In this tutorial, I'll be using a Nepenthes variety of Pitcher plant (pitchers that hang down from the leaves, rather than shooting up from the ground like trumpets), which I've great luck with in this glass container set up.

Where to Buy-- If you're just starting out, you can often find introductory species (fly traps, purple pitcher plants, some types of sundews) at your local mass merchant garden store, such as Lowes or The Do It Center. They tend to be on end caps or near the register as "impulse buy" items, planted in very small plastic pots. Specialty nurseries are more likely to have different varieties and larger specimens.

A Caution About Buying Online-- Below is a link to the Amazon search results for "carnivorous plants". Poke around and familiarize yourself with the different types available, but I urge you to buy locally if you can. Unless you know of a reputable online garden supply retailer, ordering this type of thing on the internet can be a gamble. I've ordered carnivorous plants that arrived in very poor condition, were about half the size as the advertised plants, or ended up being an entirely different species than the one posted. Online retailers are especially bad about this with pitcher plants, as they seem to think most people won't know the difference. If you want your money's worth, seek out local sources, or consult a carnivorous plant hobbyist forum for a reputable retailer.

Plant Options

Step 2: You Will Need...

Once you've chosen your plant, you can gather the rest of your supplies. The list for this project is pretty short!

Glass Apothecary Jar(s) -- I found a set of 3 on Amazon for under $25. You can also check out home goods stores or even thrift stores for neat shaped jars. Just make sure they are glass, not plastic, and have a stable base. Since my plants are young, all the jars are under a foot tall. You may wish to go bigger in the interest of replanting less often, or just to be fancy! Make sure you get ones with glass lids, NOT metal lids. Metal lids will block sunlight from above, cause overheating, and may rust with time.

Sphagnum/ Peat Moss-- Available by the bag in garden stores. Your plant will likely come nested in some, but you'll need a bit more.

Loose Activated Carbon--The same type of stuff you might use for refillable aquarium filters.

Aquarium Dechlorination Drops-- Available in pet stores. Instantly de-chlorinates tap water with a few drops.

Small amount of Soil (optional)-- I don't use any soil in my carnivorous set ups, but some people do. I find my plants do better without, as the soil seems to go putrid over time (when you smell it, you'll know). If you choose to do soil, avoid any with fertilizers already mixed in.

Tools: Table spoon, sieve, paper towels for clean up.

Step 3: Layer 1: Carbon

Scoop 1 TBSP of your aquarium carbon and rinse it using a sieve/ screen. Run the carbon under your tap water until the water runs clear. Your goal is to remove excess carbon dust, just as you would before using it in an aquarium filter. Once the carbon is clean, pour it into the glass apothecary jar.

Why Charcoal? The charcoal helps keep your contained terrarium environment clean. It removes toxins and destroys odors, keeping things fresh and healthy for a long stretch with no cleaning or intervention on your part.

Optional Soil-- If you choose to add soil, layer 1 TBSP of your fertilizer free soil on top of this carbon. Do not mix. Think of this jar like a plant parfait. You want the layers to be defined. I typically leave soil out of my carnivorous plant jars because they seem to do very well rooted in the moss medium alone. As long as the plant has something to hold and the roots have contact with moisture, you're good to go. I've found that soil mixes can get rancid over time and require more monitoring.

Step 4: Layer 2: Moss Base

Take a pinch worth of your moss mix. Pre-moisten it under your tap, or with distilled water. Don't worry about the chemicals that may be in your tap water. The chlorine will dissipate by the time you install your plant, and your carbon will help minimize any other nasty stuff in there.

Place this moss on top of your carbon layer, again keeping the layers separate and unmixed. Leave it light and fluffy, no packing needed. Sometimes there will be bits of debris in packaged moss, like small twigs or dried leaves. Pick these out if they are undesirable to you, but know that they will not hurt anything. A little debris can add character to your jars, and leaves will naturally decay over time anyway.

Step 5: Layer 3: Add Your Plant

Most of the plants I've found in local garden departments come in novelty packaging as shown in the first photo. Gently remove your store bought plant from the plastic starter cup.This should not be too difficult as they usually come loosely packed in the moss medium.

Hold the plant near the base, wiggling it back and forth until it comes free. Do not tug or pull upwards abruptly so as not to damage the plant.

A clump of moss will probably cling to the roots and come with the plant --GOOD! Leave it there. There's no reason to disturb the roots or insist on entirely fresh moss. Only pick off any undesirable debris, or the rare spot of moldy moss.

Transfer to your glass jar. Gently place the plant, making sure the base is well supported by the moss, but not tightly packed or pressed.

Top with your glass lid and you're set! Once a week, remove the lid for a while to allow free oxygen exchange. Since your jars are unlikely to be air tight there will always be a little air getting in, which is great as long as your moisture is not evaporating rapidly.

Step 6: Vessel Variety

You can use these same principles in a variety of glass containers, depending on the look you want.

Mason jars are great vessels for taller pitcher plants, and have a folksy vibe great for indoor kitchen window gardens. Be aware that the moisture inside will rust the metal lid over time. Your plant won't suffer, but you may wish to switch out for a fresh shiny lid with time.

Plastic plant terrariums are also available. The one on the left in the first photo is a retro one purchased from a collectible shop. It's a lovely shape, but not cheap and not the greatest conductor of temperature and moisture for carnivorous plants.

Step 7: Care and Ideal Conditions

Vessels: This first photo shows two pitcher plants of the same species and roughly the same age. The guy on the left has spent 6 months in a plastic terrarium. The guy on the right has been in a glass apothecary jar getting the same temperature and lighting conditions as his friend. Clearly, glass has got it going on. The apothecary jar plant is about triple the size and has more pitchers.

Sun: I have observed that the glass containers seem to be better for creating the ideal humidity these bog plants crave. See those nice sauna-like jars in the second photo? You want to place your jars somewhere that they will get there for 1 or 2hrs a day. Mine do well on a table near a window, but NOT in direct sunlight. Do not place in a window that gets sun all day. It IS possible to cook these plants if you're getting them too hot or drying out their moss. If you see brown, crispy edges, move that plant away from the light source a bit.

Water: The moisture in your moss will recycle itself for several weeks without needing any attention, but you will occasionally want to refresh and remoisten. Your jars are likely not air tight, and little by little the moss will dry. Many carnivorous plant care sheets suggest watering only with distilled water. You can do this, or invest in a small bottle of de-chlorinating drops for aquariums. Add 2-3 drops to a glass of water from your tap, wait 5 minutes, then water. Give enough to moisten the moss and allow a tiny bit of standing water in your carbon layer.

Step 8: Grooming and Growth

If you've done everything right, you'll have a swampy little ecosystem in your chic glass jars. Moss mixes and plants sometimes come with little harmless grasses growing in them already. You can either let them grow or gently remove them with your fingers or tweezers. I tend to let my terrariums do what they will and the grasses have never interfered with their look or health.

Healthy plants will have still have extensions that mature and then die off. The second photo here shows a fly trap with a few such dead pieces. You can either leave these to decay naturally or prune of the dead stuff VERY GENTLY.

Examine the base of the dead looking frond. Is it still green? If so, leave it alone. Tugging will probably result damage to the greater plant. If the frond is truly dark black/brown and rotted all the way down, give a gentle tug. A piece that is ready to be removed will pop right off. If there is any resistance at all, just leave it for now. Trimming with scissors is generally unnecessary and not attractive on carnivorous plants.

Your moisture may cause some extra mossy growth or algae in the bottom of your jars. See 3rd photo. This stuff is totally natural and good to go as long as everything smells nice and green under the lid. If your jars start to smell sewer-like, it may be time for a quick jar rinse and re-potting.

Step 9: To Feed or Not to Feed

Even though they are called "carnivorous", they do not require meat/ protein to live. If provided proper sunlight and watering, they will photosynthesize just like any other plant and be totally healthy doing so.

NEVER feed the plants burger meat or any other people food --that's a surefire way to kill it. A plant like a fly trap may close around the morsel, but it will not be able to digest it and the head of that frond will just rot off.

As far as letting the plants feed themselves, again, it isn't needed, but here's what I do: If we ever have an outbreak of fruit flies in the kitchen (brought in on produce) I take the jars in there for their weekly open air session. If they manage to lure in some bugs --great! You could also put them outside for a few hours, provided the temperature is not too cold out. Expect a pretty small yield, maybe 1 or 2 bugs. I find that flies and fruit flies have so many sweet distractions in an urban environment that the lures my plants give off just aren't that enticing.

If you live in a suitable climate to keep your larger plants outdoors full-time, then you may really start to see some action. A friend of mine has an enormous pitcher plant in her back yard and wasps will sometimes get caught by their sweet smelling liquid.

Step 10: ENJOY!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and that it opens up a unique new world of indoor gardening for you. Carnivorous plants are not just for swamps and science projects anymore.

If you like this Ible, please drop me a vote for the Indoor Gardening Contest. My beta fish has his little fins crossed that maybe he'll get a new hydroponics tank for the holidays :)

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41 Discussions

Thank you for this tutorial! Just repotted a pitcher plant for my son. He is very excited and your pictures really helped him understand the steps. Thanks so much for giving us a good "gardening" experience!

1 reply

Wonderful! Good luck. Just keep that humidity going and the pitcher should thrive. If you see signs of wilt or premature browning, try shifting the container a bit further back from the light source. Sometimes in the summer it is possible to get things TOO sauna-like.

California carnivores is where I buy my carnivores plants online. never had a problem, reasonable prices, many different options.

Excellent ible! Makes me feel confident enough to try it ;)

Thank you to everyone who voted for me in the finals! I am thrilled to have gotten a first place award for this Ible, but not nearly as thrilled as my beta fish is going to be when he sees his new hydroponics home!

FYI...A new law in North Carolina Dec. 1, 2014 makes poaching Venus Flytraps a felony with 25 month prison sentence. Each plant taken is a separate offense.

1 reply

Thanks for letting our east coast readers know. I believe another user mentioned that law earlier in the comments. I fully support leaving the wild population alone and getting your plants from reputable (legal) distributors.

I may post several times to this instructable, but first, I would like to correct something:

I think that treatment to neutralize chlorine is not a good idea! First, the chlorine is now introduced in different manners in different municipal water supplies. The drops may or may not be suitable to remove chlorine ions from your water...but wait(!)...that is likely not a problem with any Nepenthes plants! Of greater concern with Nepenthes plants in general is the accumulation or concentration of dissolved solids, and your suggestion to use distilled water to keep the environment humid and the potting media moist should handle that very well. The chlorine may even have an initial benefit in delaying putrifaction of your media. Some species of Nepenthese, such as N. ampullaria and some highlands species are more sensitive to dissolved solids and to pH than other species, especially Calcium and Sodium ions. Softened water is really not the appropriate choice to eliminate Calcium ions, because it merely replaces the Calcium with Sodium ions. A second point to consider is that municipal water tends to be rather alkaline (another reason to use rainwater or distilled water to maintain the moisture), and the plants could possibly benefit by pH adjustment from a minute amount of vinegar of lemon juice. You can obtain pH paper strips on line for $2 for a many years supply.

On a much more positive note, I would say that the containers are attractive and display the small plants well. However, Nepenthes plants can get huge! I have some that have been cut back so that they don't extend more than a few feet from their baskets or pots, and they weigh a great deal with the multiplicity of branches. You'd never find a pretty container at an affordable price for a mature plant.

Consider pea gravel or pumice in the bottom of the container, with carbon granules above that (I use charcoal fragments from the bottom of a sack of mesquite grilling charcoal...there are always some pieces too small for use in the barbeque, and some packagers of grilling charcoal now sell the small bits in bulk.). This allows excess water to collect in the bottom and be poured off later. That also allows dissolved solids to be removed in that dumped water to keep delay putrification of the medium.

1 reply

That's another interesting point I'll have to run by my plant pals! You're the first to bring the potential benefit of chlorine to my attention. I agree that distilled water is optimal for sure. Across the board I've had better health and longevity when using the chlorine drops vs. straight tap water (ah, the mistakes of youth), and thus felt it was important to suggest as a starter step. I was aware that the plants like their medium just a tad acidic, but had never used lemon juice before. That's an excellent, all natural care tip.

The nepenthes may be fed dried food of the sort used to feed tropical fish if you have a real urge to feed them something; the ampullaria species are not carnivores, and do just fine with very tiny bits of decaying vegetation in their pitchers. Bacteria and other microorganisms break down the trapped materials in some species so that the plants can absorb the nitrogen from them. The sundews and venus fly traps would want their food to be moving to trigger their trapping mechanisms, so don't expect interesting results from putting tropical fish or turtle flakes on their leaves.

1 reply

Thanks for this tip! This is good to know for people who are really dying to feed their plants in an interactive way. I have to say this is the first time I've ever heard of fish food being used, but if its working for your plants then that's some new info I'll add to my list. I ought to run it by my pal in the SoCal carnivorous plant society and see if they've ever played with this.

Find out how large your plant is likely to be in one-two years and size the container to fit, or be prepared to transplant the specimen into a larger container if you are growing the readily available American pitcher plants, the Nepenthes species or hybrids, or some of the sundews (Drosera) that have vine-like growth.

1 reply

Pitcher plants definitely can get big! This Ible is aimed at beginners starting with the smaller plants you're likely to find in local garden stores or nurseries, and is not intended to accommodate plants at mature and magnificent size (if one is really fortunate/ skilled and manages to get them there). However, you actually can find very large apothecary jars, like 2ft tall, that would last you a long time before you needed to re-pot.

I could not stress too strongly the need to avoid too much direct sunlight with respect to cooking plants and burning leaves or roots. One should monitor the container temperature, at least by feel, every 30 minutes or so when first placing these on a shelf or window sill that gets direct sunlight.because it is possible to cook a plant within an hour under some conditions. I put reflective foil at the root level on pots that get some direct sunlight, just to reflect heat that could cook the roots...a problem that I and others have experienced with Saracenia and other genera.

Thank you for suggesting sphagnum moss when using moss, for some mosses are not appropriate. Most people who use the sphagnum premoisten it, as you suggest, but remember to press out the excess water after getting it thoroughly wet. You can add back some of that water after your plant is installed.

very nice instructable and so detailed even for me....(the only thing about these plants i knew was they existence in some tropical jungles)

i once planted a Pitcher in a bucked with normal soil

in my parents garden now 5 years later it still stands there

that little plant is strong as heck

and that in the harsh dutch climate

2 replies

i have 2 brown thumbs {everything i plant turns brown & dies}. you have given me so much hope, that i'm going to try my luck [yet, again] ~ this time, with pitcher plants (which i've loved since i first saw in a nat'l. geo. magazine photo in about 1968)! i did a science project on carnivorous plants {my teacher loved it!}.

thank-you, robot797!

That's great! Some plants are definitely tougher than others. I'm sure it helps that your soil is outdoors and changing/circulating/renewing, rather than the same glob stuck in a jar. Soil in the jars really can get funky after a while!

Great ible! Quick question though, you talked a lot about the conditions needed to keep your plant healthy, but because they're carnivorous plants, don't they need to eat meat? I read through the whole ible and I don't think I saw anything about feeding them, or allowing them to feed themselves? I once had a very small venous fly trap when I was younger, and would occasionally feed it very small bits of hamburger, but because I kept it in its small plastic enclosure it died. Do you have any advice on feeding them? Thanks!