Transplanting & Dividing Pitcher Plants

Transplanting & Dividing Pitcher Plants

Transplanting Sarracenia (North American Pitcher Plants):

I spent a good chunk of last weekend transplanting Sarracenia from the cramped pots they had become root bound in, to larger 20 gallon containers where they will be able to stretch their rhizomes and send out new runners (in turn creating new plants). During the process, I took the opportunity to divide offshoots and multiply my number of stand-alone plants by 4x. Check out the step-by-step guide, below, for tips and tricks on how to turn one pitcher plant into many during the repotting process.

Wintered Sarracenia
It’s winter in California, plants are dormant, and it’s time to investigate the Sarracenia to see if they need a little love. Love, being relative to a species, in this case means being uprooted, divided and repotted into a fresh batch of soil. My mature Sarracenia have been in 2 gallon pots for about 3 years, now. Over the course of this time, they multiplied via offshoots, and the rhizome crashed into most interior surfaces of the pot, eventually poking roots out the bottom drainage holes and into the water tray. This is a sure sign that they have outgrown their homes, and it’s time to transplant. Also, check out that woody ol’ rhizome. Let’s go to work!

Woody Sarracenia rhizome

Soil Peat Sand and Perlite

Home for the next few years.

I know you’re excited to dive in and liberate you pitcher plants, but before you get started, prepare your work station, pots, and mix up your soil. I go full caveman and use my hands for transplanting, avoiding gardening tools that I’m likely to poke an eye out with. But I do have 1-2 gallons of purified water ready, all of my soil components, and 2 large buckets – one to mix fresh soil in, and the other to work over to catch old soil and minimize the mess.

For my mix, I eyeball 2 parts peat to 1 part perlite and 1 part washed sand. I’ll mix this all together, pre-moisten it, and fill a few pots in preparation for the plants.

Sarracenia root ball

Because it’s winter and I’ve already cut back last season’s growth, it’s easy to flip the plants upside down and to start squeezing the sides of the plastic pot to loosen the soil. I do this over a bucket to catch the falling soil and to minimize the tremendous mess I’d otherwise (and probably still will) make. It helps if the soil is on the dry side, and because it’s drier-soil-winter-dormancy-time, we’re in luck. A few squeezes from different angles, and the plant pops right out of its pot. Notice the flowering stalk already starting to form – it’s been a suuuper wet winter in California, and my guess is that it will force the plants to pop out of hibernation a little early this year – I literally can’t keep them dry, outside.

Sarracenia rhizome

Ok, you’re going to have to get a little violent, now. But be gentle. Gentle violence. Shake your plant. Do this to loosen up the soil that is clinging to the root system. Get into those roots with your fingers, and start knocking out clumps of dirt until the plants look…naked? Well, until the roots are relatively clean. Once you think you can’t get off any more dirt, dunk the entire root system in purified water, and shake some more.

Close up Sarracenia rhizome

Put some clothes on, roots! Your rhizome is showing!

pitcher plant growth points

Here’s another ball o’ plant courtesy of my Sarracenia alta “black throat” x flava red (a pretty spectacular hybrid with tall, dark red pitchers and a blood lust for wasps). On this plant, you can easily see the growth points by looking at where the surface of the soil would be, and identifying the pinkish-red tips that would poke above it. Each clump is a growth point and, if supported by a few roots, could become its own healthy plant. I spy about 7 or 8 growth points, here. I don’t have nearly enough acreage (sarcasm; I live in an apartment with plants on my balcony) to give each one it’s own pot, but I will definitely separate this bad boy into about 4-5 plants. Next up: the infuriating part.

Sarracenia division

Roots somewhat clean and organized. I promise to transplant sooner, next time.

And I thought rubix cubes were bad… I’m convinced that untangling roots on a root bound pitcher plant is the devil’s jigsaw puzzle. I’m going to tell you to be gentle, and try to trace all of the roots back to their respective growth point as to minimize damage and tears while untangling them. I give you 10 minutes until you’re hunting for a machete to start hacking.

But in all seriousness, get in your zone, and treat the plants with some damn respect. It’s your fault they’re in this condition. Think of untangling as a form of meditation, and maybe it’ll be relaxing.

Separated Sarracenia growth points

Bucket o’ pitcher plants

You patient saint. Your plant root system is mostly untangled, and you only have 2 or 3 loose chunks of root that no longer belong to a body of leaves. Not bad. Remember how I said “be gentle” in the last step? Yah, you can forget that, now. It’s time to either break apart, or cut the main rhizome in order to separate the growth points that have at least a few roots to sustain them. I prefer the “grab and crack” technique, but others may want the precision of a blade. Either works, but try not to lop off more supporting roots as you do so. Where once there was one pitcher plant, let there be many!

repotted pitcher plants

Multiple plants in one big pot.

Here comes the rewarding part! Take your pre-soiled pots, scoop out some soil from the center, and place the Sarracenia growth point down into this hole. The growth point itself should just poke out over the top of the soil line, so modulate depth of the root system accordingly. Holding the plant in place, fill in the root hole with soil, and pat it down with a firm press to remove large air pockets and make sure there is contact with the root system. Viola! You have yourself a freshly-potted North American pitcher plant!

Go ahead and put this fresh life in a water tray, and either cary on with the rest of the hibernation period, or start watering normally if it’s spring time. The plant should shake off any shock in a month, and pop back to life with a vigor only possible from a well-loved plant!

Potted up offshoots

Mmmm fresh soil

cleanup

Clean up your mess!

By |2017-02-21T06:33:34+00:00February 19th, 2017|Cultivation, Propagation|10 Comments

About the Author:

Carnivorous plant grower, entrepreneur, product manager, designer, tech junkie, car nut, Halloween enthusiast. Actively making my hobbies and fascinations a key focus of my life.

10 Comments

  1. Gayle May 12, 2017 at 4:43 am - Reply

    I just got my first Pitcher plant. I am so excited.. Looking for al information on how to best care forthem…On the label my pant said when I first get it to fill the itches with 1/2 water.. Do I want to keep them in that much water?
    I also read to lace t in in a dish of water ( sort of ike african violet) but it is in a hanging basket type container and I am concerned it would harm the pitchers it is it not hanging… DO I need a container that holder water rom the bottom?

    • David Fefferman May 12, 2017 at 4:59 pm - Reply

      That’s super exciting, Gayle! Where did you pick up your new pitcher plant? Any idea what kind it is? Is it a North American Pitcher plant (Sarracenia), or Tropical Pitcher plant (Nepenthes)? The hanging basket makes me think you may have a Nepenthes.

      • For a Sarracenia, here are some quick tips for you: 1. lots of light, 2. use purified water – something that’s gone through a reverse osmosis process is best, 3. use a water tray during the growing season (Januaryish – Novemberish) to keep the soil moist, 4. respect dormancy during the winter months

      • For a Nepenthes: 1. lots of diffused light, 2. use purified water – something that’s gone through a reverse osmosis process is best, 3. water the plant through and use a shallow water tray, but let the tray dry out between waterings.

      Do check out the above links for more details!

  2. Betty Maxwell September 6, 2017 at 5:00 am - Reply

    I’m in Texas and have a Nepenthes in a hanging basket. It seems in need of being transplanted, which I will try to do. Also, it hangs outdoors where there is an abundant of bugs to feast on. Do I need to bring it in during the winter and how much cold can it take?

    • David Fefferman September 12, 2017 at 5:38 pm - Reply

      Howdy, Betty! It’s best to bring the plant indoors to a sunny window to avoid frost and freezing which can damage or kill Nepenthes. Highland species and some hybrids with a highland species as one of the parents are more resilient to cold, but anything down into the mid-to-low 40s isn’t good for the plant. For lowland Nepenthes, you’ll want to keep temperatures higher, and no lower than about 50 degrees.

  3. Eileen November 5, 2017 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Very informative and easily understandable. Just got my first plant today from a friend. No idea of variety but it does have hanging pitchers. Looking forward to watching it grow.

    • David Fefferman November 6, 2017 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, and congrats on your new Nepenthes (AKA tropical pitcher plant)! They’ll have different requirements from the North American pitcher plants that I write about here (no dormancy, different type of roots system, division process, and soil requirements, etc). Perhaps it’s worth me doing a separate article on the topic but focused on Nepenthes. Happy growing!

  4. Lisa Lee November 10, 2017 at 5:03 am - Reply

    I have a Nephenthes x ventrata and it needs to be trans planted. I have had it since April and I also am getting ready to take some cuttings. Mine has done very well outside here in the upstate of SC. I have brought it inside for the winter but my question is can I cut off the dead pitchers? It is loaded with pitchers but many of the large ones have died. Can I cut them off?

    • David Fefferman November 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm - Reply

      Totally, Lisa! If the pitchers are fully crispy, cut them off. Normally, pitcher death starts from the lid and spreads down towards the tendril. If there is any portion of the pitcher above the tendril that hasn’t turned brown, leave it attached, as it is still capable of digestion and absorption. Most of the glands that absorb nutrients are located towards the bottom of the pitcher.

  5. Tina December 1, 2017 at 10:32 am - Reply

    I think my new plant is ‘hooded’ bought in hanging pot at Edison Park plant sale from locals. Always wanted one. Live in SW Florida- hung it in lani- filtered sun. No tray under it. Shoots out top of pot. Do I put water in pitchers-and keep soil moist? Do I cut stems pitchers are on when they die? Thank you- loved your information .Hot November here.

    • David Fefferman December 2, 2017 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Howdy Tina, if it’s in a hanging basket and has green leaves with pitchers hanging from the end of them, you likely have a Nepenthes (tropical pitcher plant). Let me know if that looks accurate.
      No need to fill pitchers with water, as they produce their own digestive fluids. While Nepenthes do require frequent waterings, they also need good drainage, so avoid a water trays, but also don’t let the soil dry out. Nepenthes don’t take kindly to freezes, so make sure to bring them inside if you’re expecting cold weather.
      If a pitcher has completely dried up, you can cut the pitcher, itself, off. Leave the rest of the leaf and stem. The leaf will continue to photosynthesize (until it dies), producing energy for the plant. The stem is where new leaves and pitchers will emerge from. If the stem gets unruly at some point, you can cut it back, but make sure there are other stems or growth points to keep the plant alive. You can actually root up stem cuttings into new plants, also.
      Happy growing and congrats on your new plant!

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