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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!