Feeding Sundews

Updated- Now with Videos! (refer to the links to the right of this page.)

Are you tired of painfully slow-growing sundews?
If you can't grow your sundews outdoors, they won't be able to catch much food on their own. Feeding them will greatly speed up growth and encourage flowering- and even increases seed set and seed size for many Drosera species. 

Before reaching their full size, most sundews need to continually catch food, or "eat" in order to grow larger. Some species, such as D. intermedia 'Cuba' or D. regia tend to "shrink" if they don't continually obtain a meal. In contrast, note that there are also quite a few sundews which are exceptionally good at maintaining thier size once they've reached maturity (i.e. D. capensis, D. spatulata, D. admirabilis, D. natalensis, D. graomogolensis, etc.). Also, be aware that, some sundews need to be fed continually, or they will die! (or they will slowly decline.) 

Check out this page, which charts the growth of D. natalensis over a 2-month period. It gives a good example that shows just how rapidly sundews can grow when fed.

Food you CAN use:
The first 3 can be found at most pet stores-
1. Beta fish food pellets (crushed)- very good results.
2. Bloodworms- Freeze-dried or frozen
3. Fruit flies (wingless is best)- very good results.
4. Fungus gnats- works well, but are hard to catch.
5. Dilute orchid fertilizer (not Miracle-Gro)- not a very reliable method in my experience, but I'm still experimenting with foliar feeding techniques.
6. Any appropriately-sized insect you can catch (ie ants, crickets or spiders), but make sure to kill ants or larger insects prior to feeding them to your sundews, or they are often able to escape from the traps.

A "blend" of several different foods, such as fruit flies, bloodworms, and fish food, to provide a bit more diversity to the diet of your sundews can be used if you're worried about solely feeding your plants fish food. However, I've exclusively fed my sundews Beta fish food pellets for the past 3 years without any problems.
Beta Bite fish pellets used for feeding sundews
Beta Bites are cheap and easy to use

DO NOT use any of the following:
1. Meat or pieces of steak. These don't have the same nutrients as bugs and can severely damage the leaf, if too  large of a portion is used.
2. Miracle-Gro or fertilizer in high concentrations is especially dangerous. Fertilizing the soil for sundews is not also not recommended for most species, even if in dilute amounts.

Feeding Recommendations and Food Size:

Most Drosera can only handle smaller portions of food. Otherwise, the leaves of more sensitive sundews may "burn" and die. To avoid this, first, crush up the food into powder (if you are using fish food or blood worms), using a rolling pin or a grinder. Then follow the techniques below to feed your plants. Keep in mind that larger, more mature plants, are capable of handling much more food than younger plants. If food portions are too large, this will lead to mold, which has the potential to destroy the leaf in certain conditions. If you drop food on the surface of the soil, try to remove as much as possible, or mold will likely form. Flushing your pots occasionally is a good idea if this happens frequently, since it helps avoid nutrient buildup in your pots. Long story short, try to lean towards using smaller amounts unless I note otherwise in the detailed sundew information pages- or try experimenting! If your plants can handle more than mine, it may be due to a simple difference of conditions.

Feeding Techniques:
1. Feeding sundews in high-humidity (ie in a terrarium)- Bloodworms (freeze-dried or frozen)- Works very well to avoid mold in terrariums or humid conditions. The following is a fast method suggested by Brian Barnes: "I use a primordial soup of sorts, consisting of crushed fresh (frozen) bloodworms mixed with a little RO water and the "soup" is applied to the leaves with an eyedropper every two weeks. The liquid is absorbed directly, without risk of mold and each leaf gets two drops of liquid only." Brian uses this on his D. schizandra and others.

2. Feeding medium or adult sundews- CHECK OUT MY VIDEO! Betta Bites fish food pellets or fish food flakes can be fed in larger amounts to plants growing outside of high humidity. Even though my example uses fish food, freeze-dried bloodworms among other things can be easily substituted. Slightly modifying Brian Barnes' suggested method (above) has allowed me to dramatically speed up the process of feeding of my sundews. Try as much as possible to apply the food to the tentacles, rather than on the leaf surface, since some sundews aren't able to curl over their food- instead of digesting it, the food will cake onto the leaf, and may encourage mold.
1. Finely grind the food pellets into a powder (with a rolling pin, or something else).
2. In a cup add around a 1:1 ratio of powder and water (I use distilled water).
3. Stir up/homogenize the mixture and suck up a bit of it with the eyedropper or pipette.
4. Proceed to drop a bit of the mixture onto the leaves of your sundews.
Sometimes, the food may clump when it comes out onto the leaf, so suck the excess food back up with another pipette, or tweezer clumps of food onto another leaf if that would be easier.
5. Each time you take up more liquid in the pipette, stir the mixture around again, since the powder tends to settle to the bottom.
6. Add more water or powder, as needed, to maintain a desired consistency for the mixture while feeding. Sometimes water is used up more quickly than powder, and the mixture will become too thick to be taken up into the pipette.
This may take a bit of tinkering before getting used to it, but it's much easier than picking up individual portions of powder and carefully tweezering them on each leaf without dropping any on the soil of your plants...

3. Feeding young plants or sundew seedlings- Betta Bites fish food pellets or freeze-dried bloodworms-  CHECK OUT MY VIDEO! It is generally easier and safer to feed seedlings with the powder and tweezer method. Young seedlings (freshly germinated)- refer to this page to learn how to speed up the growth of your seedlings. Use as small an amount of food as possible that won't overwhelm the leaf- young seedlings are extremely succeptible to burning or mold damage if they're fed too much. 
Young plants or plantlets can handle considerably more food than seedlings, but they are still succeptible to mold damage, especially if they're being grown in a high-humidity container. I usually air on the side of caution when feeding Drosera species aside from Drosera burmannii, since I don't have time to worry about picking mold out from the leaves. Small food portions are readily digested by plantlets without risking mold.

What to expect:
The tentacles of your sundew will begin curling over the food within 10 to 30 minutes. Some species such as Drosera burmannii will begin curling over the food within seconds.
Then after an hour or more, the leaves of most Drosera will curl noticeably around their prey. Drosera regia will curl tightly over its prey and form a tight ball over several days. Drosera capensis behaves similarly but will roll up its leaves in less than a day.
Drosera regia 'Big Easy' curls dramatically around preyDrosera admirabilis (Ceres RSA) curling over its food
A constricted leaf of D. regia 'Big Easy'        D. admirabilis curling its leaves over some food

Some Drosera NEED to eat in order to survive or continue to grow.
Most of these include:

Drosera burmannii, Drosera glanduligera, Drosera indica, Drosera hartemeyerorum, (Drosera filiformis- only when seedlings and very young) and tuberous species, including Drosera peltata and many others. But in general, most species of Drosera seedlings will stay about the same size unless fed, so if you want them to size-up, then make sure they get an occasional meal! Sometimes, growers get "lucky", and springtails (harmless to canivorous plants) will start to grow in a particular pot. Springtails can provide plenty of food to seedlings. This situation makes feeding much easier. 

Although feeding seedlings can be a painstakingly slow process, it can produce very rewarding results! Don't give up! ;)

And...You can feed your sundews outdoors if they aren't catching too many insects.

For one reason or another, your sundews may not catch very many insects outdoors. But this doesn't mean you can't feed them manually. Especially for the sundews listed in the paragraph above, it would be advised to manually feed the leaves reguarly if you are noticing that growth is sluggish and not many insects are being caught naturally.  This is especially the case for smaller sundews. Once the sundew gets larger from regular feeding, it may have a better chance of catching bugs.

How often to feed sundews if growing them indoors:

While there is not a requirement for a regular feeding regimen, I would encourage you to try feeding your sundews once every 1-2 months or sooner for optimal growth and health. I typically feed many leaves on the same plant at once, rather than feeding individual leaves on more frequent occasions, but this is totally up to you.  After these "mass" feedings, the new leaves produced by the sundew may lack red pigmentation, since the plant will be growing faster than its normal pace (and the light can't "keep up" as well with the new growth compared to normal). Under my conditions, it usually takes ~3-4 weeks for the sundews to fully regain their original red coloration (if lighting is intense enough). I usually wait until the red coloration is completely re-gained until feeding them again, but you can continue to feed them once a week or more if you want to get the sundews to size-up as quickly as possible.

As it is anymore, I usually end up feeding my sundews twice a year, since my time has been very limited for the past few years. This works quite well for mature plants, but keep in mind that I fed all of my seedlings and plantlets extremely well in order to get them to reach their adult size. Once most of the sundews I grow have reached flowering maturity, it appears that they can maintain a "baseline" size, regardless of how little they're fed. However, do not do this for sundews that are know to rely heavily upon foliar nutrient uptake, some of which were mentioned above.

Additional Questions or Suggestions?

Contact me at: sundewman(at)yahoo.com