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Heliamphora cultivation

Heliamphora care

Hailing from the flat top mountains and surrounding areas of the Guiana Shield in South America (Venezuela, Guiana, and Brazil), Heliamphora are some of the most unique carnivorous plants the discerning collector can grow. Their natural habitat is often nutrient poor, sun-blasted, exposed to high winds and rain, and temperatures can sometimes reach near freezing at night. This has given the genus a reputation for being difficult to grow, due to what some growers feel is a need to replicate these exact conditions. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as Heliamphora are among the most adaptable and forgiving members of the carnivorous plants family and there are options for growers at every level.

Heliamphora are best suited for growing in a terrariums or a greenhouse, although it’s also possible to grow them successfully as indoor plants or even outdoors in some areas with proper accommodations. Like the majority of carnivorous plants, they need moisture retentive media, favorable temperatures and humidity, good amount of light, high quality water, and trace amounts of fertilizer to thrive.

There are many kinds of media that can be used and combined to create a suitable mix for Heliamphora. Some growers use high quality sphagnum moss, others use peat moss, and still others use inorganic media such as aquasoil (the kind used for planted aquariums or ponds). This media can then be mixed with a good amount of mostly inert drainage such as perlite, pumice, coarse sand, lava etc. A ratio of 3:2 between media and drainage is typically ideal. The choice of media is personal and depends on growing conditions and practices. The plants are generally grown best over a drainage tray allowing water to drain completely while ensuring the media is constantly moist. But it’s also possible to grow the plants by sitting them in a small amount of water (up to 1-2cm). This water should be either allowed to evaporate before refilling, frequently replaced, or oxygenated with an air stone.

Temperature is a hotly debated topic when it comes to growing Heliamphora and many growers invest in chillers and coolers to cool down their plants at night. This is often unnecessary since typical indoor room temperature is sufficient to grow the plants successfully, and often the occasional use of air conditioner or opening a window or a vent does the trick. Evaporative cooling can help in a greenhouse. Generally speaking Heliamphora do not like to be above 30C (86F) for long and will perish if kept much warmer. They appreciate a cooldown at night (can go as far down as 10C (50F)) but that is by no means necessary for success, and they’re fine with occasional drop around 18C (65F)). In other words, typical house temperatures are fine for the plants.

Humidity should be good, and that can be achieved by misting daily or using humidifiers or foggers. A humidity tray is also beneficial. That could simply be a tray full of pebbles or leca and a little water with the plants sitting on top or could be a specialty designed product such as the ones used by orchid growers. Another great way to increase humidity is to top dress mature Heliamphora with live sphagnum moss. Sphagnum has the benefit of antiseptic properties and being a good indicator of water quality as it will not grow with water heavy in impurities.

Heliamphora appreciate direct sunlight for at least a few hours a day, or can be alternatively grown under LED grow lights. Although older grow lights such as fluorescent, HPS, and metal halide can be used, LED technology has come a long way and there is no need to use outdated and costly alternatives. Basic strip lights or shop lights (the kind used to light up garages or shelves) are an inexpensive and effective option. Color temperature should be on the cooler side of the spectrum (5000-6500K) and the lights should be kept fairly close to the plants, depending on intensity. Dedicated grow bulbs or horticultural grow lights are a bit more expensive but they are generally more efficient and can be suspended much higher above the plants so they are better for a larger collection. A photo-period of 14 hours a day year round is sufficient (and this could be a combination of natural and artificial light or just the latter).

As with most carnivorous plants the use of good quality water is a must. RO water is best, followed by distilled water, and in some cases filtered and dechlorinated tap water is also satisfactory. Investing in a total dissolved solids meter (TDS meter) is highly recommended as they are very cheap and invaluable for your carnivorous plant collection. Ideally water should be as close to 0 ppm (parts per million of dissolved solids) as possible. Readings above 50ppm should be avoided (that number can be higher with fertilizer, see below).

Heliamphora appreciate a good feeding with fertilizer and will grow much faster that way. Although not necessary, fertilizing is highly recommended. It is best to use a fertilizer that is complete with micronutrients and urea free (ones typically used in hydroponics or for growing orchids). A nutrient ratio of 3:1:2 is ideal. There are two ways to fertilize, one is to give the plants a little every time you water, the other is to feed once a month inside pitcher and then flush with pure water the rest of the time. If you feed with every watering dissolving your fertilizer to 100-150ppm in pure water is a good rate (that generally translates to 1/8th or 1/16th strength of recommended rate on box). Pour solution inside pitcher and in the media and let drain. If feeding in pitcher, a solution up to 400ppm once a month can be used (around 1/4th strength of box rate) but you have to be careful not to get the solution in the substrate. The rest of the time watering is done with pure water only by pouring over entire plant and substrate. Whichever way you choose, occasional flushing with pure near zero ppm water is recommended to prevent salt build up in media.

Heliamphora like air movement and this is the best way to prevent any fungal problems. Keeping them in tightly sealed places with stagnant air isn’t recommended. A fan can be used to improve air movement. If fungal problems occur a gentle fungicide can be used. Prevention is the best protection.

Pests rarely bother Heliamphora. They can sometimes get scale and root mealybugs. These pests don’t typically kill the plants and are more of a nuisance and danger to other plants that might be growing with the Heliamphora. Luckily most gentle insecticides are well tolerated including soap and neem oil. Spray if needed.

In conclusion, a Heliamphora set up can be as simple as a shelf with a humidity tray with an LED shop light above that is watered and misted frequently. It could also be a terrarium with a drainage layer and a small computer or personal fan with a grow light on top. Of course, it could be a shelf in a greenhouse next to evaporative cooling unit that gets a good amount of direct light. There are many options and hopefully this guide will give you an idea which would work the best for you.