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Periwinkle: Plant Care and Growing Guide

Vinca major, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Lesser Periwinkle, Myrtle, Creeping Myrtle.

Vinca major, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca minor, Lesser Periwinkle

Periwinkle, with its captivating blue or purple flowers and glossy evergreen leaves, is a charming and easy-to-grow plant that adds a touch of beauty to any garden.

What is Periwinkle?

Native: Vinca, also known as periwinkle, is a genus of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, which includes other popular plants such as mandevilla and oleander. It is native to Europe, northwestern Africa, and southwestern Asia, but it is now found all over the world. It includes species commonly grown as ornamental plants, such as Vinca minor and Vinca major.

Climate: Vinca is generally hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. Some cultivars may be more cold-tolerant, while others may be more heat-tolerant. In colder climates, it may die back to the ground in winter, but it will usually regrow from the roots in spring.

Plant type: Periwinkle can be evergreen subshrubs or herbaceous perennials.

Culture: Vinca is a versatile plant and can grow well in both sun and shade, although it prefers partial shade. It can tolerate full sun in cooler climates, but in hot summer areas, it prefers shade. It can grow in a range of soil types, including sandy, loamy, or clay soils, as long as the soil is well-drained.

Height/spread: Periwinkle grows only 6-24 inches tall (15-60 cm), but it can quickly cover large areas if left unchecked. It spreads by underground stems called rhizomes and can form dense mats of vegetation. While this trait can make it a useful ground cover plant, it can also make it invasive in some areas.

Flowers: The plant produces small, attractive, and long-lasting flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white. The flowers are star-shaped with five petals and a bright yellow center.

Blooming season: From spring to frost.

Foliage: The glossy, evergreen leaves are usually 1-2 inches long and opposite in arrangement along the stem. They are elliptical in shape and have a dark green color. Some varieties of vinca have variegated leaves with white or yellow edges. The leaves are a notable feature of the plant and provide an attractive backdrop for the colorful flowers.

Uses: Vinca is often used in landscaping and gardening as a groundcover due to its low maintenance requirements and ability to spread quickly. It is a popular choice for garden borders and rock gardens and is also sometimes grown as an indoor houseplant. Periwinkle is also used in erosion control, as it has a deep root system that helps to stabilize soil on hillsides and slopes. It is also a popular choice for hanging baskets and window boxes, where its trailing stems and bright flowers can be shown off to great effect.

Medicine: Vinca has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and extracts from the plant have been used to treat a range of conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.

Invasiveness: Vinca has the potential to become invasive in some areas. In particular, the variety Vinca minor, also known as common periwinkle, is considered an invasive species in some regions of the United States, where it can outcompete native plants and disrupt ecosystems. It’s important to check with your local authorities to see if Vinca is considered invasive in your area before planting it. If invasive, we have published native plant alternatives to vinca minor and vinca major that may be of interest to you.

Toxicity: Vinca is toxic to humans, dogs, cats, and horses if ingested. The plant contains poisonous alkaloids that can cause gastrointestinal upset, hallucinations, seizures, and even death in severe cases. It is important to keep the plant out of reach of children and pets and to wear gloves when handling it to avoid skin irritation.

Deer/Rabbit: Deer and rabbits tend to avoid eating vinca, as it contains alkaloids that make it unpalatable to them. However, it is still possible for deer to nibble on vinca if their preferred food sources are scarce.

Vinca major versus Vinca minor

Vinca major and Vinca minor are two popular species of vinca commonly found in gardens and landscapes. Although both are from the same family, they have some significant differences in terms of their growth habit and appearance.

Vinca minor, also known as lesser periwinkle, typically grows up to 6 inches (15 cm) in height. Its leaves are smaller than Vinca major, typically reaching 1-2 inches long (2-5 cm) and 1/2-1 inch wide (1-2.5 cm). Flowers are purple, blue, or white, depending on the cultivar. They bloom in early spring and sometimes again in the fall. Vinca minor is often used as a ground cover in smaller spaces.

Vinca major, also known as greater periwinkle, is a larger, more aggressive plant that grows up to 24 inches (60 cm) in height. It produces large, dark green leaves that can reach up to 3 inches long (7 cm) and 1 inch wide (2.5 cm). The flowers are 1 to 2 inches across (2-5 cm). They are borne in abundance in early spring and sporadically throughout the summer. This plant is best suited for larger areas and is often used for erosion control.

Hardiness: In terms of hardiness, both Vinca major and Vinca minor are fairly cold-tolerant, but Vinca minor is generally more hardy and can withstand lower temperatures than Vinca major.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 9
Plant Type Perennials, Shrubs
Genus Vinca
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Evergreen
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Landscaping Ideas Hanging Baskets, Ground Covers, Beds And Borders, Banks And Slopes, Patio And Containers, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Vinca major ‘Variegata’ (Big Periwinkle)
Vinca major (Big Periwinkle)
Vinca minor f. alba (Lesser Periwinkle)

When to Plant Periwinkle

  • Periwinkle is best planted in the spring or fall when the temperatures are cooler, and there is more rainfall. In areas with hot summers, it’s better to plant in the fall to avoid heat stress.

Where to Plant Periwinkle

Periwinkle, or Vinca, can be planted in various locations, including:

  • Garden beds: Periwinkle is often used as a ground cover in garden beds, where it can help control weeds and add color and texture to the landscape.
  • Borders: Planting periwinkle in borders can help define the edges of garden beds or walkways.
  • Containers: Vinca can be grown in pots or hanging baskets, making it a versatile plant for balconies, patios, or other small spaces.
  • Rock gardens: With its trailing habit and low-growing nature, periwinkle is an excellent choice for rock gardens.
  • Slopes: Periwinkle can be planted on slopes to help control erosion and add beauty to the landscape.

When choosing a location to plant periwinkle, ensure it is well-drained and receives adequate sunlight. Although periwinkle prefers partial shade, it can tolerate full sun in cooler climates, but in hot summer areas, it prefers shade. Periwinkle thrives in humus-rich soil but tolerates poor soil. It will grow in all but the driest soils

 

How to Plant Periwinkle

Here are the general steps for planting periwinkle:

  • Choose a location with well-draining soil that receives either partial shade or full sun.
  • Prepare the soil by removing weeds and adding compost or other organic matter if needed.
  • Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the root ball of the periwinkle plant.
  • Gently remove the plant from its container and loosen any tangled roots.
  • Place the plant in the hole, making sure the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
  • Space Vinca minor about 6 to 12 inches apart (15-30 cm), and Vinca major about 12 to 18 inches apart (30-45 cm). However, if you want them to fill in a space quickly, you can plant them closer together.
  • Be sure to provide enough space for the plants to spread and grow without crowding each other.
  • Avoid planting them near other small plants. Periwinkle spreads quickly and could choke out nearby plants.
  • Fill the hole with soil and press firmly around the base of the plant to eliminate air pockets.
  • Water the plant thoroughly and add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.
Vinca minor ‘Bowles’s Variety’ (Lesser Periwinkle)
Vinca minor ‘Ralph Shugert’ (Lesser Periwinkle)
Vinca minor (Lesser Periwinkle)

How to Care

Vinca is generally an easy plant to care for, and here are some tips for keeping it healthy:

  • Watering: Vinca plants like moist soil but don’t like to be waterlogged. Water them deeply once a week or more often in hot weather. Be sure to let the soil dry out between waterings.
  • Temperature: Vinca plants prefer moderate temperatures between 60-75°F (15-23°C) and do well in average humidity levels. They can tolerate brief periods of extreme heat or cold but may suffer damage in prolonged periods of intense weather.
  • Fertilizing: Vinca is not a heavy feeder and can grow well without fertilizer if the soil is fertile. However, if necessary, a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 blend, can be applied in early spring and mid-summer to encourage healthy growth and flowering. It is important to follow the recommended dosage on the fertilizer packaging and to water the plants thoroughly after application. Over-fertilizing can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering.
  • Pruning: Regular pruning helps to keep vinca plants healthy and encourages bushy growth. Trim back any overgrown or leggy stems to encourage fuller growth.
  • Mulching: Mulching helps to retain moisture in the soil and suppress weeds. Apply a 2-3 inch (5-7 cm) layer of organic mulch around the base of the plants, taking care not to cover the stems.
  • Winter care: Vinca is a hardy plant that can survive cold temperatures, but may benefit from a layer of mulch in colder regions to protect the roots.

By following these simple care tips, you can keep your vinca plants healthy and thriving.

How to Propagate

Vinca can be propagated in several ways:

  • Stem cuttings: Take stem cuttings about 4-6 inches long (10-15 cm) and remove the leaves from the lower half of the stem. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and plant it in a pot filled with a well-draining potting mix. Keep the soil moist and place the pot in a bright, but not direct, light. Roots should develop in a few weeks.
  • Division: Divide mature plants in the spring or fall. Dig up the plant and separate the roots into several clumps. Replant the clumps in the desired location.
  • Layering: Bury the lower part of a stem in a shallow trench while keeping the top part above ground. The stem will produce roots at the buried part, and once the roots have formed, it can be separated from the parent plant and planted elsewhere.
  • Seeds: Vinca seeds can be sown directly in the garden bed in the spring. Scatter the seeds and cover them with a light layer of soil. Keep the soil moist until the seeds have germinated.

Pests and Diseases

Vinca, like many other plants, can be susceptible to various pests and diseases. Some common ones include:

Aphids: These small insects can suck the sap from the leaves and cause the plant to weaken. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Leaf spot: This is a fungal disease that causes brown or black spots on the leaves. It can be prevented by keeping the foliage dry and treating it with a fungicide if necessary.

Spider mites: These tiny pests can cause yellowing of the leaves and fine webbing on the plant. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Stem blight: This is a fungal disease that can cause the stems to rot and turn black. It can be prevented by ensuring good air circulation around the plants and avoiding overhead watering.

Regular monitoring of the plants, proper watering, and good cultural practices can go a long way in preventing pests and diseases.

Click here to compare all Periwinkle varieties

Periwinkle Companion Plants

Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
Liriope muscari (Blue Lily Turf)
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ (Solomon’s Seal)
Puschkinia scilloides (Striped Squill)
Hakonechloa macra (Hakone Grass)
Hosta (Plantain Lily)

Frequently Asked Questions

Will periwinkle choke out other plants?

Vinca or periwinkle can become invasive and form dense mats, which may choke out other plants. This is especially true in areas where periwinkle is well-suited and there are no natural controls. It’s important to plant periwinkle in areas where its spread can be easily controlled, such as in raised beds or containers.

How to prevent vinca from spreading?

Vinca is a ground cover plant that has a tendency to spread rapidly, making it ideal for areas where you want dense coverage. However, if you want to prevent vinca from spreading, you can take the following steps:

  • Plant vinca in containers: Growing vinca in containers will help to contain its growth and prevent it from spreading.
  • Prune regularly: Pruning your vinca plants regularly will help to keep them in check and prevent them from spreading too much.
  • Use a barrier: To prevent vinca from spreading to unwanted areas, you can create a barrier using plastic or metal edging, buried at least 6 inches deep around the area where you want to keep the plant contained.
  • Limit watering and fertilizer: Vinca thrives in moist, fertile soil, so limiting the amount of water and fertilizer you give it can help to slow its growth.
  • Remove runners: If you notice runners or offshoots growing from your vinca plants, remove them promptly to prevent them from spreading.
Compare All Vinca (Periwinkle)
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 4 - 9
Plant Type Perennials, Shrubs
Genus Vinca
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Chalk, Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy, Evergreen
Tolerance Deer, Rabbit
Landscaping Ideas Hanging Baskets, Ground Covers, Beds And Borders, Banks And Slopes, Patio And Containers, Underplanting Roses And Shrubs
Garden Styles Gravel and Rock Garden, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Vinca (Periwinkle)
Compare Now
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