Periwinkle or Vinca
In this article we'll talk about periwhinkle, or vinca major and minor, which are also known as blue buttons, dwarf periwinkle, wintergreen, ground ivy, creeping vinca, death's flower, myrtle or creeping myrtle, among others.
The myrtle designation is confusing to some because the species isn't related to real myrtles in any way.
Vinca major, which has larger leaves, is also called blue periwinkle, bigleaf periwinkle and large periwinkle.
Both vincas are cultivated and cared for in similar ways, so what works for one will work for another as they are shown how to be grown successfully.
These two periwinkle are actually part of a genus of six species in the dogbane or Apocynaceae family. They are both evergreen, although two of the other species are herbaceous and dicideous, meaning they drop their leaves.
Vinca minor and major are both perrenials, although they are confused with Madagascar periwinkle at times, which is an annual.
Vinca Minor Photo
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For the most part, Periwinkle is used as a complementary ground cover, although many gardeners take advantage of its smothering ability to also use it to control weeds as well, which it effectively does.
The major difference between vinca major and minor is the size of the leaves, with vinca major being wider and larger, while vinca minor is more streamlined and narrow, as you can see in the photos above and below.
Periwinkle is also great for erosion control and filling in tough areas on steeper hills, as well as along banks. It's simply a nice looking flower that adds a lot to a garden or landscaping design with specific needs.
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Where to Grow Periwinkle
To get best results with periwinkle, plant it in a partially shaded area if it meets your purpose or needs. I mean by that whether you're using it for ground cover and edging, or whether it is grown for erosion control, filling in empty spots, weed control, or a combination of those.
Most gardeners or landscapers won't care too much about the best performance of the plant when using it for erosion and sowing it on banks, as it's more important that it lives and remains than if it looks as best as it can.
That doesn't mean vinca minor or vinca major won't look good on a hill in the full sun, just that it won't reach the level the optimum place in a partially shaded area provides it.
For general asethetic use in the garden, planting it in the shade will bring the best results, but that could be good or bad because it can spread and overtake other areas of the garden if you don't watch it.
That's why it's best to have them in an area of their own as a ground cover than mingling with other plants. You could of course put barriers in place if you want it placed in front of taller plants for a pleasant look. You can trim them if they go over the hidden barrier in attempts to spread itself.
As for soil conditions, it can thrive almost anywhere, with the usual caveat of having decent drainage. Periwinkle also prefers an acidic soil, but again, will grow almost anywhere.
Even full sun won't both the plant's health, although it can cause some discoloring of leaves, which may make the plant not quite as good looking as those out of the full sun.
But this is only talking of small degrees of difference here because of the hardiness of the plant. Just like two HD televisions, it's hard to tell the difference unless you have them close to one another to compare.
When to Plant Vinca
Vinca should be planted in the spring after all danger of frost is over.
You can start vinca in flats from 10 to 12 weeks before the final frost if you want to transplant them as seedlings in the spring.
How to Grow Vinca Flowers from Seed
How to Grow Vinca
If growing from seed and directly sowing them in the garden, you can either broadcast the seeds or be more careful and space them a little over a foot apart to give them room to spread.
The only difference is you'll have to do a little more work later if you think you need to thin out the broadcasted seeds.
For periwinkle seedlings being transplanted, dig a hole a little wider than the roots. The hole should be only deep enough where the top inch or so of the root ball is above the ground.
You can dig the hole a little deeper and fill it in as needed to easily bring this about until the root ball reaches the desired level.
Give the periwinkle's a good drink and they're ready to go.
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Taking Care of Vinca
After you give your vinca their initial drink, there's not too much more you'll have to do other than watch during hot spells to see if they need a little drink.
Some gardeners advocate giving them a consistent drink over the first couple of years during the summer to be sure the plants are established, but unless there are unusual circumstances, you probably won't have to do this at all.
But there are just enough possible exceptions for all plants in different zones to warrant at least giving them an occasional glance to be sure they're doing okay.
During the cooler months it would be surprising if you ever had to water the plants.
If your plants are in a well-drained area that may dry very quickly, you could mulch the plants until they fill in and become a mulch of their own.
Because they're so hardy there is not too much need to fertilize them. Usually once a season will be ample; at most twice a season. Many gardeners only fertilize every other year.
Remember, these will thrive under most conditions, and you in reality don't want them to be to overly hardy, as strange as that may sound, as they do well without much help.
In the first growing season you may have to do a little weeding, specifically with taller weeds that have emerged. Once the plant is established it will effectively block out the majority of weeds.
Using Vinca in the Garden
Periwinkle Expansion Management
Periwinkle isn't too invasive, although it will definitely take over the area you planted it in.
As mentioned earlier, it may extend into nearby areas, and an occasional survey of the bed or borders, or wherever you've planted it, will show you if you need to do a little removal to keep them in check.
In most cases it's not a big deal and is easily and quickly handled.
If you left them for years without checking their behavior, it could be a larger job, but most of us don't just leave things on their own completely.
Other than that possibility, controlling periwinkle spread is pretty easy.
Once you've got an established bed of vinca you should never have to propagate them again unless you want to start up a new bed, border or area to grow them.
This is because they're self-seeding and usually do a good job if you leave them alone.
Vinca: Insects and Disease
There are very few if any problems to be concerned with for vinca in regard to insects and disease.
If there area any problems, they're usually not big, and using the appropriate insecticide or fungicide should quickly eradicate if you caught it soon enough.
But as I said, it's rare that you should have to deal with any of these type of problems with vinca. Extreme wet weather could possibly trigger some issues for the plant.
Transplanting Vinca Periwinkle Flower Seedlings Indoors
Medicinal Uses for Vinca
There are a wide variety of medicinal uses for vinca, and through the years it has included aiding in better memory, concentration, lowering blood pressure, treating symptoms of colds and flu like sore throats and coughs, treating infections in the lungs and eys, and lowering the sugar level of diabetics.
It is also confirmed to have hypotensive, antibiotic, analgesic, and antibacterial properties, among numerous others.
Vicna can also be used to treat cancer via its alkaloids, which are separated from the plants and used to prevent cells from dividing. Regular cells which aren't dividing are, for the most part, not affected by the treatment.
Periwinkle or Vinca
As you can see, vinca or periwinkle is an amazing plant, which can be used in numerous ways to enhance the beauty of your yard, control erosion, add color and foliage to steep hills, control weeds, and last but not least, in numerous medicinal situations.
They are also great for use as bedding plants, edging and borders.
Add all this up together and it's easy to see why this extraordinary plant is so popular among so many diverse people.
And they're extremely easy to maintain once they're established in the garden. It doesn't get any better than that with flowers.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Tammy Winters from Oregon on September 01, 2020:
very nice article.... I still don't know for sure if what I have in my yard is periwinkle or not.
Jill Spencer from United States on May 09, 2012:
Hi Barbara. You're absolutely right. I didn't even plant the vinca. I think some of its roots were mixed in with part of a miniature rosebush I was given. Vinca would be perfect for a bank or hillside to stop erosion.
Thanks again for a thorough hub, MakinBacon. Take care!
The Dirt Farmer
Barbara Badder from USA on May 09, 2012:
this may be that these plants just grow too well in our area. My best advice about these plants is to keep them in an area where it doesn't matter if they'll spread anywhere else. We didn't know how invasive they can be and because you've got to get them out roots and all ended up with a horrendous job getting them out. If you just leave a tiny piece of vine or root, they'll pop right back up.
This is a well written article. I've just had some hard work created by vinca. They would be great in a container too if you keep them trimmed and dispose of the cuttings. A tiny cutting will start an entire new plant.
Jill Spencer from United States on May 08, 2012:
Well done, hub! I'm in the process of tearing vinca out of a flower bed. My, is it tenacious! It's practically strangled everything else in the bed. Hardy is not the word!