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Very Vinca Pretty Periwinkle

Trailing Vinca Vine plant growing in a window boxVinca, also known as Periwinkle (a much cuter and more illustrative name), is a beautiful, fast-growing, prolific plant from the family Apocynaceae, or Dogbane. It is a drought-tolerant annual and is recommended for hot, dry planting areas in need of some gorgeous bursts of color. Vinca vine has six different species. The Vinca's flowers are usually blue or blue-ish purple and are solitary, and funnel-shaped. They are found in 43 of the 50 United States. They're native to North America (that's the U.S. and Canada), as well as Europe, China and India.

Their beauty is enhanced by shiny, glossy green leaves. The flowers bloom from seeds from late spring to early summer in moist, well-drained soil, but vinca tolerates soil that may even be poor and dry. Vinca fares well in part shade to shade, and will tolerate a Northern sun if they're given sufficient moisture.  Space plants 12 to 15 apart, water well when planting, and after, only water when there are extended droughts. They'll grow one to two feet tall. A general fertilizer needs only to be added once or twice a season. Mulch around dry areas to keep soil moist.

Vinca vine is popular with landscapers who use it in their designs for everything from cascading from containers, in  woodland gardens, on slopes for erosion control and as vigorous aggressive ground cover.  Vinca should not be chosen as a plant in a garden or yard where containment of it is preferred, because it will spread quickly.

Vinca major and Vinca minor, two of the six Vinca species, are extensively cultivated as a flowering evergreen ornamental plant, but they are also sometimes considered invasive species and weeds. Because the plants are low-growing and spread quickly, they are often used as a ground cover in garden landscapes and container gardens, or, specifically, fire-retardant ground cover. They are available with different plant, leaf, and flower colors, sizes, and habits.

Maculata Vinca VineThe Vinca major species come in deep blue (with green-edged, gold/white centered leaves) and blue (with large furry leaves). There are more variations with the Vinca minor, which are available in white, double white, white with creamy variegated leaves, blue (with white variegated leaves), reddish-purple, blue (with deep-yellow, variegated leaves), light blue, light blue (with less-diseased leaves), white/pink blush, double blue, light blue (with golden margin leaves), lavender blue (with chartreuse leaves), light blue (with green edges, gold/white centers), pure white, sky blue (with glossy, wide white-margin leaves), pink, dark blue (with white-margin leaves) and pale blue (with yellow variegated leaves).

Vinca's other four species are Vinca herbacea, Vinca difformis, Vinca erecta, and Vinca pubescens. Other pseudonyms the Vinca goes by are Periwinkle, Madagascar Periwinkle and Myrtle.

Extracts from Vinca are used medicinally. Of the 86 alkaloids extracted, there are some that are used as chemotherapy to treat leukemia, lymphoma and several other types of cancer. It's also used for lowering blood pressure, sugar levels for diabetics, and treatment for coughs, colds and sore throats, as well as treating eye and lung infections.

Vincas are hardy and not often plagued by bugs or illness. In humid or wet weather, fungus can occasionally occur. If either bugs or ailments/disease attack, treat immediately with repellants or fungicide.

2 Responses to “Very Vinca Pretty Periwinkle”

  1. Sue S. says:

    I read your blog about vinca vines with great interest. I have a few patches that are 10 years old and beginning to look leggy or empty in the center and do not flower very much. How can I get these plants back into shape? I do fertilize and try to rake the debris from them each spring to remove the dead leaves and shoots. Also if I cut off the empty runners, will they sprout roots and eventially turn into a plant?

    Thanks for your help.

  2. Karen says:

    Sue,

    There are a couple of vines used as groundcover that are both commonly called vinca, and sadly they are very similar looking. Vinca major, referred to in the blog, and the similar-looking Wintercreeper, are often confused. Vinca is a member of the Apocynaceae family, and Wintercreeper is a member of the Euonymus family. Wintercreeper is a woody, perennial vine with small greenish clusters of flowers on long flower stalks producing round fruits maturing to an orangish color in June and July. These long, woody vines can reach more than 20 feet. The leaves are always dark green with prominent veins. Vinca major, the ground cover type, has a similarly shaped leaf but is usually a brighter green color. Its stems are also more slender and can root easily where they touch. The blooms that appear in the spring are the typical periwinkle blue color.

    The varieties we feature on our site are normally used as pot fillers to serve as the “spiller” aspect of the “thriller, filler and spiller” rule of pot arrangement. You will see that ours offer some unusual leaf variegation and coloring to really add interest to your containers.

    As to your question of revitalizing your ten-year-old groundcover, my suggestion might sound a bit harsh. Whether you have Wintercreeper or Vinca, both are considered invasive. However, both can be handled with a fairly heavy hand to keep them in line and neither require any fertilization. If you have Wintercreeper with the heavier stems, you can run over it with a mower and force it to produce new growth. You can take cuttings to help fill in areas that have died out. If you have Vinca, you can still cut it way back to encourage new growth but I would use a string trimmer or a hedge trimmer to do it. Wintercreeper is especially aggressive, capable of growing over rocks and completely eliminating native groundcovers and spring ephemerals, and even can degrade natural forests.

    Good luck with your groundcover and try some of our pretty, and less troublesome, varieties in some of your summer pot arrangements.

    Happy gardening,
    Karen

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