Vinca: A star in the garden

KELLY MARTIN/Wikimedia Commons<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->A vinca flower.

KELLY MARTIN/Wikimedia Commons<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->A vinca flower.

How would you like a plant that is easy to grow, blooms all summer, doesn't need deadheading, is drought tolerant and seldom bothered by insects and disease? How would you like a plant that thrives in the heat and that you can buy in the large chain stores locally?

Have I got your attention? This mighty plant is known by three names: vinca, periwinkle (or Madagascar periwinkle), and myrtle.

I am always amazed by the adaptability of plants. Vincas are native to North America, Europe, China and India.

The vinca that I described above has the botanical name Catharanthus. The plant botanists who first observed Catharanthus noticed that the flower closely resembled Vinca minor. They named it Vinca Rosea. By the time the botanists realized the differences between the plants, the name vinca had become too common to change.

Vinca as medicine

Gardeners and herbalists cultivated vinca for centuries. It was used to treat all kinds of diseases, ranging from coughs and sore throats to eye and lung infections. In the 20th Century, researchers discovered the plant contains dozens of alkaloids. Alkaloids lower blood pressure and blood sugar.

Prior to 1990, vincas were not very popular. This was due to a limited color range, which was mainly pink, rose, and white. Germination was poor.

Ron Parker began a breeding program in 1976 that spearheaded the popularity of vincas. He was able to introduce new colors, new plant habits, and improved garden performance.

Thank you Ron Parker! Commercial breeders became interested and the rest, as they say, is history.

You may start vinca from seed, but with the easy availability of starter plants, it hardly seems worth the effort.

Buying vinca

When buying vinca plants, look for ones with bright green foliage. Avoid any yellowed leaves - they indicate potential problems with root rot. Pass up leggy plants in favor of more compact ones.

Most vinca will be in bloom when you buy them and you can purchase the color you want.

Plant in full sun. In our part of the country, vincas appreciate some protection from the midday sun and the high wind.

Vinca prefers a slightly acidic soil that drains well. The soil doesn't have to be especially fertile. You can incorporate compost before planting.

Transplanting vinca is similar to transplanting other plants. Try to pick a windless day and generally transplant in the evening. They won't spend their first day in the ground sweltering through a long, hot day. Use a trowel to dig a hole; unpot the plant. Don't pull it out of the container by the foliage! Set it in the ground at the same level it was growing in the pot. Firm the soil around the root ball. Check the spacing distance on the tag. It varies with the vinca you bought. When you are done planting, water well. Try not to wet the plant's foliage.

These plants work well in containers, along borders or as a color feature in the flower garden. When not in bloom, which is seldom, the green leaves are a good visual in the bed.

This plant is so versatile, so pretty, so carefree it should be in everyone's garden. How about yours? It's in mine!