What is commonly referred to as vinca, can be found as both an annual and perennial…but they are not the same plant. Let me explain:
Perennial vinca (sometimes called periwinkle or creeping myrtle) can be found in two basic forms: Vinca minor and Vinca major. Vinca major is slightly bigger, slightly less cold hardy and slightly less shade tolerant than vinca minor. There is also a herbaceous vinca, but we won’t get into that.
Annual vinca isn’t even vinca …and its not always an annual. When botanists first discovered it, they thought it looked similar to vinca and named it Vinca rosea. They later discovered that it behaves quite differently than vinca and changed its name to Catharanthus roseus. By that time it was too late and the name had already stuck.
♪♪ You say vinca, I say Catharanthus roseus ♪♪
For practical purposes I’ll call these plants Annual Vinca and Perennial Vinca. This is all you’ll need to know when buying them at the store. Only overly educated plant geeks (like myself) will want to explain the name difference to you.
Lets talk about the Annuals.
In India annual vinca are called Sadaphuli. The name means always flowering. These beauties will flower from early spring until late fall if the weather stays reasonably warm. Vinca flowers can range from white to shades of purple, pink and red. They are tidy little plants. No need to deadhead the spent blooms. This plant is self cleaning.
Its foliage is dark green and leathery, with a shiny appearance. They look so good, you’d swear they are fake! Because each plant it compact and low growing (under 2 ft) they make great border plants. Annual vinca do really well in heat and drought. Although they don’t particularly like cool temperatures or moisture, they will grow nicely in most climates in the summertime. They prefer full sun, but they’ll do just fine in partial sun.
Annual vinca is a tropical/subtropical plant. In hot areas, they grow as a perennial. In warm areas they grow as a self seeding annual. In cooler areas, like here in NE Ohio, they will usually need to be planted each year.
Annual vinca is not terribly hard to grow from seed as long as you are careful with your moisture levels. Too much moisture in the soil can cause the seeds to rot or the seedlings to have fungal issues. (Something else helpful to know: They germinate in the dark.) Its pretty inexpensive to just buy the plant at a garden center. Around here, Walmart sells them in packs of 6 for under $2.00. Water them right after planting, then not again unless you see the leaves start to curl.
Now lets talk about Perennials.
Perennial vinca (called vinca major and minor) are trailing evergreen vines. They don’t climb like ivy, but spread low across the ground. Perennial vinca grows best in shady areas and prefers cool, moist soil. Once they become established they will begin to spread. In some states they are on the invasive plant list. Vinca major is more aggressively invasive than vinca minor.
Although invasive, vinca minor is still sold as a common ornamental ground cover and is great for covering up unsightly objects- like tree stumps. Vinca minor, in most cases, will not choke out other plants growing in the area. They just fill in around them. Vinca major, being more aggressive, can take over other plants in your flower bed. There are variegated leaf varieties of vinca minor that are said to be easier to control.
I have vinca minor growing in a landscape bed between my driveway and front lawn. I planted a little and it spread quickly in areas where I wanted it to. I have not found it hard to contain. My normal lawn mowing routine has been enough to keep stray vines from trying to root into my grass. It added color to a shady area of my landscape and since it has filled in, I no longer need to mulch that bed.
Vinca major has larger leaves and larger flowers than vinca minor. Both bloom early spring into late fall. Purplish-blue flowers are most common, although there are some cultivators that produce white and red flowers. The blooms on vinca minor are relatively small- they measure about an inch across. Vinca major boasts blooms that are double that size.
Perennial vinca can be grown from seed and is easily grown from cuttings. Perennial vinca have 2 types of stems: flowering and rooting. Simply select a vine that does not have a flower and root it as a softwood cutting.
Major vs Minor (Is it little league season yet?)
- smaller leaves and flowers
- thrives in shade
- perennial evergreen
- less invasive
- grow to about 1 ft and are more compact than vinca major
- larger leaves and flowers
- slightly less shade tolerant
- slightly less cold tolerant
- more invasive
- grow to about 2 ft high
Vinca flowers are a low maintenance way to add color to your garden and landscapes, but there are big differences between the annual vinca and perennial vinca. Let’s recap.
- Thrives in hot, dry temperatures
- Full sun
- Self seeding annual in warm climates
- Neat, compact border plant
- Cool, moist soil
- Great for shady areas
- Evergreen vine
- Used as spreading ground cover
- Can be invasive