Grow Periwinkle Plants
To grow periwinkle plants is not difficult!
They are an easy to please plant that provides effective evergreen ground cover. This results in low maintenance gardening but also is good for nature.
Why grow periwinkle plants?
Occasionally found growing wild in our woods, the humble Periwinkle [Vinca minor] is a simple and yet tough little plant!
It’s a very useful garden plant too. I find that it gives good solid evergreen ground cover. Which is why it is the perfect plant for growing under large shrubs and trees where neatness, without a lot of work, is wanted.
No surprise then that this is a popular low maintenance garden plant. And a plant that is used widely by garden designers.
Are all periwinkles well behaved?
I’d like to give you a word of caution!
Do think long and hard before planting any of the large leaf [Vinca major] types.
For these can become bad neighbours and thugs that overwhelm nearby plants.
Vinca major varieties also have an untidy growth habit.
I find that far too many new stems arch up into the air and they invariably start to think that they are climbing plants!
These new shoots hitch hike onto the low branches of trees and shrubs and quickly look untidy.
I think that it’s also fair to say that the larger leaf Vinca major varieties are less effective at smothering weeds. As a consequence they are less effective ground cover plants.
So which are best?
The ones to go for are the smaller leaf Vinca minor types.
In my experience the best varieties are purple flowered V. minor ‘atropurpurea’, white ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, blue ‘Bowles Variety’ and silver variegated ‘Ralph Shugert’.
Mixing green leaf but different flower colours together works well [i.e. blue and white]. But I’d avoid mixing variegated varieties with green leaf types.
I’m especially fond of the silver edged Vinca minor variety called ‘Ralph Shugert’. I’m not sure of the connection but I met Ralph Shugert in the Pacific North West of USA. I was visiting gardens and nurseries in 1980 and he helped me immensely with my trip.
Along with others, I believe that he was instrumental in getting the International Plant Propagator’s Society off the ground. For several years I was an active member of IPPS here in the UK. That was when I was responsible for a large hardy plant seedling propagation nursery.
Ground cover plants
It’s good to know that all Vinca will tip root as they grow. This produces a total weed smothering mat.
Such a mat requires little other than the occasional trim around the edges. This is to limit the spread.
Shade loving and tolerant of all but the worst soils, this is truly an easy plant for all!
Where to grow periwinkle plants
All but the very worst poorly drained or bone-hard-dry-in-summer soils suit periwinkles!
And fortunately little needs to be added to soils to get them established.
However if you want a quick ground covering then a little effort digging the soil over and incorporating some organic matte before planting will get best results!
I’d suggest digging in composted green waste or well rotted garden compost.
Failing that you should be able to buy some composted bark.
Mats of periwinkles will grow where you struggle to grow a lawn!
This may be under large trees or where buildings cast a lot of shade.
So it may be worth considering giving up the struggle to keep grass green under trees and create a border of periwinkles instead.
Of course periwinkles will never need mowing!
How to grow periwinkle plants
Watering during the first summer [or until well established] on dry sites is essential.
I’d recommend spacing plants at 5 plants per square metre.
If the plants are small then plant closer and more densely.
Do expect the variegated leaf forms to be just a little slower to give you annual weed smothering ground cover.
Of course you will need to kill pernicious perennial weeds before planting. By that I mean creeping thistle, docks, couch grass, bindweed, etc.
This may require several applications before hand of Roundup or Resolva 24h weedkillers.
The alternative to this would be to thoroughly dig the soil and remove roots of these tough weeds before planting your Vinca.
I’ve written in more detail about weed control here.
Under-plant with bulbs!
I’d recommend creating seasonal displays among periwinkles by planting spring flowering bulbs.
Choose bulbs that will spread and colonise the area. I’ve written about bulbs that naturalise here.
Daffodils are best for this with the varieties ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘Little Witch’ being outstanding.
Native Narcissus pseudonarcissus [lobularis] and N. obvalaris will seed themselves and spread without producing obvious clumps.
All these daffodils have shorter stiff stems. And yet they are tall enough to grow above the Vinca foliage.
Avoid very low growing bulbs such as Scilla sibirica, snowdrops, Aconites and Muscari [Grape Hyacinths] since these will not be tall enough to be seen.
Finally, a low maintenance solid ground covering of periwinkle is a superb habitat for invertebrates. The cover it provides will provide plenty of food for other wildlife higher up the food chain.
Which is your favourite Vinca minor variety?
Do you like the blue, white or the purple flowered forms best?
I’ve written about other ground cover plants to grow here.
Winter flowering heathers are good ground cover plants and low maintenance too. Read about them here.
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