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Growing Annual Vinca Flowers [Catharanthus Roseus]

Called annual vinca, Madagascar periwinkle or Catharanthus roseus; gardeners like this summer flower for hot weather. Deer and rabbits avoid vinca plants.

The annual vinca flower, botanically called Catharanthus roseus, is a warm season summer plant. It blooms until fall through heat, drought and pollution whether planted in a garden bed or a container.

Vinca flowers attract butterflies but not deer or rabbits, making this plant an excellent distraction to edge kitchen or vegetable gardens. The evenly balanced form of the flowering vinca plant makes it an appropriate foil against plants with highly dissected leaves or multiple clusters of tiny inflorescence.

Identifying an Annual Vinca Plant

The annual vinca plant is a flowering ground cover whose blooms continue opening all summer. Catharanthus roseus is used in beds and containers for its mass of flowers, and color, but should not be confused with other types of vinca.

Also called Madagascar periwinkle, this annual grows 8” – 18” tall and wide. Gardeners picture an upright plant for a sunny garden; however there are other types of vinca, some with a trailing habit or those that prefer shade. The succulent stems of annual vinca have glossy dark green oblong leaves running from the base to the tip.

The five-petaled flower has a center hole leading into a thin tube where butterflies find nectar. Annual vinca flowers range from violet, pink, peach or white; in one shade or in halos with an alternate colored center or eye.

Propagating Madagascar Periwinkles for the Following Summer

Madagascar periwinkles can be kept for the following summer by over wintering them indoors. An economical choice, for the same reason gardeners propagate geraniums or coleus. Take cuttings from vinca using these steps:

  1. Grow plants over summer.
  2. Cut healthy stems with a clean sharp knife or scissors.
  3. Remove leaves from lower on the stem.
  4. Plant in a loose soilless plant mix kept moist.
  5. Transplant into pots placed in a sunny window, such as east facing.
  6. Harden off plants in spring before permanently growing back outside.

Gardeners who love impatiens have another reason for growing vinca plants. For those with planting sites in full sun, the vinca plant is an appropriate alternative to the favorite annual for shade. The flower form of Madagascar periwinkle is the same as impatiens and, like impatiens; vinca plants are self-cleaning, requiring no deadheading.

Upright and Trailing Vinca Varieties

Catharanthus roseus are available in many varieties, including trailers able to spill over a pot’s edge. Gardeners will want to avoid other types of vinca plants if bold color is the goal for a garden.

Vinca major is a trailing vine commonly called vinca vine. The leaves are variegated and the plant has infrequent blue flowers. However, gardeners like vinca vine for combination with annuals like geraniums and spike or used for hanging baskets and window boxes.

Vinca minor is a shade plant also called periwinkle, the flowers are blue or white. This evergreen vining plant is so hardy, even in northern gardens, that Vinca minor has been labeled invasive in many states.

Catharanthus roseus flowers bloom in many colors; gardeners will find them in mixes and series:

  • Mediterranean series is a trailing vinca spreading 20” – 30” with flowers that have a red or rose halo and white center.
  • ‘Cascade Appleblossom’ has light pink blooms trailing against the dark green foliage.
  • ‘Peppermint Cooler’ is an upright white flower with a red eye; it too does better than most vinca where gardens remain cool and wet.
  • Titan™ F1 Series is tall, up to 16”, earlier flowering in red, white and bubble gum-colored mixes.
  • Pacifica Series is an open-pollinated group, for seed-starting, in orange, red, orchid, burgundy and white flowers.

Annual vinca plants are not known for disease issues, but are susceptible to conditions caused by cool damp weather. Consider the recent series Cora and Cora Cascade. The plants are tall, at 14” – 16”, with blooms opening earlier in Apricot, Cherry, Lilac and Polka Dot colors. This vinca resists aerial Phystophthora and will work especially well in hot humid gardens.

Madagascar Periwinkles for a Hot Weather Garden

In 2002, the National Garden Bureau named it the “Year of the Vinca.” Madagascar periwinkles thrive in hot weather even where drought conditions develop in summer. Called a warm-season annual, vinca’s aversion to wet roots makes it excellent for container gardens where it is easy for soil to dry out between watering.

Most often planted in a mass for the high impact of color vincas offer, Catharathus roseus will attract pollinators and can be planted to deter deer. Taken from a cutting garden, the blooms of Madagascar periwinkles are useful in small bouquets of flowers for a vase.

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