Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major)

Big Leaf Periwinkle, Blue Buttons, Blue Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Periwinkle

Vinca major, commonly known as the greater periwinkle, is a hardy evergreen ground cover plant. It is a popular landscaping plant due to its ability to form a dense mat of glossy green foliage. The attractive blue-purple flowers that bloom from spring through to autumn are another great advantage that makes gardeners fall in love with this plant.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Vinca major, with the common names bigleaf periwinkle, large periwinkle, greater periwinkle and blue periwinkle, is a species of flowering plant in the family Apocynaceae, native to the western Mediterranean. Growing to 25 cm (10 in) tall and spreading indefinitely, it is an evergreen perennial, frequently used in cultivation as ground cover.

Vinca major is a trailing vine, spreading along the ground and rooting along the stems to form dense masses of groundcover individually 2–5 m across and scrambling up to 50–70 cm high.

The leaves are opposite, nearly orbicular at the base of the stems and lanceolate at the apex, 3–9 cm long and 2–6 cm broad, glossy dark green with a leathery texture and an entire but distinctly ciliate margin, and a hairy petiole 1–2 cm long.

The flowers are hermaphrodite, axillary and solitary, violet-purple, 3–5 cm diameter, with a five-lobed corolla. The calyx surrounding the base of the flower is 10–17 millimeters (0.39–0.67 in) long with hairy margins. The flowering period extends from early spring to autumn.

This species is found in southern Europe and northern Africa, from Spain and southern France east to the western Balkans, and also in northeastern Turkey and the western Caucasus. These are also found in lower Himalayan ranges in Asia. It prefers moist undergrowth, woodlands, hedgerows and banks along the rivers at an altitude of 0–800 meters (0–2,625 ft) above sea level. It grows well in full sun and in deep shade.

Vinca major is an invasive species in temperate parts of the United States, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. It is especially a common noxious weed ‘smothering’ native plants and diversity in riparian areas and oak woodland habitats of coastal California. It forms dense strains that envelop other plant life and can prevent saplings and shrubs from growing by blocking out the light. Periwinkle moves from place to place, with unintentional human help, in dumped garden waste or as plant fragments carried along in water.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Bigleaf periwinkle can be grown in full shade to full sun, though it seems to do best in partial shade. Planting in full sun may cause the leaves to dry out in hot weather, so keep the plant watered during periods of intense heat.

Temperature and Humidity

Bigleaf periwinkle is not as cold-hardy as ordinary periwinkle. It prefers a temperate climate. But if it’s planted near a stone or brick structure it may retain enough warmth to become a perennial in a colder zone.

Watering

Vinca major prefers consistently moist soil, so water it regularly during dry spells. Water deeply, so the moisture reaches the roots. Before watering, check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry at this depth, it’s time to water.

While greater periwinkle likes moist soil, it does not tolerate standing water. Make sure the soil is well-draining and that there are no areas where water can collect. During hot, dry weather, you may need to water more frequently.

However, during cool or rainy weather, you may not need to water as often.  Adding a layer of mulch around the plants can help retain moisture and reduce the frequency of watering. Watering your plant in the morning allows the leaves to dry before evening, reducing the risk of disease.

It’s important not to overwater Vinca major, as this can lead to root rot and other problems. To avoid overwatering, make sure the soil has good drainage and allow the soil surface to dry slightly between waterings.

Soil

Not very fussy about soil, bigleaf periwinkle has a habit of appearing in surprising places, such as creeping out from under other plantings or growing near a foundation. It prefers a well-drained, slightly acidic soil to flourish. If your bigleaf periwinkle is growing in clay soil and seems to be lackluster or not forming very many flowers, try enriching your soil with a mix of peat moss and compost.

Fertilizing

This hardy ground cover should not require any fertilizer if the soil it’s planted in is healthy and has good drainage.

Propagation

Vinca major can be propagated easily by rooting stem cuttings or by dividing the plant. This makes it a popular choice for gardeners and landscapers. Here are the steps for each method:

Stem cuttings: Take 3- to 4-inch-long stem cuttings from healthy plants. Remove the leaves from the lower part of the stem, leaving a few at the top. Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone powder, and insert it into moist potting soil or a mix of sand and peat moss.

Water well, and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Place the cutting in a warm, bright spot but out of direct sunlight. The cutting should root in about 2-4 weeks.

Division: To divide the greater periwinkle, dig up an established plant and carefully separate the roots into smaller sections, making sure each section has a healthy root system and some foliage.

Replant the sections in their new location, spacing them at least 12 inches apart. Water well and keep the soil moist until the new plants are established.

With either method, it’s important to keep the soil moist and to protect the new plants from direct sunlight until they are well established. Once the new plants have taken root, they should grow vigorously and fill in the area nicely.

Potting and Repotting

Bigleaf periwinkle is an ideal nearly zero-maintenance plant for container gardening because of its pretty flowers and trailing vines. It’s best planted on its own without companion plants. It doesn’t matter what type of pot you use as long as it has several drainage holes and is filled with well-draining soil. Place the pot in dappled sunlight and water when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry. There’s no need to water the plant, however, if the pot is receiving regular water from rainfall.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

The greater periwinkle is generally not susceptible to many pests or diseases. However, like any plant, it can occasionally be affected by a few common issues. Here are some of the pests and diseases that can affect your plant:

Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can suck sap from the plant, causing distorted growth and yellowing leaves. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Spider mites: These tiny pests can cause webbing and yellowing leaves. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Slugs and snails: These molluscs can eat holes in the leaves and stems of Vinca major. They can be controlled with slug bait or by handpicking.

Leaf spot: This fungal disease can cause brown or black spots on the leaves. It can be prevented by providing good air circulation and avoiding overhead watering.

Root rot: This fungal disease can occur in waterlogged soil and can cause the plant to wilt and die. It can be prevented by ensuring good drainage and avoiding overwatering.

Common Problems 

Bigleaf periwinkle is so trouble-free (except for its vigorous growth) that the only problem you may encounter is the result of overwatering. Too much water can be the result of frequent watering or rain, poor soil drainage due to compacted or heavy dirt, or poor drainage in a container if you have potted periwinkle. Waterlogged plants have oxygen-deprived roots and will begin to show these signs:

  • Droopy, wilting flowers and foliage
  • Yellowing leaves
  • Spotty leaves

Try fixing the problem if it is not too severe by watering the ground only when the first 2 inches of soil are dry to the touch. Water in the mornings, as well, so the air can dry excess moisture. For potted bigleaf periwinkle showing these signs, do not water as frequently. Eliminate the damaged areas If the problem is minor, repot the plant and cut off damaged roots, then try adding more drainage holes to the container to avoid further root rot.

III. How to Grow From Seed

Growing bigleaf periwinkle from seed is also possible though it takes longer. You will need to harvest seeds from the seed pods after blooms fade which could be in the late summer or early autumn. Start seeds in the spring before the last frost.

  • Collect the seeds from seed pods after blooms wilt. You will find the skinny pods close to the ground under the leaves. If the pods are already split there will not be any seeds inside because they have already dispersed.
  • Dry the seeds you do find and save them in a cool, dry place over the winter.
  • Start the seeds in a seed tray with a potting medium.
  • Keep this tray in a dimly lit, warm (75-77 degrees Fahrenheit) spot.
  • Use a mist sprayer to keep them moist until seedlings appear, then water lightly but regularly.
  • Seedlings can be transplanted to containers once they’re 2 inches tall.
  • Plant outside once all danger of frost has passed.

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Greater periwinkle (Vinca major) is a vigorous evergreen shrub that is loved for its blue and violet blooms. It grows in a dense clump or mat which means it makes an excellent ground cover plant, especially when combined with early-flowering hellebores. However, it isn’t the most common garden plant because of its aggressive growth. This plant grows well with oriental hellebores and pulmonarias and looks great in cottage, informal, coastal, and city gardens.

Big Leaf Periwinkle (Vinca major) Details

Common name Big Leaf Periwinkle, Blue Buttons, Blue Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Periwinkle
Botanical name Vinca major
Plant type Ground Cover
Hardiness zone 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Growth rate Fast
Height 0 ft. 8 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
Width 0 ft. 8 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition High Organic Matter
Flower color Blue
Leaf color Gold/Yellow