Bowles Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Bowles Periwinkle, Common Periwinkle, Dwarf Periwinkle, Lesser Periwinkle, Periwinkle, Running Myrtle, Vinca

Vinca minor, the “dwarf periwinkle”, is one of the groundcovers. In general, however, the plant is also referred to as “lesser periwinkle” or “myrtle”. With its long stolons it covers even large areas and forms beautiful, blue-violet flowers. You can enjoy this wonderful flower from spring to the end of the summer.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Vinca minor (common names lesser periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle) is a species of flowering plant in the dogbane family, native to central and southern Europe, from Portugal and France north to the Netherlands and the Baltic States, east to the Caucasus, and also southwestern Asia in Turkey. Other vernacular names used in cultivation include small periwinkle, common periwinkle, and sometimes in the United States, myrtle or creeping myrtle.

Vinca minor is a trailing subshrub, spreading along the ground and rooting along the stems to form large clonal colonies and occasionally scrambling up to 40 centimeters (16 in) high but never twining or climbing. The leaves are evergreen, opposite, 2–4.5 centimeters (0.79–1.77 in) long and 1–2.5 centimeters (0.39–0.98 in) broad, glossy dark green with a leathery texture and an entire margin.

The flowers are solitary in the leaf axils and are produced mainly from early spring to mid summer but with a few flowers still produced into the autumn; they are violet-purple (pale purple or white in some cultivated selections), 2–3 centimeters (0.79–1.18 in) diameter, with a five-lobed corolla. The fruit is a pair of follicles 2.5 centimeters (0.98 in) long, containing numerous seeds.

The closely related species Vinca major is similar, but larger in all parts, and also has relatively broader leaves with a hairy margin.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Vinca minor grows in partial sun, partial shade, and full shade. It tolerates deep shade conditions but may burn in direct sunlight. For best results, plant them in partial shade. Also, they are a good choice for a ground cover for an area with dry shade.

Temperature and Humidity

Although it is a long-lived plant, it can suffer from many diseases, especially in humid, wet climates.3 They are completely intolerant of frost, so if you want to bring them in for the winter, be sure to move the plants indoors when night temperatures drop down to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Watering

The watering of the dwarf periwinkle is dependent on the location. If, for example, the plant has been placed in a very sunny spot, it may be necessary to water it every day during the hot season. In winter, however, you should only slightly pour the plant.

Soil

Vinca minor vines require good drainage. Space them about a foot apart if you want to fill in an area quickly. Achieving vigorous growth is usually not difficult for these plants. Indeed, the very fact that they grow so well can sometimes be a problem. They will thrive in soils rich in compost, but they will tolerate poorer soils.

Fertilizing

Fertilizer gives vinca minor a boost, making its foliage a more brilliant green and may help produce more blooms. Fertilizing your vinca minor monthly with an evenly balanced fertilizer (equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) may be helpful if your soil lacks sufficiently rich organic matter, but it is not necessary since vinca minor does well in poor soil, too.

Planting Instructions

Spring is the best time for the planting of vinca minor:

  • remove existing weeds at the chosen spot
  • afterwards, the soil should be well loosened so that the small roots can grow quickly and safely
  • if you have some, you should also mix some mulch or well-rotten garden compost to the soil
  • now remove the pot from the root ball and dig a plant hole
  • then place the vinca minor in the center of the hole and use the soil to fill it up to it’s half
  • afterwards, you should thoroughly slurry the hole with water and add the remaining soil

Optimal planting distance

When you finally plant the vinca minor into your garden, it is advisable to keep a certain planting distance, so that the dwarf periwinkle will delight you with a magnificent growth and a beautiful bloom. For example, you should only use ten to twelve plants on one square meter of area if you want the area to become green quickly. If a quick greening is not so important to you, then you can also safely use fewer plants.

Replanting

Vinca minor can be completely or partially replanted without problems.

Proceed as follows:

  • carefully remove the chosen part of the plant from the soil
  • to do this, use a small garden shovel or a similar tool
  • shake off the old soil
  • if necessary, remove rotten or damaged roots
  • place the vinca minor to the desired location as described under “Planting” and pour it well
  • it won’t take long until the plant grows well and makes you happy with its fast growth and flowering

Pruning

You can prune the plants – preferably in the fall after flowering – however this is generally only necessary if the lesser periwinkle groundcover surface has not become properly dense. Tip: Simply plant the shoot cuttings in the gaps between the plants – they will take root without any problem.

Propagation

 Vinca minor can be grown from seed, but it grows slowly. You can also do a stem cutting, but that takes a little more work since you have to get the stem to root. Your best bet is to use divisions or nursery transplants. Dividing established plants is the quickest way to propagate.

Cuttings

Cuttings can generally be generated from May to autumn. However, the soil should not be frozen. Make sure that each cutting has one or two pairs of leaves. Immediately after cutting, you should place the cuttings either in a pot with conventional moist soil or in moist peat. Within a short time, the cuttings will already form roots, so you can then replant them into the garden or into a larger pot.

Dividing

To divide vinca minor, take these easy steps:

  • Dig all the way around the clump of the plant that you want to transplant and lift it up. The plants have shallow roots, so you will not have to dig too deep.
  • Plant the division immediately at the same level it had been growing.
  • Pat down the soil around the plant roots, then water thoroughly.

Pests and Diseases

Since the dwarf periwinkle is quite robust, hardly any pests and diseases are known for this beautiful plant. Even slugs will usually avoid the plant. Only rusts, the grey leaf spot disease and the phoma root and stem rot may attack the vinca minor under certain circumstances.

Rusts

Rust is recognizable by the characteristic round, black-brown spots. An infestation mainly occurs when the location is characterized by an excessively high humidity. Rusts can usually be fought only with chemical agents. However, it is often much better to remove and dispose of the plant immediately, in order to prevent spreading.

Grey leaf spot disease

The gray leaf spot disease is recognizable by its clearly visible brown patches. In the later phase of the disease the individual spots on the leaves will merge. If the infestation is noticed at an early stage, the affected parts of the plant should be removed immediately. With a more advanced infestation, there is no other option left than to dispose of the whole plant, since the gray leaf spot disease can usually not be fought. For prevention, it is advisable to pay attention to the plant spacing so that sufficient air can circulate between the individual plants.

Winter protection

Vinca minor is a very robust plant and it is also winterhart. Depending on which variety of periwinkle you have, the plant may even tolerate temperatures down to -20 degrees. Thus you can leave the dwarf periwinkle in the garden, even in winter. For very severe frosts it is however advisable to cover the plant with brushwood or garden fleece.

On the other hand, you must not use bark to cover the plants, since it emits tannic acid. This adversely affects the growth of the plant. In addition, bark mulch promotes the growth of field horsetail. You should also make sure that the dwarf periwinkle gets enough water even in case of frost. Generally, however, you should sparingly pour the plants in winter.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Use

As an evergreen plant with magnificent, long lasting flowers, the vinca minor very much used in gardens and parks. Likewise, however, it is also possible to use the beautiful plant for grave decoration. For this purpose, usually quite flat growing varieties are chosen, such as the vinca minor Anna and the vinca minor Marie. These also have a fairly fine foliage, so they don’t have an all too bulky appearance.

  • Toxic

The dwarf periwinkle belongs to the family of the dogbane plants and is thus poisonous. Because of this, you should not leave your pets, such as rabbits, dogs and cats, as well as your children, near this plant unattended. The vinca minor is toxic in all parts. If it happens that your children or pets are eating pieces of the plant, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Bowles Periwinkle (Vinca minor) Details

Common name Bowles Periwinkle, Common Periwinkle, Dwarf Periwinkle, Lesser Periwinkle, Periwinkle, Running Myrtle, Vinca
Botanical name Vinca minor
Plant type Ground Cover
Hardiness zone 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 0 ft. 3 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
Width 0 ft. 3 in. - 0 ft. 6 in.
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Blue
Leaf color Green