Common names: Vinca, catharanthus, Madagascar periwinkle
Latin names: Catharanthus roseus (vinca rosea)
Height: 18 inches
Zones rated: USDA 9-11/Sunset 1-24, H1-H2
Position: Full to partial sun
Soil: Sandy soil or potting soil
This star performer is one of my favorites for its ability to put up with all kinds of mistreatment and still bloom and thrive. Catharanthus roseus does well in high temperatures and will withstand drought conditions for a few days, even in the heat of summer. They don’t seem to be affected by a light frost. It will bloom most of the year in the desert.
Vincas do best with some shade during at least some of the day during summer. They start to look a little frazzled by the end of the day without some shade and tend to get somewhat leggy when they get a lot of sun. You can grow them in a mostly shady spot, but you won’t get as many flowers. The shady spot will mean the foliage is more lush. Part sun seems to be their favorite spot, with good foliage and plenty of blooms.
As with many plants, they prefer a richer soil, but will grow in sandy garden soil. Plant them in a container or raised bed filled with quality potting soil, and you’ll get extremely healthy plants and a brilliant display. In a poorer soil, they’ll do OK, but may look a little worse for wear after summer. Mulch over garden soil helps keep their roots moist and adds some nutrients to the soil.
Vincas will withstand dry soil to some extent. A vinca in a planter will most likely survive a few days without water at the height of summer, but it won’t be happy. If you see the leaves curling under, you’ve gone too long without watering. The plant will generally recover after a good watering, though. This makes them a good plant for those who are forgetful or don’t always check their sprinkler system every day. They do grow well in larger containers where they can spread out.
The deep green leaves mean you’ll always have some color. When they’re in partial shade, the leaves grow larger and keep their deep green. In sunnier spots, the foliage sometimes fades and leaves may drop off, leaving you with a less attractive plant.
The typical colors from a chain home improvement store are white with a pink center or a deep pink. You’ll usually only find the upright varieties at garden centers. If you want more variety in color and form, try online seed companies. Vinca ‘Cora Cascade’ is a mounding/trailing variety that seems extremely vigorous, even if it only comes in a few colors. It makes a beautiful display tumbling over a wall or the side of a planter. Vinca ‘Cora’ is a vigorous upright hybrid. If you’re buying seeds, you can find deep purples, lavenders, deep red, white with various center colors. As an added bonus, you don’t have to deadhead – the spent flowers simply fall off. They’ll occasionally self-seed, too.
I’ve had no problems with any pests on vincas.
If your vincas get leggy, cut them back close to the main stem. They’ll regrow bushy and healthy. You can use the clippings to propagate new plants.
You can buy Catharanthus roseus inexpensively in spring from garden centers in packs of six or more. It’s usually around $2 for a flat of six, which is plenty of bang for your buck for a perennial. The plants will be small, but they grow reasonably fast – up to their full size in a summer if conditions are right.
Even if the leaves have curled up from the soil being dry, all is not lost. Give the vincas some water and they’ll usually come back to life within a few days.
Take stem cuttings of at least 3 inches. Remove the lower leaves, dip in rooting hormone and plant in a pot. Water regularly. Take a few more cuttings than you need as the success rate can be patchy.
You can also grow vincas from seed. They take a while to be large enough to plant in the garden, but seeds offer more color options than chain home improvement stores. Start them indoors in winter for planting in late spring. Give the seedlings plenty of light. They’re not difficult to grow from seed as long as you provide warmth and light.
Catharanthus roseus will occasionally self-seed, but don’t seem to do it to the point of becoming invasive.