Vinca major and Vinca minor, sisters battling for our gardens


Vinca is a plant genus that’s part of the dogbane family.

Key Vinca facts

Name: Vinca   –  Common: Periwinkle
FamilyApocynaceae (dogbane)
Type – perennial

Bearing (V. major) – trailing vine
Bearing (V. minor) – ground cover
Height – 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 cm)
Soil type – any type, moist but draining

Exposure: full sun to full shade – Blooming: spring, sometimes again in fall

Two kinds of Vinca exist, major and minor. This is among the easiest plants to care for, except if your area is prone to drought. In that case, you’ll have to work hard to keep Vinca happy! Both types of Vinca require similar care.

  • Note: invasive in California, Australia, and more

Planting Vinca

Usually you’ll be purchasing Vinca in a pot, perhaps with flowers already so you’re sure of the variety. It grows in the wild along riverbanks, so best try and reproduce that.

How to plant Vinca in the ground

Consistent moisture is needed, so don’t select a dry spot in the garden!

  • Vinca plantingDig a hole a bit deeper than the clump.
  • Add one part manure/ripe compost to three parts garden soil for faster growth.
  • Make sure soil drains well or you’ll risk root rot. Add clay hydroton at the bottom of the hole if needed.
  • Backfill and cover with plant mulch to lock moisture in and keep soil cool.

Space plants by 12 inches (30 cm) when preparing a flower bed.

Growing Vinca in pots

Vinca will do very well in containers and pots, provided that:

  • drainage is good
  • watering is regular.

Indeed, an unwatered potted  vinca will die within a few days. Add hydrogel crystals to the potting soil as a fallback when unable to water.

Growing Vinca from seed

Seeds often appear after flowers. Certain store-bought varieties are hybrids, their seeds might not set or grow. Nonetheless, if you do get seeds, it’s easy to sow vinca:

  • plant directly in the ground, two or three seeds in a shallow seed hole.
  • Space by about 12 inches (30 cm).
  • Cover with a very thin layer of soil mix, 1/4th inch (0.5 cm).
  • After sprouting, wait for several real pairs of leaves to appear. Then, thin out weaker plants to only leave the strongest.

If there are many slugs or snails, wait for the plants to have at least 4 pairs of leaves before thinning or transplanting. Protect them well because those fresh leaves are very appealing to them!

Watering Vinca periwinkle

After planting, in the ground, water abundantly and immediately. If you have a cover of mulch, it may be enough to water once a week, but if you notice the soil is dry an inch underground near your periwinkle, water right away.

  • Summer and spring are when water is most critical. In winter, usually, there’s no need to water your vinca. Normal rains cover its needs.

Best practice is to water at ground level or with an irrigation system so leaves don’t get wet. This deters leaf diseases. In dry climates, you might even set up an underground mini-aquifer!

Vinca plant care


You can let this plant grow freely, it doesn’t need any pruning.

Pruning vincaAs a vine, Vinca major might go in places you don’t intend it to. Redirect growth along a lattice or trellis, or snip stems off when not to your liking.

Snipping stems will lead to branching and make your plant more lush and dense.

For a particularly bushy container vinca, snip or pinch stems every 3 leaf pairs as it grows. Do this to each consecutive branch for 3 to 5 weeks early spring, and you’ll have loads of flowers later on!

Vines and stems that bend back to the ground take root and spread from there. It’s similar to the layering of strawberry. This makes the plant invasive in non-native environments since it spreads fast.

Fertilizing vinca

Fertilizer leads to vigorous blooming and growth, but vinca still does fine in poor soil. If you do fertilize, only do so two or three times in spring, at one-month intervals.

  • One of the advantages of mulching with plant materials such as ramial wood chips, lawn trimmings or coffee grounds is that after a year or two, everything breaks down into nutrients.
  • Another good source of fertilizer are weed teas. They convert weeds into a nutritious liquid fertilizer.

Diseases and pests

Water directly at soil level, especially during the summer, or powdery mildew might develop on leaves.

  • White powder-like dust on vinca leaves – powdery mildew
  • Aphids – leaves turn sticky, ants travel back and forth along stems
  • Spider mite – tiny webby strands appear between leaves

Although vinca is a riverside plant, it’s vulnerable to root rot if soil doesn’t drain well.

Different types of vinca

Vinca major

Vinca is excellent for ground cover.Vinca major grows taller, hence the botanical name. It grows all over itself to a height of 2 feet (60 cm). However, if vining vinca finds a shrub or trellis, it’ll start inching upwards. It isn’t as good a climber as other vines, though. Plants like Mandevilla or jasmine climb much higher.

Usually, flowers are a range of violet-blue. Interestingly, nurseries are able to offer white or red varieties nowadays.

Vinca minor

A shorter growth is what distinguishes Vinca minor. It usually tops out at around 1 foot (30 cm). This is ideal for ground cover, as it will sprawl all over the place without endangering shrubs. An excellent plant to replace lawn grass with.

Vinca minor vs Vinca major

Apart from size, which is sometimes hard to judge, there is one key difference between the two. Look at leaves: you’ll see edges are different. Both are smooth, but Vinca major has tiny hairs along the edge. Vinca minor doesn’t.

Hard to remember? Here’s a trick: a boy reaching his MAJORity grows hair everywhere, whereas a MINOR doesn’t!

Plants that look like Vinca

A plant similar to Vinca is Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). It used to be called Vinca roseus because botanists thought it was the same plant! Madagascar periwinkle is the tallest of the three, and is also more drought-resistant. It isn’t related to the two Vinca plants and cross-pollinizing them won’t bear fruit.

Another vinca look-alike is the Impatiens family, especially the Sunpatiens flower. The main difference is in the leaves: impatiens leaves are jagged with small teeth, whereas Vinca leaves are smooth and continuous.

Learn more about Vinca, the periwinkle plant

Vinca is among the first flowers to bloom in spring, right after early bulbs. Native to Europe, this plant is naturalized in the Americas. Gardeners rate it with a high ornamental value. It was actually brought to the United States around the 1700s, in part for its beauty, and in part for its medicinal value.

In some areas that most resemble Vinca‘s native habitat, such as along riverbanks, it tends to crowd other plants out. This is why the plant is invasive in states like California (V. major), and many Eastern states (V. minor) such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Smart tip about growing Vinca

Use the long, twining vines to weave wreaths of flowers for children!

Images: CC BY 2.0: Bob MacInnes, Nicholas A. Tonelli, CC BY-SA 2.0: Katya, Pixabay: Andreas N