Vinca major and Vinca minor, two sisters battling for the honor of our gardens

Vinca reaching for the sky

Vinca is a plant genus that’s part of the dogbane family. Two kinds of Vinca exist, major and minor.

Valuable Vinca facts

Common name – 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
Invasive – in California, Australia, and more

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.

Planting Vinca

Usually you’ll be purchasing Vinca in a pot, perhaps with flowers already so that you’re sure which variety you get. The natural growing environment is along riverbanks, so best try and reproduce that.

How to plant Vinca in the ground

Consistent moisture is what you’ll need to provide, so don’t put this plant in the driest spot of your garden!

  • Dig a hole just a bit deeper than the clump.
  • Add one part manure or ripe compost to three parts garden soil to trigger fast growth.
  • Make sure the soil drains well or you’ll risk root rot on your vinca. Add clay hydroton at the bottom of the hole if need be.
  • Backfill and cover with plant mulch to lock moisture in and keep the 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, drought would kill your potted vinca within a few days if left unwatered. Consider adding hydrogel crystals to the potting soil to cover for the occasional forgotten watering session.

Growing Vinca from seed

Seeds will appear on flowers unless they’re deadheaded. Certain garden store varieties are hybrids and 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 them about 12 inches (30 cm) apart.
  • Cover with a very thin layer of soil mix, about 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 gastropods!

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 dust-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, since normal rains are enough to cover needs.

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

Vinca plant care

Two vinca flowers near mahonia leaves.Pruning

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

As 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 will take root and spread from there. Its a natural manner of propagation, similar to the layering of strawberry runners. This makes the plant rather invasive in non-native environments since it can spread fast.

Fertilizing vinca

Fertilizer will make for more vigorous blooming and growth, but vinca will still do fine in poor soil. If you do fertilize, only fertilize 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 even 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, sometimes 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 ever the soil doesn’t drain well.

Different types of vinca

Vinca is excellent for ground cover.Vinca major

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

Usually, flowers are from 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 really 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. Looking at leaves, you’ll see the edges are different. They’re both smooth, but Vinca major has very tiny hairs along the edge. Vinca minor doesn’t.

Having trouble remembering which is which? Just remember that a boy reaching his MAJORity grows hair everywhere, whereas a MINOR doesn’t!

Plants that look like Vinca

A plant that looks very similar to Vinca is Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). It used to be called Vinca roseus because botanists long thought it was the same plant! But actually, 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: those of impatiens are jagged with small teeth, whereas Vinca leaves are smooth and continuous.

Learn more about Vinca, the periwinkle plant

Vinca is often among the first flowers to bloom in Spring, right after the early bulbs. Native to Europe, this plant is now naturalized in many parts of the Americas. Botanists and 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 actually crowds other plants out. This has led to the plant being declared as 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!

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Variegated Vinca major by Katya under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Two small vinca flowers by Andreas N under Pixabay license
Vinca covering the ground by Bob MacInnes under © CC BY 2.0