How to Grow Bigleaf Periwinkle (Vinca Major)

A flowing evergreen ground cover

bigleaf periwinkle vinca major

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Bigleaf periwinkle (Vinca major) is nearly identical to periwinkle (Vinca minor) but for one obvious difference: it's bigger. Like periwinkle, bigleaf periwinkle has lovely violet-blue flowers that bloom for weeks from spring through summer and occasionally into autumn. The name "vinca" derives from the Latin "vincire" which means "to bind," and it's believed this refers to the use of the vines by Romans to make garlands to decorate for festivals or to wear as crowns.

This is a versatile ground cover that grows in warmer temperate zones. It is often used in floral arrangements in the US and is well loved for its glossy, leathery dark green leaves. It's most commonly seen with violet-blue flowers, but there are some different cultivars with other colors, such as white flowers or variegated foliage, though these are not too commonly available.

Botanical Name Vinca major
Common Name  Bigleaf Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Blue Periwinkle
Plant Type  Evergreen perennial 
Mature Size  6-8 inches tall 
Sun Exposure  Shade to full sun 
Soil Type  Well-drained, clay or loam
Soil pH  Slightly acidic 
Bloom Time  Mid to late spring 
Flower Color  Purple, blue 
Hardiness Zones  4-9 (USDA) 
Native Areas  Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Asia 
Toxicity  Mildly toxic
Purple flower on glossy dark green vine sprawling around a variegated hosta.
Bigleaf Periwinkle tends to snake around other plants in the shade garden, with flowering tendrils curling under hostas, for example.

Peg Aloi / The Spruce

Vinca Major Care

Like its more diminutive relation, this is a very easy plant to grow and maintain. It can be somewhat invasive so it's best to grow it in locations where it has room to spread, and not in a small flower bed. The root systems forms a thick mat and may strangle other plants eventually, so as a ground cover it is best grown on its own and not in combination with other plants, though it does well next to most large shrub or woody perennial plantings.

Light

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 it watered during periods of intense heat.

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 vinca major 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.

Water

If growing in shade, your vinca should not require extra watering. But if there's a long period of drought supplemental watering may be necessary.

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.

Fertilizer

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

Is Bigleaf Periwinkle Toxic?

The alkaloids and saponins contained in Vinca minor and Vinca major are known to be mildly toxic, and therefore should not be eaten. These compounds can occur in varying amounts from region to region. Some varieties of vinca are very toxic (such as Vinca rosea) but bigleaf periwinkle is only mildly so. While it's possible for a dog or cat to become ill from eating, they usually don't manage to ingest enough—it doesn't taste good enough to be worth eating—to cause any problem.

Symptoms

If humans ingest too much of this plant, it can cause an array of symptoms from mild abdominal cramping to cardiac arrest.

In the unlikely event that your pet ingests enough vinca to cause a reaction, the symptoms may include vomiting or diarrhea. Consult your vet if these symptoms occur; be sure to keep your pet hydrated; the vet may suggest administering kapectolin to soothe the stomach.

Propagating Bigleaf Periwinkle

The best way to propagate this plant is by dividing from an established clump, though you can try growing it from cuttings as well. Water the plant before cutting and snip a stem that is between 4-6 inches long. Root this in a container with a potting mix containing peat moss and perlite. Keep the soil moist; using a plastic bag to hold in humidity may help. Roots should form in 2-3 weeks.

You can also try propagating from seed, but you must first collect the seeds from seed pods and dry them, then start them in spring before last frost, which means saving them in a cool, dry place over the winter. Start them in a seed tray with potting medium; this tray must be kept 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.