Vinca Minor (Periwinkle) Plant Profile

A Popular Ground Cover

Vinca minor ground cover in bloom.
David Beaulieu

Tough, low-maintenance, and pest-free, Vinca minor has pretty broadleaf foliage and flowers; it is also useful for providing ground cover and is known for its creeping habit. In spite of all of these benefits, there is one drawback: it has a tendency to overtake an area. Learn how to grow and care for this popular ground cover which belongs to the dogbane family. The plants are tough enough to naturalize in many areas.

Botanical Name Vinca minor
Common Names Vinca minor, creeping myrtle, common periwinkle, dwarf periwinkle
Plant Type Evergreen perennial
Mature Size 3 to 6 inches tall with trailing vines that get 18 inches long
Sun Exposure Partial sun to full shade
Soil Type Normal, sandy, or clay
Soil pH Acid, neutral, and alkaline
Bloom Time May, June
Flower Color Blue, lavender, purple, white
Hardiness Zones 4 through 8
Native Areas Central and southern Europe
Vinca
Domeckopol / Pixabay
Pink or rose periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) in bloom
Simon McGill / Getty Images

How to Grow Vinca Minor

Vinca minor vines stay short, sprawling out over the ground. They typically stand only 3 to 6 inches off the ground, but their trailing stems can reach 18 inches in length. The stems of these plants root at their joints as they creep along the ground and spread rapidly to become a pretty flowering ground cover able to fill in a large area and keep weeds down.

Vinca minor vines most commonly put out a blue flower in spring, but the color can also be lavender, purple, or white. They may bloom now and again in summer, too, but the summer display will not be nearly as good as the spring display.

Light

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.

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.

Water

While the plants will grow better in moist soils, its vines are pretty drought-tolerant once mature.

Temperature and Humidity

Although it is a long-lived plant, it can suffer from many diseases, especially in humid, wet climates. 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. 

Fertilizer

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

Propagating Vinca Minor

Periwinkle 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.

Division: 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.

Landscaping

Vinca minor vines have often been planted beneath big trees, where most lawn grass would fail to grow well due to not getting enough sunshine. A vine for shade will do much better in such spots than grass, generally speaking, so do not even bother trying to grow a lawn there.

Also, because tree roots compete for moisture in such areas, many plants will not grow well there due to a lack of water. Drought-tolerant ground covers such as Vinca minor vines have a greater chance of surviving than thirstier plants would.

Because of their ability to root and spread, they can help hold the soil in place. This can be important on the side of a hill, where soil erosion might be a problem.

Vinca minor vines are considered somewhat invasive plants, so, if this is a concern for you, make it a point each year to keep their runners in check. Invasive plants are vigorous growers, meaning that they tend to be successful at filling in an area. This is often exactly what you want out of a ground cover.

The vines need little care. They are deer-resistant, the flowers are rabbit-proof, and few insects eat them, so there is not much pest control to worry about. At the southern end of their range, they can be damaged by blight.

Similar Plants to Vinca Minor

Two plants that beginning gardeners may confuse with Vinca minor are:

  • Vinca major (greater periwinkle)
  • Catharanthus roseus (Madagascar periwinkle) 

Vinca major is similar to Vinca minor, except that it is cold-hardy only in zones 7 to 9 and is a bit larger. But both are shade-tolerant, trailing plants with evergreen leaves and (most often) violet-blue flowers that can be used as ground covers. North of zone 7, Vinca major is used as an annual in container gardens (especially hanging pots). The most popular cultivar for this purpose is variegata, valued for its variegated leaves.

Despite having a similar name and flowers that have a similar shape, Madagascar periwinkle is quite different from these two plants. Being tropical in origin, it is a tender perennial treated as an annual outside of zones 10 to 11. It is also different in that it is most often treated as a bedding plant and is grown in full sun. The species plant grows to 6 to 18 inches tall (with a similar width), but North Americans more typically grow dwarf versions. Flower color can be hot-pink, lavender, lilac, pink, red, or white.