Vinca Minor Vines

Growing and Using These Ground Covers, How They Differ From Similar Plants

Vinca minor ground cover in bloom.
David Beaulieu

Tough, low-maintenance, and pest-free, Vinca minor has pretty foliage and flowers; it is also a useful plant. In spite of all of these benefits, it does have one drawback. Find out how to grow and care for this popular ground cover.

Botany of Vinca Minor Vines

Plant taxonomy classifies this plant as Vinca minor. Common names for it include "creeping myrtle," "common periwinkle," and "periwinkle flower." It is also called "lesser periwinkle" to distinguish it from Vinca major ("greater periwinkle"). But this is a case where the scientific name is at least as well known as the common names, so most gardeners just use the scientific name.

Vinca minor vines are evergreen perennials of the broadleaf variety, with a creeping habit. Because they are used most often for filling in large patches of earth, Vinca minor vines are also classified as ground covers. The plants are tough enough to naturalize in many areas. They belong to the dogbane family.

Qualities of the Plants 

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.

Sun and Soil Needs, Planting Zones

Vinca minor vines require good drainage. Plant them in partial sun to full shade. Space them about a foot apart if you want to fill in an area quickly.

They are a good choice for a ground cover for an area with dry shade. While the plants will grow better in moist soils, Vinca minor vines are pretty drought-tolerant once mature. 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.

Native to Southern Europe, this ground cover is best grown in USDA planting zones 4 to 8.

Uses, Care for Vinca Minor Vines in Landscape Design

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 why 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.

The vines need little care. They are deer-resistant and rabbit-proof flowers, 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.

Vinca minor
Vinca minor growing under tree. Domeckopol / Pixabay

Warning About Growing This Ground Cover

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. But remember, the flip side of the coin for so-called "invasive plants" is that they 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.

Similar Plants

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

  • Vinca major
  • 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.

Pink or rose periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) in bloom
Simon McGill / Getty Images