Landscaping with Myrtle: The Sorcerer's Violet

George and Becky Lohmiller

Myrtle (Vinca spp.) is among the hardiest of evergreen ground covers, hardy to Zone 4 and growing as far north as Canada. It can be invasive in certain areas.

Its bright-green leaves darken with the season, sometimes taking on a bronze tone under the winter sun. Lavender-blue or white flowers appear in the spring and sporadically all season.

  • Spring and early fall are considered the best times to plant myrtle.
  • It prospers in dappled sunlight but will also grow in full sun and even in dense shade.
  • Use it instead of mulch under trees and shrubs to control weeds, or plant it in difficult-to-mow areas. Myrtle’s tenacious root system makes it an ideal choice for controlling erosion on steep banks.
  • Prepare the ground by tilling in a one-inch layer of peat moss or compost and an application of complete 5-10-5 fertilizer to a depth of six inches.
  • Space the young plants or divisions about eight inches apart. When you are finished, soak the entire planting, and mulch the area lightly with pine needles or bark.
  • Water and weed the planted area frequently during its first season. Soon new shoots will spread out and root into the spaces between the plants, spreading joy all over the ground.

Myrtle Folklore: The Sorcerer's Violet

A thousand years ago, the sorcerer’s violet, what we now call periwinkle, vinca, or myrtle, was shrouded in superstition:

  • English herbalists believed that the trailing evergreen ground cover could be gathered only on the 1st, 9th, 11th, or 13th day of the Moon by a person cleansed of all impurities.
  • Those who carried the plant believed that they were protected from the devil and safe from the bites of rabid dogs and venomous serpents.
  • The Scots named this powerful plant joy-of-the-ground. They believed that marital bliss would be ensured if the leaves were ground to powder and taken at meals in a freshly picked houseleek that contained worms. (We have a hunch that a lot of Scottish couples endured unhappy marriages rather than brave the cure.)



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Are maple leaves good mulch for myrtle?

I have a sheltered bed that is filled with myrtle and some hostas around the edges. My mother told me that mulch provides great fertilizer for myrtle, that the nutrients from decomposing mulch nourishes the myrtle. Will spreading a layer of fallen maple leaves be protective and nourishing to the myrtle, or will it cause it to get a fungus or be smothered? (I'm in central Ohio)

Our hillside used to be

Our hillside used to be covered with myrtle. Over the past several years, a combination of stilt grass and garlic mustard as well as regular grass have been "winning" and replacing the myrtle. We want our myrtle back! I have started to aggressively weed the hillside, but want to know if this is the right approach? Will just pulling out the invaders be enough? Also, we have some black walnut trees and recently read about juglone being a toxicity issue- is this part of the problem with our myrtle losing ground? Any help appreciated.

There are mixed opinions

There are mixed opinions about myrtle and black walnut. It's best not to plant the myrtle too close to the trees. Myrtle also prefers full sun so plant it away from any shade from the trees. If you remove all the weeds and amend the soil with some compost or aged manure you should be all set to plant the myrtle on the hillside.

1) can I plant myrtle on top

1) can I plant myrtle on top of existing mulch (15 yrs of layer)

2) can I plant myrtle on top of grass on the shady side?

3) can I plant myrtle on a rock bed (only has weed and established chives) in full sun?

4) will perennials return after planting myrtle?

5) can I lay rocks against the brick facade of my house (after planting myrtle) to prevent moisture log?

I planted myrtle in my front

I planted myrtle in my front lawn. A third of the myrtle turned brown immediately, while the other two thirds is thriving. Any guesses?

Your ground cover probably

Your ground cover probably has a blight which is a fungus that can spread and is common where it's moist or wet. It's hard to control but thinning overcrowded plants to improve air circulation and drying is helpful. There are also fungicides to apply as soon as you see the condition; speak to your local garden center.

I love the myrtle I have

I love the myrtle I have planted in the front yard. My neighbor thinks the myrtle is giving mosquitoes a place to live.
Is this true? If so can I put something natural on the plants to keep the bugs away, so as not to destroy this beautiful plant?

Hi, Judy: Myrtle in and of

Hi, Judy: Myrtle in and of itself doesn't attract mosquitoes, but it will provide shelter for them (and ticks, too) just like any other ground cover. Some folks believe that plants such as citronella and wax myrtle will repel mosquitoes, but there is little evidence that this will happen through the air. As you may know, crushing their leaves and applying to the skin can sometimes work. The main defense against mosquitoes is to cut off standing water in which they hatch. Level off puddle areas. Put fine-mesh screening over rain barrels. Make sure the wheelbarrow is turned over. Reduce birdbaths if possible. Discard or overturn unused pots and planters. Remember that any standing water is the same as a lot of standing water. For example, you might have an unused planter that even when overturned has shallow indentations in its top (really its bottom). If you must keep this, then fill in any little places for mini puddles with sand. Be assiduous: Go around your yard after every rainstorm and get rid of water. But keep your myrtle. Good luck!

Is this plant used in the

Is this plant used in the healing sense? is it edible?

The berries from the genus

The berries from the genus Myrtus are indeed edible. Myrtus communis (Common Myrtle) berries can be dried and used in stews and casseroles. This is common in Turkey and other areas of the Middle East. Also, myrtle has been used as a medicinal plant. The Romans used myrtle for urinary and respiratory ailments. The Egyptians used it for nervous afflictions. Today, its essential oil is used for bronchial complaints.



Myrtle is a pretty, quickly

Myrtle is a pretty, quickly growing ground cover, but it can become invasive and it can indeed smother other plants. It's best grown in a contained area.

I have a small yard

I have a small yard surrounded by myrtle. I want the myrtle to spread and cover my yard. How do I get it to spreat over the grass area?

I live in Oklahoma City and I

I live in Oklahoma City and I already have problems with Bermuda grass and Autumn Haze Clematis wanting to take over flower beds. If I plant myrtle under trees, will I have problems with myrtle taking over flower beds as well?

Myrtle does spread quickly

Myrtle does spread quickly which is what makes it a great ground cover. It can become invasive. 

We have some established

We have some established myrtle ground cover in our backyard. It is being overrun by creeping charlie from the neighbors yard. Any suggestions to get rid of the creeping charlie without harming the myrtle.

Hi, Steve: Unfortunately,

Hi, Steve: Unfortunately, this is a dicey and difficult problem. Eradicating ground ivy from a grass lawn is one thing, because you can really go after it with a number of measures (e.g., high grass height to shade it out), but trying to get rid of it and retain another intermixed desirable at the same time is almost impossible. The best way is hand weeding -- oh, and talking with the neighbor to see if they will collaborate on some barriers or uprooting for border security's sake. Good luck!

Great info. question, I would

Great info. question, I would like to transplant myrtle into a bed in August or should I wait till October Thanks Brad

Hi Brad, The best time to

Hi Brad, The best time to transplant myrtle is between Labor Day and the end of October. Early next spring also is a good time.

so i planted periwinkle on a

so i planted periwinkle on a hill that currently has grass. will it grow over and kill the grass (which is what i want). i also killed a section of the grass with Path Clear and planted the periwinkle. will that work just as well and how long before the whole hill is covered. its 42'x20'. i planted abount 30 cuttings.

Once periwinkle is

Once periwinkle is established it will likely kill any future growth of weeds and grass on the hill. Established grasses are harder to smother and the periwinkle will compete with the grass for nutrients in the soil. You probably will have better luck with the plants that you planted in the area without any grass. The plants will show lots of growth next spring.

excellent. thanks. i'll put

excellent. thanks. i'll put down landscape fabric this weekend and wipe out the rest of the grass rake it up and put in the additional periwinkles.

I have since turned the whole

I have since turned the whole lawn over and replanted the periwinkle. I've also added about another 50 plants. so in total about 75 to 100 clumps of periwinkle 2' apart on a 25'x43' slope.

Any idea on how long before I get full coverage.

also planted 5 tamaracs and have some fruit trees on the slope and have planted some day lilies and hostas.

I live in northern West

I live in northern West Virginia. I have a bank that is in need of a ground cover. It's very steep and hard to mow or even use the string trimmer. I thought that Myrtle may be a good solution. If I used Preen weed fabric with mulch on top (when I first plant the Myrtle) would it still be able to spread? I was hoping that the new shoots could penetrate the fabric and by the time it was well established, it would choke out any weeds.

I had vinca minor in my old

I had vinca minor in my old home and loved it. My new home has lily of the valley as ground cover. If I plant vinca, will it eventually take over the invasive lily? I live in Michigan.

It's hard to say. We've seen

It's hard to say. We've seen Vinca minor co-mingle with pachysandra just fine. Vinca is lower than the lily-of-the-valley, and might possibly be shaded out if the lily-of-the-valley was especially happy where it was (although that didn't seem to trouble the vinca when with the slightly taller pachysandra). Both lily-of-the-valley and Vinca minor can be invasive, so it's difficult to say if one might take over or if they would be both happy. It might depend on the growing conditions. If you'd prefer the vinca win, you could help it along by removing as much lily-of-the-valley as you can (or at least snipping the leaves to weaken the plant). Anyone else have experience with this combo?

I'm going to give it a try.

I'm going to give it a try. I removed some lilies of the valley and planted the myrtle. So far the myrtle is doing nicely, It will probably be next year before I can see any results with the myrtle spreading into other areas. Thank you for your suggestions.

What species of myrtle will

What species of myrtle will grow best in Richmond Hill, Ontario? About 20 miles north of Toronto.

It looks like Vinca minor is

It looks like Vinca minor is hardy in your area, but can also be invasive. You might ask a local garden nursery to see what species and cultivars they offer.

In the past, we have found

In the past, we have found our myrtle is mow-able. However, we didn't get to it earlier this year.

It is now higher than we'd like, and we're wondering if it would be better to mow now, or next spring.

We'd like to have some of those blossoms our bumble bees like so much and wonder if we mow now(November) if we'd still see blossoms next spring.

And thanks for this opportunity to ask.

Periwinkle (vinca, myrtle)

Periwinkle (vinca, myrtle) can grow to a height of 3 to 6 inches. Our sources suggest mowing—on the highest setting—after flowering. Such pruning can be done every 18 to 24 months. Be aware that cutting may root and spread, perhaps where you do not want them.

I have a large old rock

I have a large old rock garden full of myrtle, which I love, but it is full of weeds too. Should I fertilize it, put lime on it--how can I restore it without tearing it all up?

There may be a selective

There may be a selective herbicide that will kill weeds but not your ground cover; your local county cooperative extension will know what's approved in your area. Otherwise, be sure to mulch to keep down the weeds!

I have a myrtle patch in

I have a myrtle patch in which I would like to plant several bulbs for some pretty spring blooms. Will bulbs survive if planted in a myrtle patch (i.e., tulips, daffodils).

Yes, it is fine. Intermixing

Yes, it is fine. Intermixing bulbs with myrtle  will lend color and interest!

Does periwinkle get to thick

Does periwinkle get to thick and need to be thinned out. If so, how do you do it? At present time mine looks good.

Thank you

Hi, Joe, Hope, There's no

Hi, Joe, Hope, There's no special care needed. There are a few serious fungal problems with this species, thus a fungicide application may be necessary, but that's it.

Can myrtle be planted in

Can myrtle be planted in September and will it do well in Kalamazoo, Michigan

Vinca minor can be planted in

Vinca minor can be planted in autumn and grows well in Michigan. In fact, this plant can spread quite quickly after a year of establishment so consider this benefit/problem. Contact your MSU cooperative extension for more local information. To reach an MSU Extension county office, call toll-free 1-888-678-3464 or find a county extension expert here:

what is a good fertilizer for

what is a good fertilizer for myrtle?

Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer in

Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring at a rate of 6 to 8 pounds per 1,000 square feet, but we really only fertilize when necessary.

Can the periwinkle be used as

Can the periwinkle be used as a vine on a stone house. We have a 155 year old stone house and the one side gets shade only. I would like something that would grow but with some flowers and is hardy.

Although periwinkle is a

Although periwinkle is a groundcover, it is not a climber. There are other vines for shade, however, that might work, such as climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris), hardy in Zones 4 to 7, which has lacy white flowers. The cultivar 'Firefly' has variegated leaves.
Check with a local nursery for suggestions of shade vines that will do well in your area; also ask which vines would do best for a stone wall of a house, without needing extra support or possibly causing damage to the stone.

Will Myrtle ground cover work

Will Myrtle ground cover work instead of mulch? If I have old weed mat down do I have to pull it up before planting the myrtle? This is an area close to the house that has a tree, small bushes and day lilies. We don't want to have to keep spending money on mulch.

Myrtle (Vinca minor, or V.

Myrtle (Vinca minor, or V. major) will do fine without mulch once established. If you have a weed barrier down already, and it is in good condition, then you can keep it, and plant the ground cover through it. If this is black plastic, for example, make an "X" cut into the plastic for the planting hole.
If your weed barrier is torn, you might consider replacing it before planting, so that weeds won't compete while the myrtle is becoming established. Once it fills in, there will not be many weeds.

when may I plant myrtle ? and

when may I plant myrtle ? and do I need to mix it with anything or just plant it in the earth ?

Plant myrtle (Vinca sp.) in

Plant myrtle (Vinca sp.) in spring after temperatures have warmed a bit. Space plants about 8 to 12 inches apart. Provide well-drained soil. It helps to add about an inch of compost to the planting hole.
Please note: Vinca minor can be invasive.

Will myrtle work in Cleveland

Will myrtle work in Cleveland Ohio ?

Yes, myrtle makes good ground

Yes, myrtle makes good ground cover. See more from your Ohio cooperative extension: