Landscaping with Myrtle: The Sorcerer's Violet

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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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Comments

We have some established

By steve krone on July 20

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.
Thanks

Hi, Steve: Unfortunately,

By Almanac Staff on July 21

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

By Brad j Grimes on July 7

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

By Almanac Staff on July 8

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

By Mark Nobescare

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

By Almanac Staff

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

By Mark Nobescare

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 live in northern West

By Tim Bode

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

By Cindy Skok

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

By Almanac Staff

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.

By Cindy Skok

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

By Paul Duhamel

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

It looks like Vinca minor is

By Almanac Staff

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

By barb beals

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)

By Almanac Staff

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

By Beverly OHara

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

By Almanac Staff

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

By Carol Stoner

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

By Almanac Staff

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

Does periwinkle get to thick

By Joe Cusick

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

By Almanac Staff

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

By Jim Shutt

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

Vinca minor can be planted in

By Almanac Staff

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: http://expert.msue.msu.edu/

what is a good fertilizer for

By T.Allen

what is a good fertilizer for myrtle?

Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer in

By Almanac Staff

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

By debbie chubaty

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

By Almanac Staff

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

By diane gray

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.

By Almanac Staff

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

By Polly Kleinman

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

By Almanac Staff

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

By Polly Kleinman

Will myrtle work in Cleveland Ohio ?

Yes, myrtle makes good ground

By Almanac Staff

Yes, myrtle makes good ground cover. See more from your Ohio cooperative extension: http://hcs.osu.edu/hcs/tmi/plantlist/vi_minor.html

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