Landscaping with Myrtle: The Sorcerer's Violet

How to Plant Myrtle

George and Becky Lohmiller
Myrtle, by Nicholas A. Tonelli, Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Myrtle, Also Called Vinca or Periwinkle

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.)

Reader Comments

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Periwinkle and azaleas, etc

I am considering planting periwinkle ground cover in the same bed as my azalea bushes. Will it be a problem for the azaleas? Also, I've seen several different sources, suggesting several different spacing lengths for them. I have bare root periwinkle. What is the proper amount of space between each plant?

Periwinkle and azalea

Periwinkle can be useful as a useful ground cover and a weed killer, especially on an incline or hill to prevent erosion, but note that it can also be invasive in some zones so it may need to be controlled with regular trimming and growing. If you plant, just keep up with it. Don’t let it spread where you don’t want it.  However, you mentioned the same bed as azalea bushes. We would raise a caution using periwinkle with azaleas or other perennials and ornamental shrubs or trees in because it could spread and suppress their growth as well. Perhaps consider hostas or ferns for a nice green contrast that reduces the legginess of azalea shrubs. We also like sedum, especially Autumn Joy. Periwinkle may compete with the azaleas and could stunt them and move on to take over the rest of the garden bed! 

Don't do it!

I'm shocked at this article promoting the use of this vile plant. So so many people ripping it out. It'll take over everything and be your bane for years. A sterile non native that does nothing good for anything. You'll regret it.

Periwinkle and Maple trees

Will periwinkle plants climbing on the trunk of maple trees kill the tree? The trees are very large and the periwinkle is beginning to spread rapidly. Should I be concerned? Maybe pull it off and away from the trunk and bottom of the tree?

Periwinkle Climbing on Trees

Your periwinkle is unlikely to cause problems for the tree, but if you’d like to be absolutely sure, you can pull the periwinkle back about six inches from the trunk just to give the tree some breathing room. This will ensure that moisture doesn’t build up at the tree’s base and cause rot. 

pervwinkle myrtle

our landscaper planted myrtle in two different places, we love it and it is spreading very well, but we have grass growing up in in, and in the one spot a ton of grass, and yes he did lay down cover over the dirt====any way to get that grass out with out having to spend hours pulling it===

Vinca

How do i control all the other weeds around the vinca? Is there any recommended weed controls that won't harm the Vinca, while killing the weeds? This area is a sunny spot

Hard to Say and Do

Hi, Frank: It’s hard to say how to do this. A lot depends on how big your spot is and what its configuration is. If the weeds are intermixed with vinca, then the only way might be to very painstakingly apply organic weed killer to individual unwanted guests–or else just pull them out, with roots. An alternative method is just starting from scratch, and planting the vinca in heavy mulch or plastic sheeting in order to deter other weeds. But to get to this stage, you have to dig up everything and then make sure nothing viable remains in the soil (cover it with plastic for a while). Any way you address it, this is a tough task! Thanks for asking and good luck!

I have a very steep, mostly

I have a very steep, mostly shady 300 sq. ft. area that needs ground cover. I'd like to plant Vinca this fall. I have two questions: 1) What is the least expensive way/most effective way to buy this? Bare roots? Full plants? 2) Any ideas of inexpensive sources? I'm on a really tight budget and everywhere I've looked will cost $800 - $1000. Can't afford that! 3) If I can't get Vinca in my price range, do you have any other ideas?

Cost-efficient Vinca Planting

First, ask around to see if anyone you know has an established patch of vinca; digging some clumps from other people’s gardens is a great way to start. You can also buy flats of vinca (that price quote was probably for potted plants). Bareroot is a good way to go (look into Lucy’s Wholesale Vinca–she sells to individuals too).

Gardening with Periwinkle

Hi there, thanks so much for posting your info! I have a garden full of periwinkle ground cover which was beautiful when it was a shade garden. It still is, but I recently had a windstorm take down a Maple and most of a 60 year old Magnolia. The result is that my garden is no longer shaded, and needs extra planting. I'm wondering if you know of any perennials that can work well planting with the periwinkle?

periwinkle and perennials

Sorry about your tree. Be aware that the periwinkle’s quite thick stem/root matting may be a challenge to some plants over time. Single stem plants may do better than those that clump. With that in mind, it might be better if you make clearings for other plants amid the vinca. That would give you more options. With that in mind, here are a few ideas: http://www.almanac.com/content/garden-plans-perennials

Use of periwinkle around outdoor flowers & plants...

The article is so interesting! I need to find a way to surround my outdoor plants from the weeds. Example: rose bushes & Cercis Canadensis with some Tiger Lilies. Will using periwinkle eventually suffocate them?

Myrtle ground cover take over

Our flower beds are 16 years old - last year for some reason the Myrtle ground cover started spouting up EVERYWHERE in all my flower beds in front and back yard. Thinking it made it there via some mulch we put down. However, my flower beds are not designed for ground cover - I have dug 6-10 roots for hours on end the past two years - bags full of roots. Was told by landscaper that the only way to get rid of it is to dig up all our flower beds and completely start over with new dirt and plants. We have $1000's invested over the years in our flower beds. How can I get rid of this stuff without killing all my flowers? Have used roundup in one corner where no plants are - only the ground cover - died for a little while but was back. Please help.

The only way we know how to

The only way we know of to get rid of vinca is to pull it out entirely. Dig down deep to get all of the roots. You must remove every scrap of vinca. After you have removed all trace of the plant, treat the soil where it was living with RoundUp.

NO

No, no, no, no, no. Round up is known to cause Lymphoma which you then need chemotherapy made from the leaves of the vinca.

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?

using myrtle instead of mulch

I love the look of myrtle in my garden. Can I use it around my perennials so that I don't have to buy so much mulch ?

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.

HI, I'VE GROWN UP WITH MYRTLE

HI, I'VE GROWN UP WITH MYRTLE ALL MY LIFE. MY MOM HAD IT PLANTED ON THE BANKS OF OUR HOUSE AND IN AREAS OF THE GARDENS AS GROUND COVERS. I RECENTLY MADE THE GARDENS BIGGER AND TOOK DIVISIONS OF MYRTLE AND UNDERPLANTED A LARGE SECTION OF MY ROSE GARDEN THREE YEARS AGO. THE MYRTLE IS GROWING NICELY AND HAS ROOM TO SPREAD. MY QUESTION IS THIS: WILL THE MYRTLE KILL OFF MY ROSE SHRUBS (MOSTLY FLORIBUNDAS) 24" TALL VARIETY. THIS YEAR THE ROSES DIDN'T HAVE AS MUCH GROWTH AS YEARS PAST. I DO FERTILIZE WITH ROSE FOOD REGULARLY.

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?

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