Landscaping with Myrtle: The Sorcerer's Violet

How to Plant Myrtle

By George and Becky Lohmiller
April 1, 2016
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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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

The Editors's picture

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.

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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