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Periwinkles: Favorites During Summer Heat
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The botanical name of Periwinkles is Catharanthus, which means pure and without blemish. That is pretty much how we use to feel about them. You may remember them as Vinca rosea, but the official name is Catharanthus roseus.
They were such a favorite of the Southern garden that many people started planting them too early in the spring, making them much more susceptible to disease.
The Madagascar periwinkle is a colorful plant that withstands summer heat and has few insect problems. A little-known fact is that our periwinkle has alkaloids used to retard leukemia. Researchers discovered that when periwinkles were being tested for diabetes.
Periwinkles come in a range of colors including white, lavender and pink, and some with colored eyes. Pacifica is a new series that is really capturing a sizeable market-share.
Pacifica made its debut with Pacifica Red. While it is not a fire engine red, it is the reddest of all periwinkles. Its red definitely comes from the pink side versus the orange side. The flowers are nearly 2 inches large.
Next in the Pacifica series came Punch, which is a deep rose pink with a darker center, and Polka Dot, which is white with a red eye. The newest additions are Blush, which is a light rose with a large deep eye, Lilac and White.
There are many other good periwinkles available from the Coolers, Tropicanas to former All-America winners like Parasol, and Pretty in Rose. Another that I think is exceptional is a Park Seed release called Passion. It is a deep purple with a yellow eye. Passion planted with yellow marigolds makes a striking combination.
One of the most attractive features of the periwinkle is its foliage. The leaves are dark green and glossy contrasting with the gorgeous flowers.
The periwinkle is still an outstanding plant if we avoid early spring planting. The summer is the best time to plant periwinkles. While we may suffer from the heat and want to go indoors, these troopers will make beautiful beds.
Choose a site in full sun and plant in raised beds for drainage and aeration. Despite their tolerance of heat, they hate wet feet. Pay close attention to planting depth. Planting individual plants too deeply exposes the roots and stems to unfavorable growing conditions and increases the potential of getting disease.
Mulch properly to decrease splashing of rainfall and water from the soil to lower stem foliage. Mulch periwinkles to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Periwinkles are drought tolerant once established so don't over water.
We can have a good looking bed of periwinkles just like in the old days that will perform all summer if we don't plant too early, but do plant in full sun on raised beds and mulch and plant periwinkles in different beds each year like you rotate vegetable crops.