Vinca (Vinca spp.) also called periwinkle or creeping myrtle, can save you plenty of time in a shady garden. The spreading ground cover forms a year-round mat of deep green or variegated foliage, accented by blue or purplish flowers in spring, blocking out weeds and barren soil in heavy shade where grass won't grow, or on slopes and banks that can be a chore to maintain otherwise. Pruning is optional when your plants look lush and are well-behaved, but when your vincas look sad and spindly, or threaten to take over the yard, it's time to break out some tools.
1 Cut your entire bed of vinca down to 4 inches tall in late winter to early spring. A string trimmer is practical for large plantings, while you can hack back a small patch of vinca with pruning shears. You don't need to worry about making cuts at certain points on the plant -- it will grow in quickly to hide the cuts -- though you can cut to just above leaf if you only have a few plants and your neat-freak sensibilities get the better of you.
2 Pull out runners that are spreading into areas where you don't want them to go and cut long vines back with the string trimmer or shears to neaten the edges of your planting beds. Vincas send out long runners that root wherever they touch bare ground.
3 Rake up and dispose of the clippings in the trash or the center of an active compost pile. The plant can be invasive and is often spread to open areas bordering yards and gardens when clippings are dumped, allowing the cuttings to root and spread.
4 Clip back and pull out rooting runners from your vinca beds again in midsummer or whenever you notice them.
Items you will need
- String trimmer
- Pruning shears
- Bypass pruners
- The two main species of vinca are used in the same way and have the same general habits. Lesser vinca (Vinca minor) has slightly smaller, glossier leaves and grows only 6 to 12 inches tall in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. Greater vinca (Vinca major) can form a bed up to 18 inches tall, sending out runners up to 3 feet long, in USDA zones 7 through 11.
- Periwinkles are considered invasive in some areas.
- You can also cut back vinca with a lawn mower set to cut at 4 inches high, but the vines have a tendency to wrap around the blades, meaning you have to stop, shut the mower down and clean the blades frequently.
- Keep vinca of either species away from wooded areas
- Vincas cause mild stomach upset when eaten.
- Operate string trimmers with caution. Wear long pants and shoes that fully cover your feet to avoid injury.
- Fine Gardening: Genus Vinca
- The Tree and Shrub Specialist; David Squier, et al.
- Arizona State University Extension: Vinca Major
- Chicago Tribune: Taming Aggressive Ground Covers
- National Gardening Association: Vinca Pruning
- University of California Extension: Weed Report - Vinca Major, Big Periwinkle
- Evergreen: Invasive Plant Profile -- Vinca Minor
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images