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What Is Creeping Myrtle?

O. Parker
O. Parker

Creeping myrtle is a shade-loving ground cover that produces delicate purple flowers against glossy evergreen leaves. The plant spreads laterally to create a thick mat, a growth habit that likely lead to the name creeping myrtle. It's known by its species name Vinca minor, and is commonly called periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle in most parts of the world — only in the US is it called creeping myrtle. It belongs to the Apocynaceae, or dogbane, plant family.

Shady areas can be difficult to fill, as many plants require at least partial sun to thrive. Creeping myrtle is an ideal plant for heavily shaded areas of the garden or spots that get only part sun. The plants are evergreen, creating a thick ground cover all year. The flowers bloom in spring, and though they're not terribly prolific, the delicate blue or purple flowers add a splash of subtle color to the garden.

Ideal for shade, creeping myrtle does not tolerate sun well. If planted in full sun, the leaves will yellow and die back. It is best to plant in locations that get no more than four hours of direct sun per day.

Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.
Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.

Creeping myrtle is a perennial plant that spreads laterally in a trailing or creeping growth pattern. Individual plants grow 6 inches (about 15 cm) tall and can spread up to 3 feet (about 91 cm) wide. It can be an invasive plant if allowed to escape from the garden.

This plant grows well in moist soil with good drainage, but can tolerate short periods of drought. In excessively wet conditions, the plants can develop a fungal disease. The disease causes parts of the plant to die back, leaving unsightly bare patches. Creeping myrtle is rarely permanently damaged by the fungus, however, and tends to regrow without treatment.

Gardeners can purchase the plants from nurseries and garden centers, where they are sold as starts. The plants should be spaced 12 inches (about 30 cm) apart at planting time. They can be used along border areas and to fill in under landscape trees and in shrub beds. The creeping root system also makes this plant ideal for erosion control on disturbed hillsides and landscape areas.

The two methods used to propagate creeping myrtles are division and rooted stem cuttings. Cuttings are taken in spring or summer and rooted directly into soil. Each rooted cutting produces a new plant. Division is the simplest method for propagating these types of perennials. The plants are dug up, usually in the fall, and divided into sections. The new sections are replanted in the garden or in pots.

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    • Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.
      By: simona kovacs
      Calotropis procera is also in the dogbane family of plants.