You may not wake up bright-eyed with dawn’s early light, but morning glories do, unfurling their peerless, saucer-shaped blossoms with the sun’s first kiss.
In a life brief but intense, each single flower lasts only until the heat of midday crumples it, leaving the silken petals wilted and spent. But with each new day, a whole new set of flowers opens and with a mature vine, it’s a heart-stopping performance by an uncountable multitude.
Morning glory vines go big – 12 to 15 feet – and are dense with heart-shaped foliage. They need a support of some kind to wrap their tendrils around and can completely cover a trellis, fence or tripod of stakes.
I planted some on a 9-foot tall arch spanning my garden gate one year only to find that the vines built up such a thick dome of foliage I was bending low to enter by midsummer. Learning my lesson, I found it more manageable the following season to train them along the back fence, weaving the vines through the wooden palings.
These are plants from warm climates and in New Jersey are strictly annuals, dying back with the first frost. There are two issues we face here: Getting morning glories to bloom before warm weather ends and preventing them from becoming a nuisance through self-sown seedlings.
Mid to late May is the time to plant seeds outside. Be warned they take time to reach full maturity -- you may not see flowers until late August or early September, giving you only about seven weeks of bloom. You can improve on that a little by starting plants indoors three to four weeks prior to setting them out but there are a few caveats.
Giving them more time indoors is counter-productive since the tendrils, seeking support, will quickly grow around one another in a tangled mess. Stakes in the seed pot can encourage the stems to grab on, but this is a short-term solution for these fast-growing plants.
The other issue is that the roots of these plants resent disturbance. The solution is to plant seeds in a biodegradable pot – peat pots or containers made of newspaper or cardboard. Roots will simply grow through these are they decompose, helped along by a few slits you can make at planting time. Morning glories prefer full sun and a lean soil, so keep them watered but don’t bother to fertilize.
The round, black seeds are very hard and can use some encouragement to speed germination. One method is to nick the hard shell, and I have found no better tool for this than nail clippers sold in pet stores and meant for dogs. The other method is to soak the seeds in warm water overnight. How do you keep the warm water from cooling to room temperature? Try a thermos.
Choosing the right variety is the chief hedge against over-enthusiastic self-sowing. Many gardeners complain that seedlings take over in subsequent years and are hard to eradicate.
I have never had an issue with unwanted seedlings since I only grow the aptly named ‘Heavenly Blue,’ which if not sterile, is very shy with seed production. These others are also reportedly well-behaved: ‘Flying Saucers,’ ‘Blue Star,’ ‘Pearly Gates’ and ‘Wedding Bells.’ I’d stay away from the heirloom variety ‘Grandpa Ott,’ since it has one of the worst reputations for invasive re-seeding.
If you do grow an aggressive re-seeder, treat the surrounding soil in early spring with a pre-emergent weed preventer. Products like Preen and Treflan will keep seeds from germinating and head off the hostile take-over of your garden.
Why do morning glories only bloom in the morning? That’s when their pollinators, chiefly honey and mason bees, are most active. Other flowers that open at dusk are trolling for insects like moths that are active at night. It’s energy conservation, plant-style.
If you have a good spot for them, morning glories can be spectacular and immensely satisfying. Rise early and take a cup of coffee down to your garden to admire them. Hey – who doesn’t need a good reason to get up in the morning?
THE NIGHT SHIFT - MOONFLOWERS
Don’t be sad that your morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor) pack it up by afternoon – plant moonflowers, too, and you will have a second show at dusk when moonflowers report for the night shift.
These related plants (Ipomoea alba) are even more impressive in size (six inches across) and purest white. Their fat, spiral buds unwind into a flamboyant blossom that may remind you of amaryllis.
Don’t make the mistake I did on my first moonflower escapade, when I planted them down in my garden. Viewing them required a flashlight and a pair of shoes I didn’t mind getting soaked with dew. Be smart and plant your moonflowers close at hand – near the patio, at your entry or in sight of a big window.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, 2278 Baker Creek Road, Mansfield, MO 65704. Call 417-924-8917 or see rareseeds.com.
Eden Brothers, 2099 Brevard Road, Arden, NC 28704. Call 828-633-6338 or see edenbrothers.com.
Select Seeds, 180 Stickney Hill Road, Union, CT 06076. Call 800-684-0395 or visit selectseeds.com.