Growing Morning Glories for Beautiful Color

If you want a fast-growing vine to cover an unsightly fence or climb your trellis, plant some morning glories. An old-fashioned climber, morning glories thrive almost anywhere and will provide you with beautiful color from summer to heavy frost. For those gardeners with limited space, there are new varieties of morning glories that are suitable for containers and hanging baskets.

There are several hundred species of Ipomoea across the globe. Our beautiful morning glories are from tropical species; several different species have been used to create the garden varieties. Morning glories are related to the sweet potato and the pesky bindweed.

Morning glories have glossy, green heart-shaped leaves. There are now some varieties whose leaves are attractively variegated with cream or white. The flowers come in every color except yellow or orange. Morning glory flowers have fused petals forming a flared trumpet, ranging from three to seven inches across. Many morning glory flowers have lighter throats or a star-shaped pattern radiating from the center. The flowers open in the early morning, as the name suggests, and are closed by mid-afternoon. Newer varieties stay open longer, but morning glories are best planted where daytime viewing is expected. Each flower lasts only one day, but hundreds of flowers are produced by the vine to keep the show going. Morning glory flowers eventually form seedpods filled with hard-shelled seeds. These seeds readily sprout next spring, and once you get morning glories growing on a good site, you may never need to plant them again, even though most species are annual plants or treated as annuals.

Growing morning glories
While the seed comes up easily in the garden after spending the winter freezing and thawing, it can be a bit tricky to germinate morning glory seeds you have just purchased. You can sow the seeds where you want them to grow after your last frost. If the spring weather is dry or very cold, germination of morning glory seeds may be slow and poor. Northern gardeners or those wishing to get maximum germination should start the seeds indoors about three weeks before the last frost is expected. Some people soak the seed overnight and others nick the hard seed coat with nail clippers to get moisture through the tough seed coat to start the germination process. You must keep the seeds moist for germination to occur, but don't let the seeds soak too long or they will drown. Remember, there is a baby plant in each seed.

When the seed has swollen and the seed coat has cracked, it has soaked enough. You can put morning glory seeds between layers of paper towel moistened with warm water and then put the towels in a warm, dark place. Keep the towels moist and they will sprout in about five days. The tiny sprouts should be immediately transferred to pots of sterile potting mix and put into bright light. Don't start your morning glory plants too early, as they suffer transplanting shock if they are allowed to get too large before planting outside. Transplant morning glories outside after your last frost. Plants are sometimes available in nurseries. Choose smaller plants that haven't started to vine very much for best results.

Morning glory plants should be in full sun for best blooming. They are not fussy about soil types, although the area must be well-drained. Morning glories will tolerate dry conditions after they are a few weeks old but should be watered if they begin to wilt. A little slow-release fertilizer when you plant them in the garden is okay, but don't over-fertilize morning glories or you will get more foliage than blooms.

Morning glory vines grow rapidly and cover a lot of space. Make sure a trellis or some other support is available as soon as you plant them into the garden. It is very difficult to unwind the vines from other plants or areas where you don't want them to grow without damaging the plant. Train them early by gently moving the vines in the direction you want them to grow. Some vines may grow 20 feet or more in a season.

If you don't want Morning Glories popping up again next year, try to remove the seedpods before they are ripe. If you plant several colors of morning glories, they will cross-pollinate each other. If you plant saved seed next year, the flowers will be a mixture of colors. Morning glory flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and they also attract ladybugs to the garden. Morning glories are seldom bothered by disease and insects.

Choosing varieties
Some of the oldest varieties are still the most charming. Heavenly Blue, deep blue with lighter center; Grandpa Ott, reddish purple with a red center;Scarlet O'Hara, crimson red, and Pearly Gates, pure white are all older morning glories that perform well. Star Struck is a newer variety of pastel colors with darker stars in the center. Sun Smile only grows about two feet long, making them excellent for containers and baskets. They are darker shades with a white edge around each flower and have foliage variegated with white. Mt. Fugi Mix has huge flowers in many deep shades, and each flower has a white edge and a white star in the center that combine to give it a pinwheel appearance. It has unusual, lobed leaves that are variegated with white. There are many other varieties and color mixtures on the market.

Using morning glories
Morning glories are excellent to cover unsightly wire fences, to screen compost and brush piles or to cover trellises. They can climb sign and clothesline posts with charming effect. Let them scramble up the sunny side of hedges or shrubs for a burst of late-summer color. Smaller varieties of morning glory make interesting container plants.

Caution
Morning glory seeds should not be eaten, as they may have a hallucinogenic effect.

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