Ipomoea alba or moonflower is a pretty flower that grows in vines. It is one of the most fragrant nighttime bloomers. The perfect counterpart for the morning glory flower, this plant is easy to care for.
· Plant type – Perennial in tropical and sub-tropical regions, annual in cold climates
· Origin – tropical regions of South and North America, Puerto Rico, Florida, Argentina
· Flower color – white/pink
· Sunlight – bright sun exposure
· Watering needs – moderate
· Fertilizers – regular fertilization required
The blooms open fully during the night and the moment the sun rises, blooms start to wilt. During the cloudy days, you might be lucky to see the open flowers even in the morning. This is why the flower is often seen as the perfect pair for morning glory. The vines grown side by side can be a sight for sore eyes. The foliage looks somewhat similar in both these plants. With this combination, the morning glory would give flowers in the morning, and from the moonflower, you would have blooms at night.
The plant gets its name as the flowers when fully bloomed look like the full moon in the dark of the night. The toxicity of moonflowers is a disputed topic. But when it comes to pets, foliage and flowers of the plant can be harmful when ingested.
How to start moonflower plants from seeds
· Wherever you live, make sure that the soil temperature has surpassed the chilly conditions. A warm soil of temperature around 50℉ during the night would be ideal for the germination of moonflower seeds.
· Plow the soil in the flower bed and ensure that it is well aerated. Sow the seeds directly in the garden.
· To increase the rate of germination you can start by soaking the seeds before planting them in the garden. Leaving them in the water close to eight hours increases the success rate. Do not skip this step as this the seedcoat needs to be softened quick germination.
· Transplanting seedlings to the soil bed is another option. But choose biodegradable planter cups that will allow the young plants to be planted in the beds without disturbing the tender roots.
Where to grow moonflowers?
If you are looking for an indoor flowering plant, moonflower is not your best bet. You can reap the real pleasure of growing this plant only when you raise it in a garden bed. As it grows as a lush vine it makes a lovely choice to grow by the fence or even close to a hedge.
You can grow it in a container but you have to be ready for stunted growth. The container might not provide sufficient room for the root growth to enrich the lavish vine length. If you would like to raise it as an annual, you can opt for a large container. Use a trellis to support the vine and bear the weight of the blooms.
Taking care of the basic needs
The flowers might bloom at night but the plant is a sun-lover. It can tolerate partial light to some extent but it thrives well in brightly lit garden spaces.
Avoid growing it close to the trunk of a huge tree. Though there would be plenty of reliable space for the plant to cling on to, you might notice a drop in the blooms. Though foliage develops without trouble in shade, the plant needs plenty of sunlight for flowering. On a well-lit spot in the garden, you will find this vine burst into chirpy blooms.
From the moment you sow the seeds to the day your plant grows into a large vine, you should continue to regularly water it. The soil should only be moist and not too wet. Water-logging can do more damage to this plant than you think. Considering the tropical conditions in which the plant grows, do not let the soil stay dry for too long.
Like most other flowering plant varieties this one flourishes when you give it the right type of plant nutrients. One common mistake that most gardeners do is fertilizing this plant with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. You might use nitrogen fertilizers for most other plants in your garden including the lawns. But remember that nitrogen promotes the rapid growth of foliage.
For focusing the plant’s energy towards blooms and prevent it from growing into a foliage variant, you should choose phosphorous fertilizers. Some of the moonflower plants might bloom late but do not overdo the fertilizer. Supply phosphorous-rich organic plant food regularly and you should soon start seeing blooms.
In terms of soil requirements, this plant is not very finicky. Moderate to fertile soil can support this vine. You can always boost fertility by adding phosphorous fertilizers.
One important point about the soil for moonflower is the drainage. Aerated soil with good drainage is critical for growth. Even if you choose containers for plating this vine, you need to make sure that you add perlite or other media that enhance the drainage. Stagnant water can easily lead to fungal infections and root rots in this plant.
Plant diseases to be wary about
· As this is a plant that thrives well in warm soils, you should be very careful about the moisture levels in the soil. It would be a good idea to invest in a good moisture meter when you plant to venture into raising moonflower vines. Too much moisture, especially in the seedling stage, can affect growth. Germination might take place normally but the plant might droop and die after shooting.
· White rust is the fungal infection that occurs in many flowering plants like moonflowers. This is a problem that causes irreparable damage to your garden. Leaving it untreated for a long time can result in the rapid spreading of the infection. The only way to tackle this would be to pull out and discard the affected plant. This prevents the fungal spores from affecting the nearby plants.
· The bacterial infection that this plant is often known to experience is black rot. It can leave distinguishable v-marks on the leaves. Near this lesion, the leaf might drop off. This often results from poorly aerated soil and crowded planting.
Pests that are common in moonflower vines
· Aphids are common insects that affect moonflowers. They thrive on the damp and warm conditions of this plant. Though you might not notice a drastic change in the plant, these pests lead to poorer quality of flowers. If the leaves or flowers feel sticky to touch, watch out for aphids. Treating them is easy with any organic insect repellent. You can also tackle the condition by adding a few ladybugs to your plant. These feed on the aphids and save your moonflower plant in the long run.
· If you notice sudden yellowing of the leaves then it could be due to a spider-mite problem. In the initial stages, you might miss the web. Look for these pests below the leaves if you notice changes in the color of the leaves.
How to prune the vine and maintain growth
Pruning the vine regularly helps you maintain the aesthetics of this plant. Like most other vines this one grows vigorously when there is strong and broad support to lean on. You can also grow it as a decorative vine around arches, swing poles, and other spots you might choose for morning glory.
Once the plant starts to grow it can easily branch out to 20-feet or longer. If you grow them in containers, the vine might be shorter. The actual length of the vine and density of foliage often depends on the type of support the plant receives. Pruning regularly involves trimming off the dried foliage and removing the wilted flowers.
Save those seeds
Propagating the plant from seeds is one of the most common methods. The best part is that this plant gives a good germination rate with quality seeds. When you start with seeds from a credible source, you can always leave a batch of flowers to form seeds. You can then harvest and preserve them for the next planting season. The seed pods of this plant make attractive additions to any garden space.
The teardrop-shaped pods on this plant should be harvested just when they start getting brown. These pods break open quickly once they dry and so leaving the pod in the plant for too long is not a good idea. Harvest seeds from a plant that is not infested with pests or plant diseases. Dry the harvested seeds for a week before you transfer them to a dark and dry location. The seed stays viable for up to two years. If you notice wrinkles then it is better to toss them away.
With these handy tips, you can drastically alter the looks of your garden space by planting a moonflower vine. With new growth regularly and plenty of aromatic flowers that bloom at night, this fast-growing plant can make a great addition to your garden.