Plant This: Moonflower vine for moonlit nights

When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, that’s when moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba) unfurls tissue-petaled white blossoms as large as your palm, inviting you to lean in for a deep whiff of its sweet perfume.

In my mind’s eye, the flowers glow like miniature moons themselves — pure and white. But that’s a trick of my camera setting.

In reality, the flowers are ivory with a hint of pale celery along a starfish-shaped indentation in the center.

By day, when you spot a tapered, spiraling bud — like a unicorn horn! — get ready for a moonflower show that evening.

If you’ve never grown moonflower vine, it’s easy to start from seed. (Note: this annual vine is not the same plant as our native perennial datura, or devil’s trumpet, although they look similar.) Just buy a pack of seeds, and in early spring soak them overnight in a bowl of water before poking each one into seed-starting mix in biodegradable pots you can make out of toilet paper rolls. Protect them from freezes and chilly nights, give them bright light but avoid blazing sun, and keep them moist, and in a week or two their little green noses will pop up.

When they’ve grown a few inches tall with a few leaves, plant them in the garden in the toilet roll pots. In Austin’s hot climate, morning sun is best, with afternoon shade. Give them a trellis to climb, keep them watered regularly, and soon enough you’ll be enjoying those fragrant, night-blooming flowers. In autumn, you can collect the ripened, ivory seeds from the dried seedpods and save them for growing next spring.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

20 Responses

  1. m'liss says:

    The only flower I grow from seed, I’ve never missed a season without my absolute favorite. It stops everyone passing in their tracks, including me.

  2. Karin says:

    Please tell me the secret because my seeds were horrible (purchased them from a reputable source), but I love to try again. Thanks.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Well, all my growing tips are laid out at the end of this post. Soaking the seeds overnight before planting works for me, but you can also nick the seed coat a little with a knife (carefully so as not to cut yourself) or by filing down one edge and THEN soak it. Sometimes things don’t work on the first try, no matter what you do, so I’d say it’s worth trying again next spring. Good luck! —Pam

  3. I want to give these beauties a try next year. So pretty.

  4. Tonya says:

    Your Moonflowers are so lovely. I’ve never grown them but I think they would be stunning in my garden.

  5. Susie says:

    So beautiful Pam. My sister gave me some seeds in spring but I never got them planted.

  6. Jenny says:

    The flowers are certainly beautiful but what is the foliage like? Does it make a good impression on the trellis? I am struggling with some vines like clematis which are just not up to snuff!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I wouldn’t call the foliage beautiful, no. Large, coarse, heart-shaped leaves that can get wilted in the afternoon. The beauty of this vine is all after dark. —Pam

  7. Carol says:

    I let some Moonflowers go to seed right where they are. They seeds always winter over here in Georgia, and they germinate next Spring. They are easy to pull up if they are not where you want them, and they are very easy to transplant where you want them to grow.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I wondered if they’d ever self-seed, so thanks for sharing, Carol. I grew moonflower vine for a few years at my old house and never got any self-seeders, but it could be because it’s drier here in Austin, or maybe simply because I was always collecting as much seed from the vine as I could! —Pam

  8. Peter/Outlaw says:

    You’ve convinced me. Next year!

Leave a Reply