Landscape Spotlight: 4 O’clocks, ‘Mirabilis jalapa’

Posted April 25, 2019 in Plant and Tree

Do you have a tree, plant or flower that elicits a good case of nostalgia?  Perhaps large oak trees remind you of climbing with your siblings and best friends or buttercups remind you of placing the blooms under your chin to tell if you liked butter; no matter how strong or silly the memories, we are all innately connected to nature and that is a beautiful thing.  Outdoor sights, sounds and smells can whisk us back to a simpler, more carefree time within seconds.  For me, when I see or smell 4 o’clock flowers, my mind is swiftly transported to the farmhouse I was raised in and I can hear the cornstalks swaying in the breeze as I take in a whiff of the sweet blooms before dinnertime.

It has been quite a while since I have come across these flowers, which makes me want to go out and purchase some seeds!  For those who may not know the proclaimed “old-fashioned” plant I am talking about, let’s explore this landscape spotlight, and perhaps you will want to promote the same reminiscences for your own family!

As a nod to its South American habitat, this plant also goes by “Marvel of Peru”.  Being cultivated for hundreds of years and making its way to North America, this hardy plant is perennial in zones 7b-11 (find your zone here), while being annual in more northern regions like New England.  This lovely plant will self-sow and it is easy to collect its hard, leather-like ball seeds to plant in other areas!

Wives tales say that 4 o’clocks would typically be found in your grandma’s garden, and the name reflects the time she would eat dinner.  While that adage is pretty funny, that’s definitely not where it got its name.  Instead, the name of this backyard beauty stems from the time of day when the plant’s trumpet flowers open to the world!  Interestingly, the flowers open in the late afternoon in response to the temperatures dropping for the evening.  The blooms will remain open throughout the night and into the morning until the air warms back up.  When the temperature takes an upswing, you will see the flowers close up.  Just like daylilies, 4 o’clock flowers bloom a single time, wilt and fall off the plant.

You would think that single bloomers would make this plant undesirable, but in fact, it blooms so prolifically that you would never know the difference; there are always flowers ready to replace the ones that are spent!  This makes deadheading the plant completely unnecessary, lending to its low-maintenance nature.

This bushy nocturnal plant can mature up to 3-4’ tall with an almost comparable spread!  It is surprisingly heat and drought tolerant but thrives in rich, well-draining soil in an area of full sun or partial shade.  Given our position on the map, we must patiently wait until right around the beginning of summer to catch the plant’s amazing fragrance in the air, but when you do, it’s 2” blooms are intoxicating all the way until the first frost!  The perfume of this flower can be described as a slightly-sweet pale lemon scent, it is light yet romantic.

To add to its appeal, this landscape spotlight can be found in a variety of colors and patterns.  Ranging in patterns of spotted, striped, splotchy or solid hues, you can find them in pink, red, magenta, lavender, yellow and white.  Some varieties can produce different color flowers on the same plant while other flowers will change colors as they mature, a real Houdini within the garden.  Regardless of the pattern or color combo, you will find that this nighttime beauty attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies and are pest, rabbit and deer resistant!

While this plant does its best in areas of full sun, it also prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil.  It is noted that 4 o’clocks are heavy feeders, so implement some organic material when first planting and plan on feeding them with a balanced fertilizer once or twice a month to give the soil a little boost.  I promise you will be rewarded for your diligence and care!

To fully enjoy this landscape spotlight, plant along walkways or in containers on your deck or patio.  The closer in proximity to your outdoor living space, the more you can enjoy its array of color and sweet scent after a long day.  When it’s your time to unwind, they are just getting started…the perfect warm weather complement.

Serving the Poconos, the Lehigh Valley through the Main Line of Philadelphia and western New Jersey, MasterPLAN Outdoor Living would love to partner with you through your own outdoor living journey.  Together, we can create a custom-tailored outdoor living plan to fit your family, home and lifestyle so you can live your best life outdoors!  When you are ready to open the conversation about the options for your own backyard, reach out to MasterPLAN; we would love you welcome you into the family!

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