Another old-fashioned favorite flower
By MARILYN McKINLEY
OSU Extension master gardener volunteer
It’s no secret, for any of you that have read the Valley Grows page for a while, that I am a big fan of old-fashioned flowers. Four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) definitely make the cut.
These are so easy to grow, and not too fussy about the soil – although humus soil, with pH neutral to slightly acidic is preferred, but not required.
They don’t have many pest and disease issues, plus they are a pollinator magnet.
But it gets better. Most have a nice fragrance and bright colors. They make a great border and are container friendly – perfect for the patio. Deer don’t seem to care for them, and it is thought the leaves are toxic to Japanese beetles.
They prefer sun but will tolerate light shade. What more can you ask of a plant?
Four o’clocks get their name because they tend to open late afternoon. They are native to South America.
Known as the “Marvel of Peru,” this little jewel was discovered by Europeans in the 1500s. The root was used by indigenous people for medicinal purposes. The flowers also were used as a dye, which was edible.
Four o’clocks roots and seeds are mildly toxic, however, causing skin irritation, perhaps nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. Although not too serious, humans and animals can be affected. Treatment is seldom necessary.
Colors range from white, pink, yellow, purple, red and sometimes speckled or variegated. Flowers are 2 inches long with five pedals and are trumpet shaped, perfect for humming birds.
The flowers typically open in late afternoon. On a cloudy day, however, they may not open at all. Different colored flowers may appear on a single stem.
The plant is bushy, nicely branched, and grows 18 to 30 inches. This is one of those plants that may re-seed but is not dependable in doing so.
If I have some re-seed, I often dig up the tubers and transplant into containers. Start the seed outdoors after the last frost. This is a large, coated seed. I always soak mine for 24 hours before planting. Seeds may take up to three weeks to germinate. Spacing should be 18 or so inches apart.
Some things of note. The stems are not particularly strong and a bit brittle. If placed in a windy spot, they may need support.
My two favorite varieties are “Broken Colors,” flowers that are splashed with orangey red; and “Jingles,” small multicolored flowers.
To learn more about them, go to http://go.osu.edu/4oclocks.