I have just one question for anyone who has never planted moonflowers (ipomoea alba) – what are you waiting for? Yes, in northern gardens they take some time to flower, and yes, they must be started indoors to insure adequate time for flowering before frost, but just look at the rewards. The five-inch diameter blossoms in this photo opened last night and remained open into the cloudy morning – a few smaller blossoms had opened over the previous three nights – and the vines are covered with buds ready to open.
In past years, I planted moonflowers so the vines would grow up and smother the posts on my front porch. But this somewhat protected area only receives full sun during the height of summer. Since moonflowers are true heat-loving vines, they struggled to blossom before the colder September nights zapped their strength. So this year I potted three or four vines in a large container (at right) in a sunnier location, and provided the vines with six-foot tall bamboo stakes for support. To add some color while waiting for the moonflower vines to grow, I added low growing ageratum and million bells petunias (both mostly hidden now). As you can see the moonflower vines completely covered the bamboo stakes, and this weekend the blossoms opened – fully two weeks earlier than they had opened in a slightly less sunny location. Now, we will can soak in the heavenly moonflower fragrance while we sit nearby on late summer evenings.
Moonflowers are often included among plants for moon gardens – those with white blossoms and light foliage that will reflect the moonlight. But, like all ipomoea, deer will browse any leaves they can reach. Still, this does not keep me from planting morning glories and moonflowers. After deer help themselves, the vines quickly recoup with new leaves and flowers.
The plants in these photos came from seeds soaked in water for at least 24 hours before I planted them into individual pots. This year I did this in late April, but in warmer years I’ve started moonflowers about two weeks earlier. Each pot also gets a 10-12 inch stake to support the quickly growing vines. Carefully protect the tender annuals from late frosts and acclimate them to outside sun as you would any other plant started indoors. Once planted in a permanent location outside, the vines will quickly encircle any taller supports – string, poles, or a fence. Then water regularly – my large pot gets daily water – stand back, and watch them grow.
For me, planting moonflowers for their unique scent and pure white, elegant blossoms is as necessary as planting heirloom tomatoes for their flavor. You just can’t find these pleasures any other way.