Dwarf Morning Glory: How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Convolvulus Tricolor
Are you thinking of adding some dwarf morning glory to your garden? This lovely blue flower is quite popular due to its hardiness and ease of maintenance. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton walks through each step you'll need to follow in order to plant, grow, and care for Convolvulus Tricolor.
Bright blue flowers are a sought-after commodity in the gardening world and this plant delivers in spades. Dwarf morning glory (The Convolvulus tricolor version, not the Evolvulus version, but we’ll get to that later) is a stunning compact plant producing seas of blue flowers in summer. This blue is complemented by bright yellow centers surrounded by a white ring that gives the plant its specific epithet tricolor.
Very low-maintenance and versatile, this plant is typically grown as an annual, gracing most gardens with large bright flowers for just one season. However, the seeds spread rapidly to grow brand new plants year after year in the same bed. They also look fantastic in containers or out in the garden in poor quality soil where no other plants want to grow.
No matter where you plant dwarf morning glory, it is bound to stand out. Use them to decorate borders or fill cascading hanging baskets with bright summery flowers guaranteed to make you smile.
Dwarf Morning Glory Plant Overview
Pests and Diseases
Aphids, Spider Mites
Bees, Beneficial Insects
Dwarf morning glory is typically grown for its ornamental value in home gardens. It is native to Mediterranean regions of Europe, found in coastal areas along the Mediterranean Sea, particularly in Spain.
The flowers grow on short stalks, featuring three colors from center to petal that lend the plant its scientific name Convolvulus tricolor. They can be found gracing rocky, dry habitats, sandy areas, or even along the roadside across Europe where they put up carpets of blue, white, and yellow flowers in summer.
As part of the Convolvulaceae family, this plant is related to the popular morning glory plant and sports similar flowers. This relation is evident in the common name dwarf morning glory.
But, if you’re searching for one in your local nursery, it is better to ask for it by its scientific name. Convolvulus tricolor shares a common name with another entire genus of plants in the Convolvulaceae family known as Evolvulus. This encompasses around 100 other species, some of which look similar to Convolvulus tricolor but many of which don’t.
Plants in the Evolvulus genus are wonderful on their own, but if you want the plant we’re talking about in this article, make sure you ask for Convolvulus tricolor instead. Confusing, I know. But that’s the beauty and benefit of scientific naming.
Convolvulus tricolor is a beloved ornamental awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The most popular cultivar ‘Blue Ensign’ has also won the same award. While typically grown as an annual, it can also be planted as a short-lived perennial in warmer zones without frost.
This plant is usually propagated by seed, but can also be propagated from softwood cuttings. If you want to divide an existing plant, the best time to do so is in spring. However, as these plants typically don’t have a very long lifespan, growing new plants from seed is the most reliable propagation method.
Propagating From Seed
After the plant flowers in summer, it will produce small brown seed pods. Once dried, open these pods to reveal the small back seeds ready for replanting.
Sow seeds in spring straight into the soil once the danger of frost has passed. Alternatively, you can sow seeds indoors around six weeks before this period for faster flowering and quicker establishment.
If left alone, these plants will naturally spread their seeds to the surrounding areas. If you’re looking to grow massive amounts of flowers as they appear in their natural habitats, this is the ideal propagation method as it requires no effort from you and creates the most natural look.
In the right climate, Convolvulus tricolor can spread quite rapidly and become a nuisance. It is part of the genus commonly called bindweed which gardeners and farmers detest for their habit of taking over lawns and climbing trees and other structures. While this plant may not be as vigorous as its plant cousins, but it is important to keep an eye on its spread if you decide to leave it to propagate naturally.
Propagating From Cuttings
Dwarf morning glory is also easily propagated by softwood cuttings. Spring is an ideal time, as root growth will be far quicker, but you can also propagate in summer.
Start by cleaning your pruning shears in preparation for cutting. Dirty pruning shears can carry bacteria and fungi that are then transferred to the new cuttings, causing problems with the new and vulnerable root growth. It can also transfer disease to the parent plant, potentially killing both and ruining your propagation efforts.
Next, prepare your soil. Cuttings need a light and airy propagation mix to promote strong root growth. Garden soil is usually too dense and holds too much water. It can also transfer diseases from the soil to your new plants. Instead, create your own propagating mix by combining coconut coir or peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. These materials are light enough to drain well and give the roots little resistance to growth while retaining enough moisture to provide the ideal environment for root growth.
Remove a cutting from the plant at least four inches long, preferably longer, just below a set of leaves. The stem should be healthy and disease-free to give your new plant the best start at growth. Choose a stem with several sets of leaves and preferably no flowers. Alternatively, remove the flower before propagating, as flowers will take away energy that could be directed towards root growth.
Remove the foliage from the bottom half of the cutting, at least two inches long. Ensure there are at least two sets of leaves at the top of the cutting to give the plant enough energy to grow roots. Then plant the cuttings into a pot filled with your propagation mix. Water thoroughly, allowing the excess water to drain from the bottom of the pot.
Leave your cuttings in a warm spot in bright indirect light. Keep the soil evenly moist over the next few weeks while the plant develops roots. New growth or resistance to being pulled indicates root growth. You will need to keep the cuttings warm and away from all cold weather to keep them alive until the following planting season.
Propagating by Division
As these plants are mostly grown as annuals, division is not recommended as it will unnecessarily stress the plant during its already short life cycle. However, the plants can be divided in spring before the season kicks off if you want to separate them to plant in different parts of the garden.
Remove the plant from its existing container, loosening the soil around the roots. Separate it into sections with an equal amount of roots and cut them apart using a sharp pair of scissors. The divisions can be replanted into individual pots or in separate parts of the garden. Water immediately after replanting to encourage root growth and limit shock.
Dwarf morning glory is most often grown from seed. You can either start seeds indoors about a month or two before the last frost date or sow seeds straight into the ground outdoors when all chances of frost have passed.
When sowing indoors, start by preparing a seed starting mix. You can purchase one from your local nursery or make your own. Seed starting mixes promote germination by retaining moisture, draining excess water, and providing plenty of aeration for roots to grow unhindered. A mix of coconut coir, perlite, and vermiculite is ideal. Don’t add any fertilizer to this mix as it can burn the tender new roots and prevent growth.
Sow the seeds evenly into a tray filled with your specialized mix. Water the tray beforehand to moisten the soil and avoid disturbing the seeds once planted. Press them gently to ensure contact with the soil and leave them in an area with temperatures between 60F and 70F. The seeds should germinate within a couple of weeks.
When you’re ready for transplanting, start by acclimatizing your seedlings to outdoor conditions. This process is called hardening off and it prevents transplant shock in seedlings that have been grown under indoor conditions. Start by leaving the tray outside for an hour per day, slowly increasing the amount of time spent outdoors in the week leading up to transplanting.
Remove your seedlings from the tray and plant them into your beds around 12 inches apart. For a fuller look, they can be spaced as close as 8 inches apart, but may become too crowded with vigorous growth. Water thoroughly after planting to encourage new growth and prevent transplant shock.
Alternatively, you can plant seeds straight into the ground in spring once all danger of frost has passed. Plant in rows or simply sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil and water to replicate natural propagation. Thin the seeds to a spacing of 8-12 inches once the first few sets of leaves have emerged.
How to Grow
Before growing these lovely flowers, there are several important factors to take into consideration. You’ll want to make sure you understand how to much water they need, what kind of light they take, their soil needs and ideal temperature/climate. Let’s take a deeper look into all the gworing basics of convolvulus tricolor.
The ideal position for this plant is full sun. These plants are found in open fields in bright sunlight for most of the day and can handle the summer heat well. In very warm areas, they appreciate some afternoon shade in summer, but prefer full sun in most regions.
They can handle some partial shade relatively well but will not produce as many flowers. As they are appreciated for their flowers and not the foliage, more flowers are ideal. If you only have an available space with partial shade, ensure it at least gets plenty of morning sun.
Convolvulus tricolor has similar watering requirements to the rest of your flower garden – around one inch of water per week. Due to their native habitats, they are somewhat drought tolerant but flower more reliably with consistent watering.
Gardeners in regions with rainy summers will need to water far less than those with dry summers. In these areas, rain will take care of most of your watering needs, with some exceptions for extended incredibly hot days without rain.
While they are not particularly prone to disease, good watering technique is always important. Avoid overhead watering, focusing on the soil around the plants. Do not overwater, especially in compacted soil, as this can lead to root rot.
Do you have a patch of soil in your garden that is sandy or rocky with few nutrients where plants refuse to grow? Plant dwarf morning glory there. This plant thrives in poor-quality soil and doesn’t need high levels of nutrients to flower. If soil is very poor, you can add a few handfuls of compost to the soil before planting, but this is usually not required.
The most important quality in the soil is drainage. These plants cannot be left to sit in water, so the soil should drain well. If your soil has a high clay content, amend with sand before planting to create the right environment.
The affinity for poor quality soil is what makes the spread of this plant so vigorous. It will germinate and root just about anywhere.
Climate and Temperature
Native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, this plant prefers climates with dry summers. When grown as an annual, it will survive in any USDA Zone from spring to summer, ready to be removed before frost kicks in during autumn.
To grow this plant for longer than one year, it will need to be in a completely frost-free region in Zones 9-11. Temperatures should not dip below 60F in winter, but even then, the plant will only live for another season or two.
Convolvulus tricolor performs best in poor-quality soil and doesn’t require any additional fertilizers. If fertilized, they will not flower as vigorously, focusing on growing more foliage instead.
Apart from watering, dwarf morning glory requires little to no additional maintenance. If you live in a region with a climate this plant favors, the only maintenance you will need to consider is controlling its spread.
As these plants spread around their parent plant and to other parts of the garden via seeds, deadheading is the most effective control measure. Remove spent flowers from the plant before seedpods develop to stop the spread and subsequent germination.
The award-winning Convolvulus tricolor has several morning glory cultivars with stunning colors. The most popular cultivar is undoubtedly ‘Blue Ensign’ or ‘Royal Ensign’. The petals are edged in a deep cobalt blue, fading into white with bright yellow at the center. The colors merge into each other with the pattern of a brushstroke, making each flower appear as if it was hand-painted.
‘Blue Flash’ is similar in color, but the petals feature far more of the stunning blue color and less of the white. The white and yellow sit in the center of the flower trumpet, forming a bullseye-like shape surrounded by a swarm of blue.
While blue is the most popular Convolvulus tricolor color, it is not the only option. For something more dramatic, look for the bright ‘Red Ensign’. The patterns are exactly the same as the ‘Blue Ensign’, but instead of captivating cobalt, the petals are an intense, fiery bright red.
Finally, if you prefer more muted tones over bright colors, try ‘White Ensign’. Stepping away from the scientific name, this plant only has two colors – white and yellow. The trumpet-shaped flowers are a delicate white with the classic yellow centers that bring these different cultivars together.
Pests and Diseases
When growing dwarf morning glory, you are unlikely to encounter any pest or disease problems. At most, if your garden already has problems with an aphid or spider mite infestation, they might spread to your Convolvulus tricolor too.
Minor aphid infestations can be tackled by hand. Simply remove the bugs and squeeze them between your fingers. Larger infestations require a bit more muscle in the form of horticultural oil. When applied to the foliage of your plant, horticultural oil suffocates the existing bugs and prevents any eggs from hatching, preventing further infestation.
Do not apply during the hottest part of the day as the oil can cause the leaves to burn. Remember that it won’t only prevent aphids from settling on your plants, but also beneficial insects like ladybugs too. Use these measures only as a last resort, and focus on keeping aphids out of your garden altogether than dealing with an infestation after it hits.
If you have a problem with spider mites, evident by the tell-tale webs they leave behind, follow the same process.
Their short stature makes them an ideal border plant. Plant along your edging in front of other perennials for a line of blue to frame your other flowers. This also makes them far easier to remove at the end of the flowering season as they will be easily accessible. Alternatively, interplant them with other annuals to highlight several colors in the same bed.
As for design, these plants are well suited to cottage gardens or wilder gardens with an informal look. When left to grow without cutting back, they can tend to look untidy and are better suited to overflowing gardens with masses of other plants and flowers.
They may be taller than most ground cover plants, but dwarf morning glory can still act as a ground cover plant in an open bed. Use it to cover open areas of soil to improve the structure and keep weeds down.
Due to their native habits, they are also great in coastal gardens. Plant amongst grasses or other coastal flowering plants in dry, well-draining soil for an added pop of blue reminiscent of a deep ocean.
Those with small gardens don’t have to skip out on this plant either. Suitable for growing in pots, these plants make great fillers in mixed containers and are ideal specimens for hanging baskets.
No matter where they are placed, you can be sure the flowers will attract many pollinators in the summer. Bees are attracted to the bullseye-like center, with some other beneficial garden insects following suit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is dwarf morning glory a perennial?
Convolvulus tricolor is typically grown as an annual. That’s because the plants don’t live for very long and can’t handle any frost or cold weather. However, they can last longer than one season if planted in the right climate and given the right care. They may last more than one season in USDA Zones 9-11. Any hints of frost over fall or winter will end up killing the plant.
Even if you can get your dwarf morning glory to last more than one year, it may not flower as vigorously as in the first year and can become untidy when left for long periods. To continue to grow these plants year after year, it is best to collect seeds from the existing plants, pull them out, and sow again in the same spot in spring. This will give you the healthiest plants and the most blooms year after year.
When should I start sowing?
If you want to get your plants out in the garden and flowering as quickly as possible, sow seeds in trays indoors around 1-2 months before the last frost date in spring. This time will vary by region, so it’s important to check the dates for your specific area and plan accordingly. The seedlings can then be moved outdoors in spring once the weather has warmed up.
Alternatively, you can sow the seeds straight into the ground after the last frost date. Your plants will need a few more weeks to grow and might flower later than if you started indoors. However, planting straight into the ground does have the benefit of simplicity and the least risk of disturbing the roots of the plant, preventing transplant shock. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.
If you want to stagger your flowering season, you could always try both methods. Start a few seeds indoors around 6 weeks before the last frost date, sowing more into trays every two weeks. Then, after transplanting those seedlings, continue to sow seeds straight into the ground too. This will ensure you have plenty of color to last throughout the summer season, with some flowering early and others sticking around into fall.
Do dwarf morning glories climb?
Many plants in the bindweed genus have the ability to climb structures. This makes their invasive nature even more dangerous, as they can tower over other plants, depriving them of sunlight and ultimately suffocating them.
However, Convolvulus tricolor does not have this ability. This compact plant will stick low to the ground and won’t climb any nearby structures, making it a far safer option for companion planting.
Are dwarf morning glories hardy?
Dwarf morning glory cannot handle any cold and are not hardy plants. However, when grown as annuals, this isn’t a concern. Simply pull them out of the garden in the fall as the plants begin to die back.
In milder climates, you can protect them over winter with frost covers, but due to their short life span, it is far easier to remove them from the garden and plant them again in spring.
Why isn’t my dwarf morning glory blooming?
As Convolvulus tricolor is grown for its bright flowers, it can be distressing when the plant does not bloom. This problem is caused by several factors, the most common of which is lack of sunlight.
Since these plants are suited to full sun conditions, areas with too much shade will stop the plant from flowering. Excessive fertilization can also cause fewer blooms as it encourages the plant to focus more on producing foliage.
These carefree beauties are wonderful additions to any dry or rocky landscape, giving the harsh elements a touch of delicacy. They may only stick around for one season, but readily self-seed to create the masses of blue flowers found across Europe. Though short in stature, their spread is wide, covering a large area with gorgeous blue blooms. Plant along beds or in containers for a stunning display of this summery plant.