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How to Grow and Care for the Moonflower Plant

Known for its heart-shaped leaves and large, white flowers, the Ipomoea alba, or moonlight vine, is a favorite of many plant parents, and it’s easy to tell why. The moonflower plant is aptly named Moonlight Vine because its beauty is visible only in the dark. The large white flowers tend to display their magic under the cover of darkness, blooming and releasing a sweet, intoxicating fragrance at night. 

This perennial plant mostly thrives in the tropics. Although it’s a bit similar to Jimsonweed (Datura), it’s not the same thing in that Jimsonweed is toxic, and the leaves are shaped differently.

If you’ve often admired the moonflower plant and wanted to have it in your garden or front yard, it’s about time you got familiar with it. 

In this post, we discuss everything about the moonlight vine or the moonflower plant: what it is, how it’s different from the other moonlight vine (Jimsonweed), where to plant it, and how to care for it. We’ll also explain why it only blooms at night. 

What is the Moonflower Plant?

The moonlight vine is a perennial plant that belongs to the genus Ipomoea and the Alba species. It’s native to tropical and subtropical regions. Its origins can be traced to the Americas, especially Arizona, Florida, Mexico, Argentina, and the West Indies. 

The moonflower plant grows 8 to 20 feet tall. When mature, it can spread as far as 3 to 6 feet wide. It has bluish, greenish foliage, producing large white flowers that bloom at night, mostly during the fall and summer.

The low-maintenance outdoor plant can be potted or grown naturally on the ground. It can be grown by planting the seeds or stems, and its sweet-smelling fragrance is a natural deer repellent. 

Where to Plant Moonflower Vine

Since the moonflower plant loves to bloom at night, you might find it discouraging because who wants to have flowers they can’t see blooming? What’s beautiful about a sweet-smelling plant whose beauty is only visible at night? 

Even so, it’s a wonderful plant to have around your outdoor spaces, especially if you’re the kind of plant parent who loves to admire your green babies at twilight.

If you love spending evenings on the patio or front porch, you’ll enjoy watching the big, bright flowers break and glow in the dimming evening light before releasing a sweet-smelling scent that will fill your entire compound and your home.

When this happens, you’ll watch in fascination as green luna, hummingbird moths, and other night pollinators flock to soak up its intoxicating scent.   

Suppose you want this fascinating experience to be part of your outdoor leisure routine. In that case, you can consider planting moonlight vines in large containers, mostly white ceramic pots, to upgrade your patio’s aesthetics. 

Alternatively, you can grow them near the fence, let them spread freely on the ground, and climb on the fence for a magical appeal. Regardless of your chosen method, you’ll love the decorative, creative look featuring green foliage, white pots, or a white fence. 

However, potted moonlight vines tend to bloom earlier than those grown naturally on the ground. This method also requires lots of watering, and the growth is not as bountiful either, so planting them on the ground is more advisable if you want lush, overflowing growth.

Image of moonflower plant from Pixabay

How and When to Plant the Moonflower Plant

When you’ve decided you want these beauties to decorate your compound, you can do so annually since these perennials can be replanted. They love well-draining, average soil; the seeds should be soaked before planting. 

Alternatively, if you live in a tropical climate, you can propagate the stems instead. Simply cut the stems during the fall and let them grow again. This will help you control overspreading and maintain a tidy, organized yard without the vines climbing all over the place.

Here’s how these two techniques work: 

1. Stem propagation

Once the weather starts to warm up and the vines embark on a relentless growth mission, cut 6–8 inches off healthy stem tips. Next, remove the leaves from the lower end of the stems and place them in a water container.

Add soil and fertilizer mix in a different pot, then insert the cuttings and water. Leave them to settle, and they’ll start rooting after a few days. 

2. Seeding 

If you find traditional propagation with seeds more convenient, you’ll have to act faster. The seeds tend to burst and spill from the pod within two days after turning brown; so, you better harvest them faster before this happens. 

Once the seeds are fully dried, keep them in a conducive environment until planting time. By conducive, we mean a cool and dry place. When ready to sow, soak them overnight, then plant them the following day in a small pot containing seed-starting mix and cover them with soil (not more than an inch). 

Add water and place the pots in a warm, well-lit place at 65°F. Give the seeds a few days to germinate before transplanting outdoors on the ground or in larger ceramic pots. 

Why Does Moonflower Plant Only Bloom At Night?

The moonlight vine, as we have seen, blooms mostly at night. The reason for this phenomenon is that its flowers must be pollinated only by night-flying insects such as the kuna and hummingbird moth. 

First, the buds go over a few days of development before the flowers erupt at twilight and then continue to bloom all night long.

The flowers can stay open until dawn before quickly closing up with the first flicker of sunrise. The foliage contains lush green leaves that can be either heart-shaped and whole or three-lobed. 

The moonflower plant is a natural climber; It will grab onto anything without assisted propping. Besides, it thrives in various soil conditions, making it easy to maintain.

However, they love lots of bright light and water, which encourages faster blooming, while extreme heat will cause them to wilt faster. In addition, you can make these green babies happier by feeding them garden fertilizer at least three times a year. 

Facts about moonflower plant: YouTube

How to Care for the Moonflower Plant

Once your moonlight vines are settled in good soil that drains fairly well, they don’t require delicate, time-consuming maintenance. Below is what your green companions need to stay healthy and happy without being fussy. 

1. Plant them in ideal soil 

Fortunately, these climbing beauties aren’t fussy when it comes to the best type of soil they prefer to live on. They can grow and stay healthy on any soil type, provided it is fertile, well-drained, and nutrient-rich. If you’re still not convinced, go for loamy soil. 

Furthermore, if your garden has drainage issues, you can keep your Moonlight vines thriving uninhibited with thick layers of well-rotted compost. The compost helps keep the ground loose besides providing the required nutrients that foster growth.

If you’re working with potted moonlight plants, use high-quality potting soil and add some lava granulates to the bottom of the pot to aid drainage. 

2. Regular Watering 

This is the most crucial aspect of growing the moonflower plant. It’s a heavy drinker, and any slight exposure to extreme heat will send it wilting quickly. If you grow it on moist soil, it won’t require much watering and will bloom in abundance, producing satisfying lushness. 

Otherwise, maintain a weekly watering routine of 2.5 cm, especially in summer. Once the ground dries after previous watering, get down to watering it again, taking care not to spray the leaves, or they’ll go down with a bad case of fungal infection. 

Also, this goes without saying, but avoid watering your moonlight vine during the rainy season, or you risk creating a massive water log that will cause the roots to rot. Experts recommend watering only for hot sunny days and should be once or twice weekly. 

3. Give them some sunshine, give them some light

The Moonflower plant is one of those green fellows that don’t blink in the face of the sun. They’re known to wither out when exposed to too much heat, yes, but they love to grow facing the sun.

This is quite a paradox but shouldn’t come as a surprise. I mean, these plants only bloom at night, what more would you expect? 

The point is to keep them outside where there’s lots of sunshine but make them happy with regular watering. That means planting them near buildings or locations where they’re likely to get partial shade is out of the question. 

4. Watch the temperature and humidity

The moonlight vine doesn’t get along with humidity or anything close to cold temperature and will die from the slightest hint of cold. Did we mention they thrive in the tropics or subtropics?

So, if you live in Alaska or anywhere up north, you may not be the ideal parent for these plants. And, no seeding should be done until the last frost date of spring is over. 

5. Fertilizer

Another way to raise healthy, lush green plants, especially potted ones, is to use fertilizer rich in phosphorus. Go for a bloom-boosting fertilizer with zero nitrogen if you want large green plants with lots of flowers. Add the fertilizer in summer at least once a month and follow the product specifications to the letter.

About pruning

Fortunately, pruning your moonlight vines is unnecessary, although they can do with some deadheading to encourage further blooming. The plant is also a self-seeder, so deadheading is your best option if you don’t want the seeds to spill and regrow. 

Are Moonflower Plants Toxic?

It’s about time we peeked into the moonlight’s not-so-pleasant attributes because no parent wants surprises in the later stages of parenting. So, like every good thing, these pretty vines also have some toxicity in them. 

Yes, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) states that Ipomoea plants contain hallucinogenic seeds that can cause some side effects if heavily ingested. That’s besides the high concentration of indole alkaloids, which can cause vomiting in humans and mammals.

But that’s as far as their toxicity goes. Moonlight plants are not edible and thus not meant for consumption. Neither are they toxic to the touch, so you can handle them and have absolutely nothing to worry about. 

Still, as with every other gardening activity, you want to keep those soft hands softer without sustaining pricks or similar injuries associated with gardening by wearing high-quality gardening gloves. 

In Conclusion

Moonlight vines are beautiful perennial plants that can turn your yard into a little paradise. Their lush green leaves with equally big white flowers can decorate even the most dull-looking outdoor space. Their intoxicating scent can make your home feel like paradise. 

However, they like to keep their magic secret, blooming under the cover of darkness. They’re easy-to-maintain plants that grow on different soil types, provided there’s sufficient drainage, water, and sunshine. If you’ve been thinking of having them around your home, now you’re fully informed and should start planting right away. 


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