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How to Grow Four-O-Clocks — Mirabilis

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Mirabilis–commonly called four-o-clocks–is a bushy perennial sometimes grown as an annual. Fragrant, red, pink, magenta, yellow, or white flowers are borne on panicles over a long period in summer. In cold winter regions, four-o-clocks can be lifted and stored over the winter.

Mirabilis is commonly called “four o’clocks” for their flowers’ habit of opening in the late afternoon. The flowers close again the following morning and then open once again in the afternoon. Flowers stay all day on cloudy days.

Mirabilis is a genus of about 50 species of annual and tuberous perennials. Commonly grown in gardens is Mirabilis jalapa which grows as a perennial in Zones 7 and warmer; it self-sows and grows as an annual in cooler regions. Mirabilis jalapa gets its common name “four-o-clocks” because flowers open in the afternoon.

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 Mirabilis trumpet-shaped flowers
Mirabilis trumpet-shaped flowers

Get to know Mirabilis

  • Plant type: warm-season annual; tuberous-rooted perennial in mild climates
  • Growing Zones and range: 8-11; grow as an annual in Zones 2-6; grow as a perennial in Zones 7-11.
  • Hardiness: Tender in cold winter regions
  • Height and width: 24 to 36 inches (61-91cm) tall and wide
  • Foliage: Ovate leaves on branched stems
  • Flowers: Fragrant trumpet-shaped often fragrant flowers open in the late afternoon and into the evening
  • Flower colors: Shades of yellow, red, white, and pink
  • Bloom time: Midsummer until the first frost
  • Uses: Mixed flower borders, temporary hedge or shrub; plant near patios, patios, entrances, and under windows—to enjoy the fragrance
  • Common name: Four-O-Clock, Marvel of Peru
  • Botanical name: Mirabilis jalapa
  • Family: Nyctaginaceae
  • Origin: Southwest United States and Central and South America

Where to plant Mirabilis

  • Grow Mirabilis in full sun, tolerating light shade.
  • Plant Mirabilis in average to humus-rich, well-drained soil.

Mirabilis uses

  • Grow Mirabilis toward the back of beds and borders.
  • Mirabilis is an old-fashioned plant that is at home in cottage gardens. Mirabilis blooms profusely throughout the summer.
  • Note: All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Four-o-clock flower, Mirabilis jalapa
Four-o-clock flower, Mirabilis jalapa

When to plant Mirabilis

  • Set Mirabilis in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed.

Planting and spacing Mirabilis

  • Space Mirabilis 2 to 3 feet apart; plants look best when grouped in a dozen or more.

How to water and feed Mirabilis

  • Mirabilis want ample moisture; keep the soil evenly moist.
  • Fertilize Mirabilis every 4 to 6 weeks or work in a slow-release fertilizer in spring.

Mirabilis care

  • Mulch around Mirabilis to conserve soil moisture and to control weeds and reseeding.
  • Mulch plants for winter protection in Zones 6-7. In colder zones dug up the roots and store them for replanting in spring.

Mirabilis pests and diseases

  • Mirabilis is usually pest and disease free.
Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa) also called Four o'clock flower
Marvel of Peru (Mirabilis jalapa) also called the four o’clock flower

Mirabilis propagation

  • Sow seed indoors in early spring.
  • Sow seed in the garden after all danger of frost has passed.
  • Seeds germinate in 4 to 6 days at 70° to 72°F (22-23°C). Plants will be large enough for transplanting in about 12 days. Flowers usually appear 8 to 10 weeks after sowing.
  • Divide tubers in spring.

Mirabilis varieties to grow

  • Mirabilis jalapa: busy perennial with ovate leaves; fragrant flowers come in brilliant pinks, reds, yellows, whites, and some striped. Blooms are often mottled. Flowers open in the late afternoon and die by morning,

Mirabilis frequently asked questions

Q: Do I start four-o’clocks indoors or outdoors?

A: You can start four-o’clocks (botanical name Mirablis) indoors or outdoors. Indoors start seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the frost-free date. Sow see in peat pots to avoid disturbing the roots when transplanting. Set out seedlings as soon as possible after the last frost. Harden them off before planting outdoors. Sow seeds outdoors about a week after the last frost. For a spring bloom, sow seed in autumn.

Q: Where is a good spot for Mirabilis in the garden?

A: Mirabilis–four o-clocks–like full sun in a light well-drained soil. Mirabilis can tolerate poor soil and summer heat, but it will also do well where summers are cool. The plant itself is not attractive but the flowers are. Plant Mirabilis behind plants will full foliage; this will situation will favor the flowers.

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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