It’s Time to Plant Four O’Clocks

Mirabilis jalapa

Did you know there’s a plant named after a time of day?

And while you may recall the rather old-fashioned four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) from visits to Grandma’s house, the name of the plant isn’t a reflection of when Grandma eats dinner.

Instead, the name indicates the time of day when the plant’s trumpet-shaped flowers open.

The flowers open in late afternoon, in response to a temperature drop. Nocturnal moths and other nighttime pollinators are attracted to their nectar.

A collage of different photos showing close ups of pink and yellow Four O'Clock Flowers.

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The flowers remain open throughout the night and into the morning, when temperatures rise and the flowers wilt.  Like daylilies, four o’clock flowers bloom just a single time, then wilt and eventually fall off the plant.

On cloudy days, the flowers open earlier and sometimes won’t close at all. Again, this is not due to a lack of light, but rather, to temperatures that are lower than usual.

Pink "passalong" four o'clock flowers creating a ground cover in garden beds.

Many gardeners find deadheading unnecessary because even the wilted blooms are attractive, and the plant blooms profusely with or without deadheading.

Let’s learn more about this shrubby, colorful perennial!

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As if “four o’clock” weren’t an interesting enough name, this plant also goes by “marvel of Peru,” a nod to its native South American habitat.

This flower has been cultivated for hundreds of years. In its heyday a couple of generations ago, it was a popular “passalong” plant in the southern United States, meaning neighbors and friends frequently shared the plant with each other.

Take a page from Grandma's book and plant lovely four o'clock plants in your garden: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-four-o-clock/

Hardy and grown as a perennial in zones 7b-11, gardeners in other zones often grow these beauties as annuals. They will self-sow.

This bushy nocturne can grow to be one to four feet tall, and one to three feet wide. It is heat and drought tolerant, and is a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.

Wild critters know not to ingest the roots and seeds of this plant, because they are poisonous. If your pooch has a propensity for eating random yard objects, you may want to collect the dark, leathery, round seeds.

In the deep south, M. jalapa begins blooming in late spring, while northern gardeners will have to wait until mid-summer to catch a whiff of the highly fragrant blooms.

Color, Color, and More Color

If color is your thing, you’ve come to the right place.

Four o’clock flowers can be pink, red, magenta, lavender, yellow, or white.

Plant four o'clock to add a vintage touch to your landscape | GardenersPath.com

The flowers may be a solid hue, or they may have more than one color in a striped, splotchy, or spotted pattern.

You may see different combinations of shades and patterns on a single plant.

And to further brighten your days, the flowers of some varieties will change color as the plant matures.

Add vintage beauty to your landscape by planting four o'clocks: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-four-o-clock/

So, you buy a lovely yellow plant at the garden store in May, and walk out one July evening (around the time Grandma’s cooking dinner) to discover you now have a plant with dark pink flowers!

That said, here are some varieties that, with luck, will remain true to color:

White Four o’Clock Seeds

Gardeners looking for a blaze of white might want to consider M. jalapa ‘Alba’, available from My Seedy Needs via Amazon.

Four o’Clock ‘Pink Trumpet’ Seeds

For a vibrant pink bloom, try ‘Pink Trumpet’ from Country Creek Acres, via Amazon.

Four O’Clock Bi-Color Mix Seeds

And if a kaleidoscope of patterned blooms is what you’re looking for, try this mixture from David’s Garden Seeds, available through Amazon.

Time to Plant

M. jalapa flowers best if it’s planted in full sun, but it will take some shade.

This plant prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil, and it is a heavy feeder, so make sure your soil is rich in organic material.

Four o'clock is an attractive addition to planters | GardenersPath.com

It prefers well-draining soil, and it does require regular moisture — the plants will go dormant if conditions are dry for too long.

You can plant seeds or divide existing plants by digging up your neighbor’s tubers.

Add a general-purpose fertilizer in early spring, and then feed once a month during the growing season if your soil needs a little boost.

Rust Be Gone

These plants are fairly pest free, but their foliage can be affected by rust.

A close up vertical image of the packaging of Bonide Organic Neem Oil for use on plants on a white background.

Bonide Neem Oil

For rust, remove affected foliage and treat the remainder of the plant with neem oil, such as this product from Bonide, available from Arbico Organics.

Time to Reminisce Over Dinner

Whether it’s eleven o’clock or one o’clock, or yes, even four o’clock, there’s never a bad time to plant these colorful beauties.

Order seeds or ask a neighbor for a “passalong,” and help to revive a plant from an earlier time that surely deserves a comeback.

Four o'clock adds color and charm to the garden | GardenersPath.com

Invite Grandma over for dinner some summer day, and prepare to be regaled by tales of how she grew these memory-instilling flowers in her own garden.

Do you remember four o’clocks from your childhood? Do you have some growing in your garden now? Tell us your tales of this well-loved antique in the comments section below.

Product photos via My Seedy Needs, Country Creek Acres, David’s Garden Seeds, and Safer Brand. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

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Rhonda
Rhonda (@guest_1339)
3 years ago

I have tried to grow four o’clocks in zone 3. They will not germinate. My friend in zone 8 has the same issue. Are there any tried & true tips to planting these?

Carla
Carla (@guest_1806)
3 years ago

I remember them in our yard as a kid 40+ years ago. I noticed the seeds in the packet look different from the round peppercorn-like seeds I remember falling off the plant. Must be the extra moisture in the fresh seed. I’ve never tried to grow them until now. I just want to see something new out on my balcony. I’ve grown Morning Glories and Moonflowers and grape tomatoes. I wanted another kind of trumpet flower that didn’t climb, but grew as a bush.

Pat
Pat (@guest_1901)
3 years ago

I finally got these to grow this year, by putting the seeds into a zip lock bag with a damp paper towel. Put the baggie in a warm dark place (drawer, cabinet over the stove). As soon as you see the sprouts, put them in soil or potting mix. Magic!

angie
angie (@guest_4683)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
2 years ago

My uncle in ND has been raising 4 o’clocks for 30 years.. Some of you may be shocked to see this photo but he has rows like this…it’s amazing…. I collected seeds from various colored plants just to see if I could get a specific color. I can’t believe germination is a problem for some. I have always been able to grow them… just NOT like his. He is in hospice right now at 94, I am trying very hard to follow all his instructions to try and grow them tall as hedges like he does… time will tell.

DSC_2450_pe.jpg
Angie
Angie (@guest_4684)
Reply to  angie
2 years ago

ps… I never knew 4 o’clocks would reseed themselves like daisies. We have replanted them every year and never had them come up volunteer. Hm??? I am in MN maybe you are all in southern zones..

Deb
Deb (@guest_4993)
Reply to  Angie
2 years ago

You should take him a bouquet. They are so fragrant. I bet it smells so good in his garden.

And I had family in Minnesota and have spent winte
And I had family in Minnesota and have spent winte (@guest_9898)
Reply to  Angie
1 year ago

Angie I live in Buffalo New York so I’m very much like Minnesota. And I had family in Minnesota and have spent winters there. My four o’ clocks are beautiful and they reseed themselves every year – they come up about 4 feet high. I just leave them alone and let them reseed.

Kandace
Kandace (@guest_5855)
Reply to  angie
1 year ago

What are some of the instructions he has given you to get them to keep growing so beautifully.

Sandy murkerson
Sandy murkerson (@guest_12997)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
2 months ago

Just use a pencil….make a hole ..drop the seed in…that’s it…l have many plants and colors …fun plant!!

Jeana Elmore
Jeana Elmore (@guest_8758)
Reply to  angie
1 year ago

How beautiful! And blessings to your uncle and to you for adding such beauty to the world.

Brenda
Brenda (@guest_9855)
Reply to  angie
1 year ago

Spectacular!

Carolyn Ballentine
Carolyn Ballentine (@guest_8051)
Reply to  Pat
1 year ago

I have seeds from my grandmas yard. They have been in a plastic bag for about 8 years. I planted some last year and they never sprouted. I put some in a glass of water for 3 days and they started sprouting. They are growing great in a large pot.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy (@rosekennedy)
Member
Reply to  Carolyn Ballentine
8 months ago

Wow, Carolyn Ballentine, how fun that they came through for you! Pictures always appreciated…

Adam
Adam (@guest_1927)
3 years ago

Our neighbor had these in her yard when I was a kid 40+ years ago. I remember all the different colors she had, and the wonderful smell! Last year a friend had one in a pot, and this year I got some seeds and planted them in pots and beds. When they came up, I gave some to my mother, and between us they are all doing great. Planning on having more next year!

Chris
Chris (@guest_1932)
3 years ago

I love these happy plants. They remind me of my childhood… lining the driveway and greeting us with their fragrance when we arrived home in the summer evenings. I have some now and each year they spread farther into the yard. The red and yellow plants will surprise me with a few striped flowers.

Rose fabre Amato
Rose fabre Amato (@guest_1953)
3 years ago

Thanks for a very beneficial site, really enjoying, thanks ????

Kelly
Kelly (@guest_2048)
3 years ago

My boyfriend and I recently moved into a house, and noticed something growing in a line. Knowing they had to be plants, I’ve watered them when I water my other flower gardens. Turns out, it’s these beauties! Any tips or tricks on how to relocate some would be greatly appreciated!

Misty
Misty (@guest_5798)
Reply to  Kelly
1 year ago

They can water root from a cutting very easily.

Shana
Shana (@guest_2155)
3 years ago

I purchased a home in March. Four o’clocks starting coming up in June and are approx. 2.5-3 feet tall now and almost in bloom. I didn’t know what they were for months until seeing the buds, and my sister in law took a snapshot and uploaded to her phone and identified it through a plant database. There are approx. 10 plants that line a spot near my back patio where I already have jasmine growing nearby. I can’t wait for the fragrant flowers and am soooo grateful for this lovely gift left for me! I’ve never had four o’clocks before.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-sidhu)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Shana
3 years ago

How exciting, Shana! Enjoy the flowers when they arrive, and feel free to share photos with us on our FB page!

Julie
Julie (@guest_2257)
3 years ago

We bought a house a year ago in July. There weren’t really any flowers planted in the yard. Then this giant bush with beautiful fuchsia and yellow striped blooms exploded in the yard. I love these flowers. So glad to find your post and learn how to share them. I want to move some to another sunny spot in the yard but I was afraid I would kill the plant!

Linda Spotts
Linda Spotts (@guest_2299)
3 years ago

My grandpa grew these along his fence line when I was growing up. When we would come over he would have us collect the seeds for him. He died about 45 years ago but we have kept the seeds through the generations. Our family now numbers over 300 and plants from grandpa’s seeds are growing throughout the U.S. and even in Europe! Looking at their little tie-dye flowers brings back many fond memories!

Jeana Elmore
Jeana Elmore (@guest_8759)
Reply to  Linda Spotts
1 year ago

How beautiful! Blessings wherever your grandpa’s four o’clocks grow.

Rose Kennedy
Rose Kennedy (@rosekennedy)
Member
Reply to  Jeana Elmore
3 months ago

I completely agree with your sentiment, Jeana Elmore.