It’s Time to Plant Four O’Clocks

MIRABILIS JALAPA

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

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

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.

Start your own "passalong" tradition by planting beautiful four o'clock and sharing it with your neighbors : https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-four-o-clock/

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.

Consider growing four o'clock, the shrubby nocturne that brightens up evening gardens | GardenersPath.com

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.

Enjoy vibrant evening blooms from four o'clock | GardenersPath.com

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.

Safer Brand BioNEEM Insecticide and Repellent

For rust, remove affected foliage and treat the remainder of the plant with neem oil, such as this product from Safer Brand, available via Amazon.

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.


Don’t forget to Pin It!

A collage of images showing different types, varieties, and colors of four o'clock flowers.

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
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Rhonda

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
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Carla

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
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Pat

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!

Adam
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Adam

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
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Chris

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
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Rose fabre Amato

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

Kelly
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Kelly

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!

Shana
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Shana

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
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Allison Sidhu

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

Julie
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Julie

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
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Linda Spotts

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!

Tabatha
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Tabatha

I live in Oklahoma where I grow four o’clocks in part shade and have plants that are nearly six feet tall. I’ve never fed them and only weed them once in the spring. I started the bed about ten years ago with about 12-15 seeds. The bed is now easily 20×20 and would be bigger except the lamb’s ear keeps it in check. My cats love hanging out in the four o’clocks. This year, some of the flowers have some interesting color mixtures, splotchy pink on white and a weird purple I’ve never seen before. I love these flowers–they are… Read more »

Carla Quattlebaum
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Carla Quattlebaum

Thought I wouldn’t be growing a Four O’ Clock bush this year, since I didn’t start any seeds indoors this year. After I cut the bush back last fall, I ignored the pot (that sat on my balcony through the winter) and just let the soil stay in it. I intended to dump it and plant something new. Maybe it got enough water from the overflow when I’d put smaller plants in the pot and water THEM. In April, a new plant popped up from where the bush grew last year! Started watering it, and it’s now a foot high!… Read more »

Krähe
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Krähe

Me and my husband moved into an older house that was built in probably the 40s. I picked up some 4 o’clock seeds and just threw them anywhere i could think they would look good. Mainly for the reason that i thought they would be a perfect match for this house cause they’re kind of considered a old timey flowerer. They’re just the beginning though. Trying to gather and remember all the plants I’ve seen in old people’s gardens. Lol

Pattie
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Pattie

I really enjoyed this article. My grandmother gave me four o clock seeds from her garden over 20 years ago. She’s no longer with us but her flowers are.

Arie
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Arie

I received some seeds from my sister in-law who brought the original plant from Cuba. My seeds germinated and the plant has grown pretty much bushy but still no flowers. Kept her under my porch but will now put her next to my outside wall in full sun. Let’s see how she does. I live in Key West, Florida so it should love this sun!

Nancy
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Nancy

Just found out that four o’clocks are the flowers that suddenly appeared in my flower bed two years ago and have take over everything. We have lived in this house eleven years and have no idea how the plant suddenly started growing. I suspect it was a contaminated bag of mulch I used when re-planting the bed with a mixture of ferns, philodendron and lilies of the Nile. I honestly do nothing to encourage the four o’clocks’ growth – no fertilizer, no more mulch, no water. They easily exceed 4-5 feet in height. Is there anything I can do to… Read more »

Cheryl
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Cheryl

Hello a co- worker gave me this plant she said it was a four o clock ,,it was just little ( I live in NE Tx) well it died that winter but came back , did that for 2 years. So it was just a green but big leafy plant. I was gonna pull it up , when I looked at the other side of the plant. There they were. Beautiful pink four o clocks , its really beautiful now so now I looked up four o clocks and sure enough that’s what it is. Thx for all the info… Read more »

maryann.maro
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maryann.maro

I live in Chicago Gretchen and this is the first year my four oclocks won’t sprout. Its now june 30th and its hot Do you think they will sprout. We have had rain almost every day for a month

Catherine
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Catherine

When I was a child in the 50s, 4 o’clocks filled the space between our driveway and house.
There were no girls in our neighborhood so I played combat with the boys. We used the 4 o’clock seeds for tiny hand grenades. That’s what they look like!

EnderFox
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EnderFox

These beautiful flowers were always in the yard next to the house when i was growing up. When my mom sold the house to dug up as many as i could and now have them growing all over my backyard. I hardly care for them and they grow like crazy. I collect some seeds and just toss them wherever i want new plants. In about a month or 2 i have new plants growing.I love to see them as they remind me of my childhood. *Tip for South Floridians though…iguanas love to eat them. I have to grow them in… Read more »

Dan
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Dan

This plant magically appeared in my garden last year – must have been a stray seed or two that wandered my way. My soil is lousy and this summer has seesawed from torrential rains to near drought, (Northern Virginia, near DC) but it has thrived and spread like mad, and has been flowering steadily from early June to late August. I probably shouldn’t tempt fate, but I plan to dig up the tubers this fall and try to organize them a bit.

Selina
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Selina

Pretty flowers and the hummingbird moths love them

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Michelle
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Michelle

My grandma grew these and when I visited my grandpa a couple of months ago he gave me seeds. From Southern Illinois to Southern California, I’ve started the sprouts in the kitchen window and will transplant them later. I shared a couple of seeds with my neighbor earlier today too. I came here for more information on them and was not disappointed:) I didn’t know they came in so many colours.

Gail
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Gail

I’m in zone 6b, Luray, Va. I was not aware of four o’clocks while growing up, but a friend recommended them at least 25 years ago, saying that they are poisonous to Japanese Beetles. I’m still not sure if the bugs are killed, but the plants are beautiful and reseed abundantly without any help. Just like marigolds, unwanted plants are very easy to pluck out. Mine are all yellow and grow to ~3′ tall. I never water or fertilize them.

Vonda
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Vonda

We bought a new home 2 years ago this month. Just this summer we discovered these flowers among the iris. I posted on FB asking what they are. Apparently last year I must have kept them pulled out thinking they were a weed. A beautiful surprise!