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.

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

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
Rhonda (@guest_1339)
2 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)
2 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)
2 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
11 months 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
11 months 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
9 months ago

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

Kandace
Kandace (@guest_5855)
Reply to  angie
4 months ago

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

Carolyn Ballentine
Carolyn Ballentine (@guest_8051)
Reply to  Pat
21 days 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.

Adam
Adam (@guest_1927)
1 year 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)
1 year 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)
1 year ago

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

Kelly
Kelly (@guest_2048)
1 year 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
4 months ago

They can water root from a cutting very easily.

Shana
Shana (@guest_2155)
1 year 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-schultz)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Shana
1 year 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)
1 year 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)
1 year 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!

Tabatha
Tabatha (@guest_2301)
1 year ago

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
Carla Quattlebaum (@guest_4113)
1 year ago

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
Krähe (@guest_4174)
1 year ago

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
Pattie (@guest_4239)
1 year ago

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
Arie (@guest_4296)
1 year ago

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
Nancy (@guest_4310)
1 year ago

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
Cheryl (@guest_4326)
1 year ago

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 and comments!!

maryann.maro
maryann.maro (@guest_4455)
1 year ago

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

Vikki
Vikki (@guest_4532)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
11 months ago

I grew up in zone 6 , sw PA ..and we had 4 foot tall magenta 4oclocks lining the house. Well I recently moved to NW PA. Zone 5b, and inplaned a whole pack of yellow 4oclocks.. and about 20 plants came up. The ones in the direct sun were the ones that sprouted and are doing well. . I have transplanted some to the other areas.. I hope at least one plant flowers so I can propagate more. Fingers crossed !!

Catherine
Catherine (@guest_4496)
11 months ago

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
EnderFox (@guest_4533)
11 months ago

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
Dan (@guest_4825)
10 months ago

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
Selina (@guest_4887)
10 months ago

Pretty flowers and the hummingbird moths love them

20190820_180430.jpg

Michelle
Michelle (@guest_4955)
10 months ago

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
Gail (@guest_4985)
10 months ago

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
Vonda (@guest_5298)
8 months ago

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!

Dawn Sievers
Dawn Sievers (@aurorahawk)
Member
6 months ago

Many years ago (during the 80’s) four o’ clocks grew along the east side of my house in zone 6a. I was fortunate to have a neighbor who told me what they were; they were lovely, fragrant flowers, which I had never seen before. During the 12 years I lived there we worked to remove trees growing along the foundations and fences. Throughout the time we were taming the jungle I collected seeds from the four o’ clocks and tried to grow them in other areas without success. I even dug up tubers and transplanted them without success. Evidently they… Read more »

Connie Painter
Connie Painter (@guest_5858)
4 months ago

I live in zone 6B and am thinking about planting my 4 o’clock seeds in flower pots.
Would they be too tall to grow in a large flower pot and when should I plant the seeds?

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Connie Painter
1 month ago

Hi Connie!
Thanks for your comment and question! Sorry we are slow getting back to you!

These plants are tender, so if planting them outdoors from seed, plant them at the same time you would cucumbers and squash – after your last spring frost.

4 O’Clocks can grow 2-3 feet tall, so if you plant them in flower pots, you’ll probably want to choose some larger sized pots – or choose shorter varieties which would do better in containers.

Let us know how your container growing project goes – we’d love to see photos!

Meredith Ruffell
Meredith Ruffell (@guest_6648)
2 months ago

Hi! I’m in Pflugerville and we’re going to try our green thumbs out on some four o’clocks… We bought seeds from Park Seed. Thanks for your article!

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Meredith Ruffell
1 month ago

Hi Meredith!
Thanks for your kind comment.

We’re glad to hear you are giving this plant a go. Make sure you let us know how they do!

And we’d love to see photos when your plants are in bloom.

Sheila
Sheila (@guest_6669)
1 month ago

How do you transplant 4o clocks from a pot to garden?

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin (@kristinahickshamblin)
Member
Reply to  Sheila
1 month ago

Hi Sheila, That’s a great question! Luckily 4 O’ Clocks aren’t too hard to transplant. But these plants are tender, so make sure you wait until after your last spring frost to put them outside. Next, make sure you harden them off before planting them if you just brought them home from a garden center. Start them off outdoors in a protected location – not too sunny or windy – and then gradually increase exposure to direct sun. If your plants have been in full sun outdoors and you just want to move them into a garden spot, you won’t… Read more »

Pamela Francis
Pamela Francis (@guest_6813)
1 month ago

How long does it take the seeds to germinate?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-schultz)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Pamela Francis
1 month ago

These seeds take about 7-10 days to germinate.

Laura
Laura (@guest_7000)
1 month ago

My daughter in law gave me a pack of 4 o’clock seeds last year. This year I started 8 of them indoors. Of the 8, only 1 came up but is now a foot tall and I am excited to plant it outside either in a container on the deck or near the deck. I have never grown these before so I’m excited to have the chance after reading your article and everyone’s comments about them.

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-schultz)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Laura
1 month ago

So glad that you were able to coax one to germinate, Laura. Did you decide to plant it out in the garden, or in a container? Let us know how it goes!

Sheila Mueller
Sheila Mueller (@guest_7872)
1 month ago

Planted 4 o’clocks across front flower bed and had people stop to ask what they were. I became “the lady with the beautiful yard.” Let them self seed for 3 years, by that time most of them turned white. Sowed a few new packages and mixed the colors again. Bed always looked new.

Sheila Mueller
Sheila Mueller (@guest_7873)
1 month ago

This was in central Wisconsin.

Terri
Terri (@guest_8055)
20 days ago

As a child, I remember going to grandma’s (yes, as the article above mentions ☺️) and picking the seeds off the plant. It is one of the great memories I have. Grandma would give each of us kids a Dixie cup and we’d all go out and pick those little round black seeds. We would then count them and see who had the most. 💕

Theresa Moyer
Theresa Moyer (@guest_8078)
19 days ago

I bought 30 or more 4 o’clocks this year. I have planted and some took and some didn’t. I had 4 o’clocks in my neighbors yard for decades! But when a new person bought the property, he would mow them down in middle to late October cleaning up his yard and killed them season after season. They were around for 30+ years! So sad! Anyways I always loved them, and ran into a lady selling them. I planted all in containers and along side of my house. We shall see what survives! Do they come back after you plant them,… Read more »

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu (@allison-schultz)
Admin
Noble Member
Reply to  Theresa Moyer
17 days ago

That depends on where you’re gardening, Theresa. Four o’clocks grow as perennials in warmer areas, and they will come back year after year in Zones 7b-11. They also reseed readily, so as long as they are allowed to go to seed, new plants should pop up in the spring in cooler zones as well.

Anna
Anna (@guest_8081)
19 days ago

I have beautiful pink Four O’ Clocks in my “granny” garden! The seeds were given to me by my mother who has passed now four years June 10, 2020. She got them from her mom, my grandmother’s garden! What a joy to read they are special not just to me :))