How to Grow and Care for Four O’Clock Flowers

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 our older relatives often tend to eat dinner.

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

A close up vertical image of a single pink and white four o'clocks flower with foliage in soft focus in the background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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

They 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 fade 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.

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

Whether you’re drawn by nostalgia or you’re looking for an appealing, colorful, easy-care perennial for a cottage garden, border, or container, you’ll want to check out this old-fashioned favorite.

Here’s what to expect in this guide:

What Are Four O’Clock Flowers?

Tender perennials in Zones 7b to 11b, gardeners in other Zones often grow these beauties as annuals. They will self-sow.

This bushy nocturne usually grows one to four feet tall, and one to three feet wide, but perennial plants have been known to reach six feet in height in ideal conditions.

A close up horizontal image of yellow four o'clocks growing in a container on a patio with a bamboo screen in the background.

It is heat- and drought-tolerant, and a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

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 immediately after they make a showing, or skip growing this old-fashioned ornamental altogether.

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

Cultivation and History

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

This flower has been cultivated for hundreds of years.

A close up horizontal image of yellow and pink bicolored four o'clock flower pictured on a dark soft focus background.

Indigenous people used the roots for medicine and as a hallucinogen, and Europeans found the plants in the Americas and brought them back to their countries around 1540.

In those days, the red flowers were used to make food coloring.

In its heyday a couple of generations ago, this was a popular “pass-along” plant in the southern US, meaning neighbors and friends frequently shared the plant with each other to grow in their own gardens.


Four o’clocks grow easily from seed, and it’s not that tough to grow them from tubers uprooted at season’s end, wintered over, and planted out again the following spring.

A close up horizontal image of a four o'clock plant with pink buds.

Here’s the go-to info for either approach:

From Seed

One huge advantage of four o’clocks is that even beginners can succeed at growing them from seed.

And you can collect the heirloom seeds at season’s end to share or start more plants.

In areas with a shorter growing season, you may want to start four o’clocks indoors six to eight weeks ahead of your area’s average last frost date.

Fill trays or small pots with seed-starting mix. If you wish you can opt to soak the seeds overnight in warm water to speed up sprouting.

The seeds need light to germinate, so space them a few inches apart and merely press them into the soil about a quarter-inch.

Place the container in a room with temperatures between 65 and 75°F, and where it will receive light either from a window or a grow light.

Keep the soil moist with a clean spray bottle of water. You can expect the seeds to germinate within about 15 days.

Once they’re a couple of inches tall and have at least two sets of true leaves, transplant the seedlings to two-inch cells or into the container where you plan to grow them for the season.

Seedlings can go in the garden when they’re about six weeks old, after you’ve gradually conditioned them to the increased light and warmth of the great outdoors.

Harden them off when conditions permit for about an hour on the first day, adding an hour each day for about a week.

Gently remove them from their pots or seed-starting cells, and plant them to the same depth as in their containers. Provide plenty of water as they get acclimated.

To direct sow in the garden, space the seeds about 12 inches apart, covering them with a quarter-inch of fine soil and keeping them moist until they germinate.

From Tubers

To share tubers with a friend or save them at season’s end to plant out next year, dig them up with a gardening fork or spade, being careful to unearth the entire tuber to avoid accidentally injuring it or slicing off a portion.

Then use your shovel or your hands to gently remove the clumps from the garden, much as you would when lifting dahlias.

Shake the soil from the tubers and store them somewhere cool and dry – but not freezing – like an unheated garage.

Good air circulation is important – some gardeners will layer them between sheets of newspaper in an open crate or box with holes punched in it.

The following year, plant them after the last frost.

Space them one or two feet apart and plant them deep enough to cover with the root end pointed down and the crown end where new growth will emerge planted just below the soil surface.

How to Grow

You may have heard dramatic stories about four o’clocks growing in extra-poor soil or surviving a months-long drought. And indeed, they are tough and tolerant.

A close up vertical image of pink four o'clocks growing en masse in the garden.

But instead of relying on this survival instinct, to grow the healthiest four o’clocks with the most blooms, plant them in well-draining soil that’s been amended with aged compost or other organic material.

Grow them in full sun or an area that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.

If you’re growing them in containers, plant four in a pot 20 inches in diameter that can hold at least five gallons of growing medium.

A close up horizontal image of a pink and yellow Mirabilis jalapa flower pictured on a soft focus background.

Be sure to water the plants during dry spells if you want them to look fabulous, versus just getting by.

Aim for about an inch of supplemental water every couple of weeks if your area is experiencing periods of high heat or zero rainfall.

As for fertilizer, these plants can do without it.

But they’ll flourish and bloom with abandon if you give them an all-purpose balanced fertilizer in early spring and at least once midway through the growing season, or once a month if your soil is lacking in fertility.

Growing Tips

  • Plant either in full sun or a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • To keep the plants looking fresh, provide about an inch of supplemental water every few weeks during summer’s dry heat.
  • Fertilize to encourage flowering.

Pruning and Maintenance

Those growing four o’clocks from seed can pinch back the main stem when immature seedlings are about five or six inches tall. This will encourage sturdier plants that bloom profusely.

A close up horizontal image of bright pink four o'clocks growing in the garden.

Also make sure to pick off any seeds that you don’t want to self-sow, or pull up the new seedlings before they get a stronghold in the garden or other areas where you don’t want them to grow.

For anyone lucky enough to have the opportunity to grow four o’clocks as perennials, there are a couple of additional seasonal chores you’ll need to take on.

Ahead of cooler temperatures each year, make sure to clip any dead or damaged foliage.

Add a two-inch layer of mulch around the stems to help the plants retain moisture through their dormant period.

Be sure to opt for a pollinator-friendly mulch, one that hasn’t been treated with pesticides, like dry shredded leaves from your own garden or untreated pine straw.

Cultivars to Select

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.

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

A close up vertical image of one pink and one yellow four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) flowers growing in the garden pictured on a dark background.

You may even 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.

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

You may want to purchase seeds in a particular shade or see if you can’t scare up some starts from neighbors or a local gardening club.

There are also seeds available from reputable vendors online. Few will have a specific cultivar name, usually being tagged just as “four o’clocks,” perhaps with a color named afterward.

A square image of red Mirabilis jalapa flowers pictured on a soft focus background.

Red Four O’Clocks

For example, you can find red-flowering seeds available from Eden Brothers and yellow-flowering ones available at Outsidepride via Amazon.

A close up of a packet of 'Marvel of Peru' seeds with text to the left of the frame and a hand-drawn illustration to the right.

Marvel of Peru

If you’d like to mix it up, a collection of bicolor, red, magenta, white, and yellow marvel of Peru seeds are sold in 25-seed packets from Botanical Interests.

As for more specific cultivars, consider these:

Kaleidoscope Mix

A Burpee-bred mixture, these four o’clocks are all bicolored or multicolored and dramatic, some of them with deep orange and apricot blooms, others a creamy white with magenta highlights, and still others in light pink and bright white with light orange portions.

A vertical image of Mirabilis jalapa 'Kaleidoscope' flowers pictured in bright sunshine.

Kaleidoscope Mix

These are a natural choice for tropical plantings or splashy container ornamentals for the porch or gazebo.

Kaleidoscope Mix is available in 45-seed packets from Burpee.

Marbles Mix

This option sports striped, one-and-a-half-inch flowers that are pink, rose, red, and yellow, all in a marbled pattern. The scent is delicate and redolent of orange blossom.

A vertical image of purple, pink, yellow, white, and bicolored four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) growing in the garden.

Marbles Mix

Marbles Mix is available in 35-seed packets from Burpee.

Managing Pests and Disease

One of the reasons these colorful plants are so appealing is that they are resistant to deer marauders, and aren’t bothered much by other pests or diseases.

There are a few potential foes to watch for though, including these:


As mentioned above, critters seem to know not to eat these plants, though you may want to watch out for your dogs if they’re inclined to munch whatever is in their path.

About the only insect that might attack is the aphid, an unappealing little sap-sucker that’s oval in shape and may appear in any number of colors, including buff, brown, or green.

You can blast aphids with a steady stream of water, or follow some of the other strategies outlined in our guide.

Should you spot leaves that look like they’ve been chewed on and you can peer right through the damage, you may be battling slugs.

Another indicator is the pleasant slime trails they leave behind… Just kidding, they’re gross!

A top strategy for keeping slugs at bay involves diatomaceous earth – read more about it in our guide to keeping slugs and snails under control.


Again, these are tough plants. But they’re not impervious to these potential plant diseases:

Fusarium Wilt

A soil-borne fungus can cause Fusarium wilt, putting four o’clocks in a bad way.

You might notice they’re drooping, a symptom that’s usually followed by yellowing leaves.

Unfortunately, ornamentals that are suffering from fusarium wilt can’t stage a comeback. Instead, you’ll need to pull up all the affected plants, taproots and all, and send them to the trash bin, not the compost.

Then make sure to move any healthy plants to a new spot for next year, following the instructions for overwintering tubers outlined in the Propagation section above.

Leaf Blight

If you see small, yellow, halo-shaped spots on the leaves, your plants may have leaf blight. Ack!

These spots start small but they can turn brown and cause the leaves to wither pretty quickly.

About the only way to treat this ailment is to eradicate all of the affected plants.


If you notice reddish-brown spots on the foliage or stalks, your plants might have rust.

If you determine that’s the condition, work quickly to remove the affected leaves and stems, then treat the remainder of the plant with neem oil.

A close up of a bottle of Bonide Neem Oil isolated on a white background.

Bonide Neem Oil

Try this product from Bonide, available from Arbico Organics.

Saving Seeds

Since these are such charming plants to share with beginner gardeners and those who are nostalgic for simpler times, it’s handy that the seeds are so simple to save.

A horizontal image of an open palm holding a handful of four o'clocks seeds ready for planting.

After some of the flowers have faded, you will want to start collecting the seeds they produce before they get dispersed onto any available soil, where they’ll sprout next spring.

Look for the small, dark, football-shaped seeds to appear at the tip of the stems after the dead flowers drop.These are actually fruits, which hold the seeds inside.

Pick them directly from the plants, and don’t forget to look for extras that have already fallen to the ground.

Place them on a piece of brown paper or cardboard, and set it out of the light in a cool spot where air circulates freely.

Let the seeds dry completely before you store them. That usually takes about a week, and you’ll know they’re dry when the surfaces are so hard you can’t puncture them with your thumbnail.

For long-term storage, move the dried seeds to small envelopes or little glass jars with screw-on lids. Be sure to label the containers with the plant’s name and the date when you harvested seed.

Move those containers somewhere dry and dark for the duration, until you’re ready to take them out again for gifting or sowing.

Best Uses

Along with being a lovely reminder of simpler times in the past, four o’clocks can hold their own with the most colorful ornamental bedding plants of today.

A close up horizontal image of pink four o'clocks spilling over the side of a concrete pot set outdoors.

Planted close together, they form an attractive annual hedge that butterflies and hummingbirds will home in on.

They also grow well in containers on the patio or a garden wall, as long as you’re willing to offer up a bit of extra supplemental watering throughout the driest portions of the summer.

A close up horizontal image of pink and white four o'clocks growing in the garden with droplets of water on the petals, pictured on a dark soft focus background.

Their old-fashioned appeal plays well in a cottage garden, but the colors and drought-tolerance also make them suitable for tropical plantings. For the latter, grow them in front of taller tropicals like elephant’s ear.

Perhaps the best use of M. jalapa is as a pretty flower to share with beginner gardeners.

It’s a snap to save seeds or lift tubers, and neighbors, grandkids, and the local seed library could all enjoy the nostalgic beauty of this pretty perennial.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Tender perennial flower often grown as annualFlower/Foliage Color:Bicolor, magenta, pink, variegated, white, yellow/green
Native to:Tropical South AmericaTolerance:Deer, drought, heat, poor soil
Hardiness (USDA Zones):7b-11bSoil Type:Organically rich, fertile
Bloom Time/Season:Late spring, summer, early autumnSoil pH:6.0-7.0
Exposure:Full sun; morning sun and afternoon shadeSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Spacing:12-24 inchesAttracts:Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, other pollinators
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds), crown end at soil surface (tubers)Companion Planting:Other drought-tolerant plants like black-eyed Susan, lantana, garden phlox
Height:18-36 inches, up to 6 feet in ideal conditionsUses:Borders, containers, cottage garden, pollinator garden, tropical landscape
Spread:1-3 feetOrder:Caryophyllales
Water Needs:Low to averageFamily:Nyctaginaceae
Common Pests and Diseases:Aphids, slugs; fusarium wilt, leaf blight, rustSpecies:Jalapa

A Time-Honored Flower Tradition

There’s never a bad time to plant these colorful beauties.

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

A close up horizontal image of colorful four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) growing in the garden pictured on a soft focus background.

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.

And if you’re planning to incorporate more old-fashioned ornamentals into your garden or landscape, read these flower guides next:

Photo of author


An avid raised bed vegetable gardener and former “Dirt to Fork” columnist for an alt-weekly newspaper in Knoxville, Tennessee, Rose Kennedy is dedicated to sharing tips that increase yields and minimize work. But she’s also open to garden magic, like the red-veined sorrel that took up residence in several square yards of what used to be her back lawn. She champions all pollinators, even carpenter bees. Her other enthusiasms include newbie gardeners, open-pollinated sunflowers, 15-foot-tall Italian climbing tomatoes, and the arbor her husband repurposed from a bread vendor’s display arch. More importantly, Rose loves a garden’s ability to make a well-kept manicure virtually impossible and revive the spirits, especially in tough times.

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Rhonda (@guest_1339)
6 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?

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Rhonda
5 years ago

Hi Rhonda,

See Pat’s tip below; maybe her germination trick will help you!

Carla (@guest_1806)
6 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.

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Carla
5 years ago

I’m a little late in seeing these comments, Carla — did you try growing this plant? have any luck? Upload a photo!

Pat (@guest_1901)
5 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!

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Pat
5 years ago

Thanks for the great tip, Pat! Love to see photos of your garden!

angie (@guest_4683)
Reply to  Gretchen Heber
4 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.

Angie (@guest_4684)
Reply to  angie
4 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..

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Angie
4 years ago

I am in Austin, Texas. I planted some seeds last spring and they did nothing until this spring, when a plant popped up! I was so happy. Not sure I’ll get a hedge, though!

Deb (@guest_4993)
Reply to  Angie
4 years ago

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

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Deb
4 years ago

What a sweet idea, Deb! I’m sure he would love it!

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
3 years 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.

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  angie
4 years ago

Holy cow! Never seen four o’clock like that! That’s incredible. I hope you’re able to duplicate his work, and please know you have my thoughts as you help him through a tough time in hospice.

Kandace (@guest_5855)
Reply to  angie
4 years ago

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

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Kandace
4 years ago

Yes! I’d love to know, as well!

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

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

Brenda (@guest_9855)
Reply to  angie
3 years ago


Carolyn Ballentine
Carolyn Ballentine (@guest_8051)
Reply to  Pat
4 years 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 (@guest_1927)
5 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!

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Adam
5 years ago

Yes! Isn’t it lovely to bring back some of the vintage beauties? Post a photo of your plants!

Chris (@guest_1932)
5 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.

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Chris
5 years ago

Yes! The memories are just wonderful! Thanks for reading, Chris!

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

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

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Rose fabre Amato
5 years ago

So glad you’re enjoying Gardener’s Path! We’re trying hard to make it a useful and fun site for gardeners of all levels.

Kelly (@guest_2048)
5 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!

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Kelly
5 years ago

Hi Kelly… thanks for reading! You can collect the seeds and plant them in spring. Or you can dig up the tubers in fall, store in a cool, dark place over winter and plant in spring.

Misty (@guest_5798)
Reply to  Kelly
4 years ago

They can water root from a cutting very easily.

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Misty
4 years ago

Thanks for the tip, Misty!

Shana (@guest_2155)
5 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)
Reply to  Shana
5 years ago

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

Julie (@guest_2257)
5 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!

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Julie
5 years ago

Hi Julie,

You can collect the seeds, and plant in springtime. Or you can dig up the tubers in the fall, store over winter, and plant in early spring.
Let us know what you end up doing!

Linda Spotts
Linda Spotts (@guest_2299)
5 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!

Gretchen Heber
Gretchen Heber(@gretchenheber)
Gardening Writer
Reply to  Linda Spotts
5 years ago

Linda… what a lovely story! Thanks so much for sharing. How lucky you and your family are to have such a treasure.

Jeana Elmore
Jeana Elmore (@guest_8759)
Reply to  Linda Spotts
3 years ago

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