Home & Garden

Get to know mandevilla

By Lee Reuch, The Associated Press
Saturday July 13, 2002

Here’s a plant you’re sure to love. Perhaps you’ve seen this vine growing in a large wooden barrel and clambering up a small trellis. A quick glance gives the impression of a red-flowered morning glory. But no, the colors of morning glory’s flowers and leaves are somewhat muted, the leaves with a touch of blue and the flowers tending toward pastels. This other plant’s leaves, in contrast, are leathery and glossy, with the rich green of a tropical forest. And its flower color is full-bodied rose pink, white or red. 

The plant commonly is known as mandevilla, named after John Henry Mandeville, a British minister to Argentina, where the plant originated. Mandevilla is not at all well-known, but should be. 

The plant, a perennial, tropical vine, admittedly might not be much to look at in winter. Indoors in winter, the plant might cough forth only an occasional blossom and, depending on the particular variety of mandevilla, leaves frequently are yellow. Nonetheless, the better the growing conditions in winter, the better the plant will look then. 

No matter how mandevilla looks in winter, though, its summer show makes it worth growing. Some people even grow mandevilla as a summer annual, relegating the plant to the compost pile come winter and buying a new plant each spring. 

Mandevilla appreciates light and very well-drained soil, especially in winter when the plant tends to sulk rather than grow. The way to ensure good soil drainage is by adding extra perlite to whatever potting mix you usually use for houseplants. With that extra perlite, you will have to water more often in summer, but at least the plant will be happier the rest of the year. 

Mandevilla does like to rest in winter, so one option is to just let it do so. Keep it in an out-of-the-way place, where yellowing leaves won’t be noticed. Begin in autumn, gradually watering less to help the plant along into its semi-sleep, then keep the plant somewhat dry and cool for a few months. 

Toward the end of winter, repot a mandevilla, cut back any weak stems, and move it to a sunnier window in a warmer room. From then on, the plant should send out fresh, new growth. Move it outdoors in spring, and the glossy leaves and vivid flowers will create a tropical oasis all summer.