Four o'clock will please both your eyes, as well as your nose, with fragrant tubular-shape flowers that come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Sometimes you even get blossoms of different colors on the same plant. These showy flowers open in late afternoon, around 4 p.m. (hence the name) and close up again the following morning. Because it loves to self-seed, this classic cottage garden plant can often be planted once and then enjoyed for years. Use four o'clock to fill up space quickly in an annual or mixed bed, or provide splashes of color in a container. Or plant the nighttime bloomer near a bedroom window so you can enjoy its fragrance along with the light of the moon. Worth noting: This fragrant, beautiful plant is poisonous if eaten, so keep away from children and pets.
Four o'clock's showy tubular flowers come in pink, rose, magenta, red, yellow, and white. Plus, the blossoms of some varieties are streaked, splashed, or striped in a host of colors. Along with its multicolored flowers, four o'clock features more than one foliage color. One variety in particular, 'Limelight', boasts bright chartreuse green foliage that provides a stunning contrast to its fuchsia flowers.
Four O'Clock Care Must-Knows
Plant four o'clock in full sun and well-drained, evenly moist soil. Many varieties will tolerate part shade, but they then run the risk flopping over, thanks to this plant's ultimate large size and fast growth pattern. Part-shade conditions may also lead to problems with powdery mildew.
Four o'clock is extremely easy to start from seeds (it will even self-seed in optimum conditions). Soak them in water overnight before planting to improve their odds of germinating. Plant seeds directly in the garden soil after the last frost date, or start plants indoors 6 to 8 weeks ahead of that date. If you prefer to work with seedlings or transplants, plant them outside after the last frost date.
Although often treated as an annual, four o'clock is actually a tender perennial that produces tuberous roots. It ultimately flowers better if grown from one of those tubers than from seed. That's why you may want to dig up the roots in fall after frost has killed back the foliage. Wash the tubers, allow them to dry, and then store them in moist (but not wet) peat moss or sawdust in a cool, dry place until planting time the following spring. This is also the best option for varieties like 'Limelight' that won't look the same if grown from seeds you save from the plant.
Once the threat of frost has passed, you can plant the overwintered tubers outside again. First, turn the soil about 12 inches deep. Dig a hole that's 1 inch deeper and two times bigger than the tuber. Place the tuber upright with its roots at the bottom of the hole. Fill the hole with soil, then tamp gently to remove air pockets. Soak with 1 inch of water, and keep the soil moist for about two weeks. Keep them well-hydrated as they grow.