For a gardener who doesn't keep a normal nine-to-five schedule, growing moonflowers may be the perfect hobby. Ipomoea alba, or the common moonflower, is a night-blooming vine from the same family as the morning glory. Growing moonflowers requires very little effort, and the gardener is rewarded with a climbing vine that can reach a height of 10 to 20 feet (3.05 to 6.1 meters) in one season. In its natural habitat of tropical and sub-tropical climates, this vine is considered a perennial, but in colder climates it must be replanted every year.
The seeds of a moonflower are small, round and brown. Growing moonflowers successfully requires a gardener to either slit the seeds’ hard outer husk or soak them in water overnight before planting. It is recommended that the seeds be started indoors in small starter pots if a gardener lives in a colder climate. The seeds should be inserted into the soil at a depth of about half an inch (1.27 cm). They should be transplanted outdoors after the last frost of the spring season, which varies by region.
As with their daytime cousins, the morning glories, growing moonflowers requires full or partial sun. The plant will begin to bloom in late afternoon and into the early evening hours, and continue to remain open until sunrise. The vines are voracious climbers, and should be planted in a spot where they may spread as needed, such as near a trellis or patio support beam.
Moonflowers will thrive in nearly any soil condition, from very poor to very rich, although they exhibit a preference for rich soil. They require very little care once started. Insect and pest damage is not usually a big problem, although ants may be attracted to the trumpet-shaped flowers.
Moonflowers produce large white flowers. Some gardeners like to grow them alongside various colors of morning glories, especially the "heavenly blue” strain. This commingling results in an abundance of flowers both day and night in one garden spot, blue in daylight and white by moonlight.
The fragrant moonflowers are often considered ornamental, and each flower remains open no longer than one night. In some areas of the world, however, Ipomoea alba is classified as an invasive species, and growing moonflowers is not a good idea in those locations. It is a good idea for any gardener to research a list of indigenous plants and invasive species in their region of the world.
Dead blooms should be removed in a process called deadheading, in which the spent bloom is removed from the plant. Deadheading ensures that the moonflower vine remains healthy and productive during its growing season. If moonflowers are not deadheaded, they will easily self-sow their seeds and a gardener may end up with moonflowers the following spring in an area he had not intended.
Caution should be taken when growing moonflowers in areas with small children or pets. While moonflowers are not harmful if touched, the plant is not meant for ingestion and is considered toxic. Side effects of moonflower seed ingestion include hallucinations and, in rare cases, respiratory distress. If these side effects appear in someone who has ingested part of the plant, it is advisable to call a local poison control or emergency services center immediately.