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Grandpa Ott’s Fabulous Flowers

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The debate quietly raged on. “It’s a weed,” the master gardener whispered to me. I replied the flowers are beautiful. “They spread everywhere” the voice calmly declares. I said again, they are beautiful, even magnificent. I need them and people need to know about them. She sighed.

Grandpa Ott’s morning glories are beautiful. Deep purple flowers with white to magenta red centers open every morning, surrounded by elegant heart-shaped leaves. While they will grow up any climbable surface, including themselves, they are annuals and not heavy enough to pull down a fence like many vines.

Grandpa Ott’s morning glories became a commercial success due to one family. Grandpa Ott’s granddaughter, Diane Ott Whealy remembers warm summer days with the family enjoying their porch shaded by morning glories. The seeds for the family’s prized vines were brought by Diane’s great-grandparents when they sailed across the Atlantic from Bavaria. Her grandfather, Grandpa Ott, nurtured the plants and taught Diane to save the seeds. In 1974 when Grandpa Ott passed on, Diane and her husband Ken were the only people in possession of his seeds. Diane and Ken are the founders of the Seed Savers Exchange. Their efforts have made Grandpa Ott’s morning glories an heirloom favorite.

Morning glories are easy to grow. They like full sun, good drainage and amended soil. Easy on the fertilizer or you will have more plant than flowers. Plant in early spring after the last frost and your plants should thrive until the first winter frost.

The easiest way to plant them is by seed. To achieve quick germination, use a nail file to file down a spot on the hard exterior and then soak the seeds in warm water overnight. Plant your seeds as per the package instructions at ½ inch depth, keeping the soil moist for both the seeds and the seedlings. The plants should germinate in 15 to 21 days.

Morning glories love to climb. Arches, fences, trellises, poles, mailboxes, and other plants (including your tomato plants, she sighed) become a morning glory’s stairway to heaven. Assess your planting site and envision the vines using your neighbor’s Italian cypress as a step stool. It would be beautiful with those flowers popping out behind that foliage but the neighbor might not agree. Two things, different varieties vine at different lengths with Grandpa Ott’s at about 10 to 12 feet. Secondly, if you don’t like them in that spot they are easy to pull out. Small root systems just slide right out of moist soil.

There is an old walnut tree on Albers Road outside of Hughson that is covered with light blue-colored morning glories. It is a sight to behold. Patriotic displays are easy to achieve using red, white, and blue morning glories planted together. Awesome for any holiday.

Hummingbirds and butterflies will seek out your landscape for the pollen and the nectar. Grandpa Ott’s will bring beneficials and pollinators by the droves to your landscape.

To my dear friend who warned us all about the dangers of Grandpa Ott’s, I say, “You are right.” They do reseed (for years to come, she sighed), they do grow over the fence to the neighbor’s, and they are tough. But, I would not give up a minute of the sun shining through those dark purple flowers.

Julie Silva is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County, who loves her Grandpa Ott’s morning glories.

UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne and Calaveras Counties can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 or go to: to fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire. Check out our website at: You can also find us on Facebook.