Heliotrope: planting, caring & overwintering

Anika
Anika
Anika
Anika

I studied agricultural sciences and have always preferred spending my free time outdoors. Apart for my enthusiasm for gardening and agriculture, I love taking photos and rarely leave home without my camera. Whether it is landscapes, blossoms or wildlife, I can usually find a perfect shot that captures the beauty of nature.

Favourite fruit: strawberries, blueberries, plums
Favourite vegetables: radishes, tomatoes, pumpkin

Heliotrope is a wonderfully fragrant eye-catcher for any garden or balcony. We present the most beautiful solstice species and show how to properly plant and care for the South American beauty.

Heliotrope flower
Heliotrope flowers bloom for several months and smell wonderfully of cherry pie and vanilla [Photo: Nick Pecker/ Shutterstock.com]

Heliotrope: flowering time, origin and properties

The heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) belongs to the borage or rough-leaf family and originated in the Peruvian Andes. The flowering period of the heliotrope is wonderfully long – up to five months – and lasts from May to September. The sun-loving flowers display upright, dense growth and reach heights of 30 to 80 centimetres depending on the variety. Many small, five-petaled, mostly dark purple single flowers form profuse umbel clusters above elliptical, alternated, mostly dark green leaves. The leaves are wrinkled and slightly hairy. The vanilla flower is also called the solstice because its leaves – as in many species of the Heliotropium genus – always face the sun and turn with the position of the sun. Another distinctive feature of the heliotrope is its intense vanilla aroma.

The most beautiful Heliotropium arborescens varieties

There are several varieties of heliotrope, which differ in flower colour, leaf colour, height of growth, or even flower aroma.

Here is a selection of the most beautiful solstice varieties:

  • ′Alba′: white flowers with a very intense vanilla aroma
  • ′Marine′: dark purple to deep blue flowers; compact growth: 30 – 40 cm
  • ′Schloss Ahrensburg′: medium blue flowers; blooms very early; smallest variety: 30 cm
  • ′Iowa′: light purple flowers; scent of gummy bears
  • ′Aurea′: light purple flowers; green-yellow foliage
Light purple heliotrope flowers
Varieties like ′Iowa′ and ′Aurea′ have light purple flowers [Photo: Open_Eye_Studio/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting heliotropes

Heliotrope can be planted in pots on a terrace or balcony, as well as in flower beds – the main thing is that the location provides plenty of sun!

The perfect location

Solstices love the sun, so they should naturally be planted in a sunny place. Semi-shaded locations are also suitable but the optimal development of the plant is achieved in direct sunlight. The perfect location is also as protected as possible from the wind and rain.

What to consider when planting heliotrope in a flower bed?

If you have found a sun-exposed spot in your flower bed, it is also important that the soil around the heliotrope is humus-rich, fresh and water-permeable. In order for the plant to develop optimally even in somewhat poorer soil, you can add some good potting soil such as Plantura Organic Flower Compost to the planting hole. Before planting, pull the root ball of the flower apart slightly to stimulate root development. Also, be careful not to plant the flower too deep. Vanilla flower is happy with abundant watering immediately after planting.

Plantura Organic Flower Compost
Plantura Organic Flower Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly:
for flower beds & plant pots,
ensures beautiful plants that flower all summer,
100% natural ingredients

Heliotropes for the balcony: tips for planting in a pot

The flowers also grow very well in a pot on the balcony or terrace. When planting, choose a sufficiently large planter so that the roots can develop well. To avoid waterlogging, it is essential to have a drainage hole in the bottom of the container. To keep this free, clay shards can be placed over it. Our peat-free Plantura Organic Flower Compost is very suitable as a substrate. It provides the solstices with the perfect conditions for vigorous growth and abundant flowering. The expanded clay included provides balanced moisture and thus healthy root growth.

Plant care

In addition to its location requirements, which can be easily recognised by its name, the solstice is relatively robust and easy to care for. Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure a proper supply of water and nutrients.

Watering heliotropes

Solstices should be watered daily. However, since the flower is sensitive to waterlogging, drainage or seepage of excess water must be ensured.

Fertilising

To meet the nutrient needs of solstices, a monthly application of liquid fertiliser is recommended from April to September. Our Plantura Liquid Flower Food quickly and easily provides the fragrant heliotrope with all the essential nutrients.

Plantura Liquid Flower Food
Plantura Liquid Flower Food

Liquid fertiliser with an NK ratio of 3-4, for all flowering plants, promotes healthy plant growth, child & pet friendly

Pruning heliotrope flowers

In order for the flower to keep investing its energy in the formation of new magnificent inflorescences, the withered flowers and parts of the plant should be removed. In the case of pre-cultivated young plants, it is also advisable to regularly pinch off the tips of the shoots. This stimulates tillering, which makes the plants bushier and prevents them from growing too quickly in height. In the autumn, you can do a light pruning if needed before overwintering.

Overwintering

Heliotrope flowers are not hardy and cannot tolerate temperatures below 5 ° C. However, this does not mean that you have to throw away the plants after flowering; if solstices are overwintered in a sheltered place, they will bloom again in full splendour the following year. With proper care, heliotropes grow larger and stronger from year to year. Place the heliotrope in a wind-protected, dry and bright place in the autumn before the first frosts. The temperature should be between 12 and 18 °C. The plant requires little watering during the winter months, fertilising is completely eliminated. In May, when the nights are frost-free, you can put the flower back on your balcony or in the garden.

Flowering heliotrope in pots
Heliotropes are easy to cultivate perennially in pots [Photo: COULANGES/ Shutterstock.com]

Propagating heliotrope

On the one hand, the heliotrope flower can be propagated by seeds. Sowing is done from January to March in a warm, bright room at 18 to 22 ° C. The light is important, because solstices are among the light germinators. Therefore, cover the seeds with a thin layer of substrate at most or press them only lightly to make contact with the soil. Germination requires some patience: you need to wait 10 to15 days for seedlings to appear. From mid-May, the pre-cultivated seedlings can then be placed outdoors.

Propagation via cuttings is also possible. To do this, take about ten-centimetre-long cuttings from the plant in autumn or spring and put them in pots with potting soil. The cuttings form roots and shoots within a few weeks and grow into new heliotrope flowers.

Is the flower poisonous?

The heliotrope is poisonous. Therefore, despite its enticing aroma, it should never be consumed. The roots in particular, but also the above-ground parts of the plant, contain toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which serve as secondary plant substances to defend against predators. The degradation products of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids can cause severe liver damage in high doses.

Is the heliotrope bee friendly?

It is not just humans that fall for the enticing scent of the flower. Bees find a good food supply in its numerous inflorescences and butterflies also like to settle on the flowers of the heliotrope.

Bees on heliotrope flowers
The heliotrope flower attracts bees and other insects [Photo: Brzostowska/ Shutterstock.com]
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