Heliotrope (Heliotropium Arborescens) – The Complete Guide

It spreads the floral magic of South America and wraps itself in a beguiling scent of vanilla, wine gum, cinnamon, or fruity fizz. The heliotrope is considered an insider tip for the summer balcony and fragrance garden, thanks to evergreen decorative leaves and lavish blooms.

Planting Heliotrope Properly

For ready-bought or windowsill-prepared heliotropes, planting time begins in mid-May. As a substrate, we recommend a high-quality compost-based potted plant soil.

Please also add a handful of lava granules or perlite for best permeability. A few shards of clay over the water drainage act as a protection against waterlogging.

Take a young heliotrope from the growing pot to plant it in the center deep enough so that the soil reaches the bottom pair of leaves. Press the substrate with your hands so that no air pockets hinder rooting.

In daily practice, a watering edge 1 inch (2.5 cm) high has proven effective. Finish the planting process with a generous sip of water.

Care Tips

Its status as a rarity for the summer fragrant garden certainly does not result from modest care requirements. Considering its uncomplicated care regimen, it is quite surprising that the heliotrope is so rarely found in the private ornamental garden.

  • Water heliotropes regularly when the substrate has dried to a depth of 1 inch (2.5 cm).
  • From April to October, apply a liquid fertilizer every week.
  • Fertilize every 3 weeks from November to March.
  • Clean out wilted flowers promptly.
  • Prune lightly in the fall before moving your heliotrope into winter quarters.

In a bright location at temperatures of 50-65 °F (10-18 °C), water the heliotrope very little. If buds or flowers appear, pinch them out with your fingers by February.

At the end of the winter period, cut the woody plant back to 2 buds or a height of 4-5 inches (10-12 cm).

Which Location is Suitable for a Heliotrope?

A heliotrope finds special favor in a sunny, warm, and wind-protected location. Please choose a location that offers your flower fragrant protection from blazing midday sun.

Thus, the heliotrope also does not mind a semi-shaded place where it can enjoy the mild morning and evening sun.

What Kind of Soil Does the Heliotrope Need?

For pot culture, a high-quality potting soil enriched with lava granules, perlite, or pumice has proven to be suitable.

If you prefer annual cultivation in a bed for a heliotrope, a nutrient-rich, humic, and well-drained soil comes into consideration.

When is Flowering Time for Heliotrope?

The heliotrope delights with a blooming period from May to September. As long as the temperatures are well above 50 °F (10 °C), the exotic ornamental shrub with blue or white fragrant flowers transforms the balcony into a pleasant oasis of well-being.

If you regularly cut back the withered flower umbels together with the stem, the next buds will find their way into the sunlight.

Pruning the Heliotrope Properly

Freshly sharpened, disinfected secateurs are among the most important utensils in the proper care of heliotrope varieties. Here we have compiled on what occasions you cut the vanilla flower:

  • At a growth height of 3-4 inches (8-10 cm) prune the tips for a bushy branching.
  • Cut off withered flowers together with the stem to the next bud.
  • Moderate pruning is recommended before putting the heliotrope to the winter quarters in the fall.
  • Consistently pinch out buds and flowers from November to February.

The ornamental shrub receives its main pruning following overwintering. In March, ideally cut all branches to a height of 4 inches (10 cm).

Please make sure that at least 2 buds remain on one shoot, from which the heliotrope will sprout again.

Watering the Heliotrope

Sufficient water supply is one of the fundamental care measures of a Heliotropium arborescens. In a sunny, warm location, daily watering may be necessary, especially during the summer.

To avoid waterlogging, please check beforehand by thumb test whether the top 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the substrate has dried.

Fertilizing the Heliotrope Properly

Pamper your heliotrope with weekly doses of liquid fertilizer from April to October. The flowering and fragrant plant depends on this generous supply of nutrients so that its energy reserves do not run low prematurely.

As the plant moves into its winter quarters, reduce the dosage to an interval of 3 weeks between November and March.

Overwintering the Heliotrope

In the fall, cut back the wilted heliotrope and tidy the plant into the winter quarters. At temperatures between 50 and 65 °F (10 and 18 °C), place the heliotrope in a bright location.

Water the plant occasionally so that the root ball does not dry out. Since the South American beauty does not completely rest, continue to fertilize every 3 weeks with a liquid preparation.

Pinch out buds and flowers with your fingers from November through February. In March, cut back your floral winter visitor again to make room for fresh budding.

Propagating Heliotropes

For vegetative, single-variety propagation, cut non-flowering, semi-woody head cuttings in early summer. Defoliate in the lower part and plant two-thirds in lean growing medium. Then, rooting progresses rapidly.

A plastic bag placed over the plant will further accelerate the process. Please ensure constant moisture of the substrate and do not administer fertilizer.

Alternatively, sow the seeds in small pots in February/March. Sprinkle the seeds with sand or vermiculite to a maximum height of ¼ inch (0.5 cm).

In a half-shaded window place at 65-72 °F (18-22 °C) germination takes 10-15 days.

Is Heliotrope Poisonous?

Heliotrope is suffused with a poisonous alkaloid, which primarily damages the liver. Therefore, a heliotrope is not suitable for cultivation in the family garden.

The danger is too great that the seductive, sweet fragrance will tempt small children to snack on it, with fatal consequences for their health. If curious pets romp around on the balcony, the ornamental shrub should also not be within reach.

Beautiful Varieties

  • Marine: A compact heliotrope that enchants with sky-blue flowers. It is ideal for tub cultivation. The growth height is 12-16 inches (30-40 cm).
  • Alba: A white-flowered, majestic heliotrope variety, revered in Victorian times as ‘The Queen’. The growing height is 32-40 inches (80-100 cm).
  • Sally Reath: An enchanting bloomer for the summer balcony with dark purple flowers. The growth height is 32-40 inches (80-100 cm).
  • Iowa: An innovative cultivar with amethyst-colored flower umbels and sweet fragrance of wine gum. The height of growth is 24-32 inches (60-80 cm).