How to Grow Heliotrope – Heliotropium

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Heliotropiun–commonly called Heliotrope or cherry-pie plant–is a bushy evergreen shrub grown as an annual. It has oval, dark green crinkled leaves topped by clusters of purple or white, sweet, and spicy vanilla-scented blooms through the summer.

The Heliotropium genus contains about 250 species of annuals, perennials, and, subshrubs, and shrubs. Fragrant Heliopropium arborescens is the most commonly grown. It is a tender small shrub. Where winters are cold, it is best grown in a container that can be overwintered indoors.

Use smaller Heliotrope cultivars as edging or in borders. The flowers will attract butterflies to the garden.

Heliotrope arborescens, small fragrant shrub
Heliotrope arborescens, small fragrant shrub

Get to know Heliotropium

  • Plant type: Annual or perennial
  • Growing Zones and range: Annual in Zones 2 to 10; perennial in Zones 10 to 11
  • Hardiness: Tender
  • Height and width: 12 to 48 inches (30-121cm) tall and wide depending on the variety.
  • Foliage: Dark green, rough-textured, oblong to lance-shaped, 1- to 3-inch, hairy, wrinkled,d and deep veined leaves
  • Flowers: Tight dense daisy-like flowerheads in clusters, almost shaving brush-like with a fruity vanilla fragrance
  • Flower colors: Purple, white, and deep blue, sometimes pink
  • Bloom time: Summer through frost
  • Uses: Mixed borders, edging, containers; indoor houseplant in winter
  • Common name: Heliotrope
  • Botanical name: Heliotropium arborescens
  • Family: Boraginaceae
  • Origin: Subtropical Americas

Where to plant Heliotropium

  • Grow Heliotropium in full sun. Plant where there is afternoon shade in Zones 7 to 11.
  • Grow Heliotropium in humus-rich, well-drained soil.
  • Heliotropium prefers a soil pH of 6.6 to 7.3.

Heliotropium uses

  • Heliotropium makes a decorative display in borders.
  • Use Heliotropium in cut flower arrangements.
  • Heliotropium is set off to advantage with planted with flowers of lighter colors such as sweet alyssum or marigolds.
  • Massed plantings of Heliotropium provide a sweet perfume fragrance.
  • Grow Heliotropium in containers near doorways or patios where the fragrance can be enjoyed.
Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens
Heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens

When to plant Heliotropium

  • Set Heliotropium in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed.
  • Sow seeds indoors 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Keep seed at 70° to 75°F (21°-24°C); seeds will germinate in 4 to 6 weeks.
  • Set plants in the garden when the soil is at least 60°F (15.6°C).

Planting and spacing Heliotropium

  • Sow seed 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep in sterile potting mix indoors or evenly prepared soil outdoors.
  • Space Heliotropium 12 to 24 inches (30-61cm) apart.

How to water and feed Heliotropium

  • Keep the soil evenly moist; mature plants can withstand some dry soil and periods.
  • Fertilize Heliotropium every 4 weeks with an all-purpose fertilizer.
  • Fertilize container-grown plants with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer.

Heliotropium care

  • Mulch around Heliotropium with 1 to 2 inches (2.505cm) of aged compost or shredded leaves to prevent disease.
  • Mulch in autumn where plants will remain over the winter, Zones 9-10. Mulch with chopped leaves or straw.
  • Dig up plants in cool and cold winter regions; bring the plants indoors to grow through winter.
  • Trim spent blooms to encourage more flowering.
  • Replace Heliotropium annually or overwinter it indoors at room temperature.
  • Move plants indoors before the first frost in autumn.

Growing Heliotropium as a houseplant

  • Grow Heliotropium in a warm room with direct or bright light and average humidity.
  • The growing medium should be rich, soulless, and well-drained. Keep the medium evenly moist.
  • Fertilizer Heliotropium every two weeks.
  • To keep plants small and compact, prune them back in the fall.

Heliotropium pests and diseases

  • Greenflies and whitefly may infest plants grown indoors and overwintered.

Heliotropium propagation

  • Seed-sown plants will be slow to grow; uniform plants, propagate by cuttings.
  • Seeds germinate in 7 to 21 days at 70° to 80°F (21°-27°C).
  • Take cuttings indoors in late summer and grow them indoors through winter. Cuttings root easily in water or moist loam.

Heliotropium and cultivars to grow

  • Heliotropium arborescens, Heliotrope, cherry-pie plant: Tender shrub grows to 4 feet (1.4m) tall, shorter in containers; showy 3 to 4-inch wide clusters of tiny lavender, violet, or white flowers; rich vanilla-like fragrances. Cultivars include ‘Blue Wonder’ which grows 12 inches (30cm) tall, ‘Mini Marine’ dwarf grows to 10 inches (25cm) tall, and ‘Fragrant Delight’ which is very fragrant.

Heliotrope frequently asked questions

Q: Can heliotrope be lifted from the garden and grown indoors as a houseplant?

A: Yes. Pot heliotrope in an all-purpose potting soil. Place it in a sunny and cool window. It should not be grown indoors at more than 55°F. Place the plant in bright light. Water the plant moderately. Cut back long sprawling branches occasionally. Mist the plant occasionally.

Q: Can I start new plants from the heliotrope in the garden?

A: Take stem cuttings in late winter to make new plants. Root the cutting in water or sand. Use a rooting hormone. Once rooted, transplant them into a potting mix to grow on. The new plants can be set out in the garden in late spring.

Q: How do I get heliotrope to bloom indoors in winter?

A: Start heliotrope cutting in summer for bloom indoors in winter. Mature plants can be forced to bloom in winter if you keep them pinched back and disbudded through the summer.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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