Find out how to Plant, Develop, and Care For Heliotrope

You may have noticed in your gardening adventures that some flowers seem to follow the sun across the sky. Sunflowers, for instance, will turn their flowers to face the sun throughout the day. Although this is a fairly common trait among flowers, heliotrope gets its name for this habit. It means to turn or change with the sun. 

Heliotropes are a favorite summer bloomer with lovely, fragrant flowers and dense, textured foliage. They are sometimes known as cherry pie plants because of their fragrance. The flowers are said to smell like a sweet dessert with notes of vanilla and cherry with a nutty almond undertone. 

Though they are often grown as annuals, these plants are perennial in warm climates. They make a beautiful addition to the garden. They are especially nice to plant near entryways, paths, and outdoor living spaces, where their scent can be best enjoyed. 


The heliotrope is a perennial plant from the Boraginaceae family.

Native Area

North America, Central America, South America

Watering Requirements


Pests & Diseases

Mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids, spider mites, powdery mildew

Soil Type

Rich, loamy, well-draining, moist

Hardiness Zone

Perennial in 9-11, annual elsewhere

What Is It?

tiny purple flowers with white centers on a sunny dayIt is a popular Victorian-era flower and once adorned Emily Dickinson’s casket.

Very popular in the Victorian era, heliotrope was a common flower to find in gardens and parks. One was even placed on the casket of the famous American poetess, Emily Dickinson. This sweet-smelling flower has traveled across the seas and back again. Let’s explore the origins of the plant, and discuss how to help this vintage flower flourish in the modern garden.


Vibrant purple heliotrope flowers soak up sunlight in a garden.This plant’s blossoms emit a sweet, almond-tinged scent.

This blooming beauty is a perennial in warm climates and is usually grown as an annual in cooler ones. It is a small, shrubby plant that can reach up to six feet tall in its natural environment. In cultivation, it will be closer to half that size. 

The leaves are oval-shaped and deep green with a rough texture and prominent veining. Some varieties have leaves with a purple tint, while others are solid green. They can also have a wrinkled texture. 

This flower is prized for its fragrant flowers. These five-lobed blossoms grow in flat clusters and can be shades of blue, violet, or white. The perfume is sweet and delicate with almond undertones and notes of vanilla and fruit. Older varieties tend to have a stronger scent than newer hybrid varieties. 

These plants have a long blooming season that lasts from late spring until early fall. Deadheading the blooms will result in more flower production, as it helps the plant to redirect energy to new growth.  

Native Area

vivid violet bloom clusters rise above deep green foliage.They thrive in diverse habitats ranging from arid deserts to moist woodlands.

Heliotrope plants are native to the Americas, with species occurring in North, South, and Central America alike. Their habitats differ by species. Some species grow naturally in arid, desert areas, while others prefer moist woodlands. Still others are decidedly salt-tolerant and grow in sandy, coastal areas


A close-up of purple heliotrope flowers surrounded by green foliage, illuminated by warm sunlight.Heliotrope plants should be planted after frost.

You can grow this plant in the ground, as well as in containers. It makes an excellent border plant and is stunning in a mass planting. The plants grow taller than they do wide, so plant them relatively close together. Leave about 12″ of space between these and their neighboring plants. 

Plant your heliotrope in the spring after all the threat of frost has passed. Start them from seed ahead of time to maximize bloom time. This is especially important in climates with short growing seasons. 


Heliotrope plants with clusters of small, purple flowers and lush green leaves, soaking up sunlight in a garden setting.Prepare the planting area by loosening and amending the soil.

If you are growing from seeds, make sure to harden off your seedlings and acclimate them before planting outdoors. An unexpected frost will kill your young plants, so don’t plant too soon. Water your seedlings or starts ahead of planting to minimize stress.

Loosen up the soil in your planting area, and do any amending at this time. After you’ve prepared the soil, dig a hole that is slightly larger than your root ball. Remove the plant from its container and loosen the root ball lightly. The top of the root ball should be level with the surrounding earth. 

After positioning your plant in the hole, backfill, and then tamp down the soil to remove air pockets. Be gentle to avoid harming the delicate roots and young stems. Water in your plant, and then water regularly to help the plant establish roots. 

Growing from Seed

A person carefully pours heliotrope seeds from a packet into their palm, positioned beside a black tray and plant on a tabletop.Plant seeds during spring to allow them to establish before the summer heat.

It’s a good idea to plan ahead when planting these seeds. They take between 84-120 days to mature from seed, so it’s a good idea to start them indoors, ahead of time. They are not cold hardy, so they can’t go in the ground until after the threat of frost. Sow your seeds indoors, 10-12 weeks ahead of the last frost date. 

In warmer climates, you can plant them any time of year, but spring is best. This gives them mild weather to get established before the heat of summer causes stress to plants. Seeds take a long time to germinate, so be patient with them. Expect it to take anywhere from 30-40 days for germination. It could be less, but you just never know with these. 

How to Grow

Heliotrope is not a difficult plant to grow. It is relatively pest and disease-resistant, although powdery mildew can be an issue in humid climates. As long as you meet their basic needs, these plants don’t require much maintenance

Make sure to pinch your young plants. This will cause branching and produce fuller, more attractive plants and more flowers. Don’t pinch too late in the season, though, as this will prevent flowering. 


A close-up of vibrant purple heliotrope flowers and green leaves illuminated by bright sunlight.Excessive sun and heat increase watering needs significantly.

In general, these are full sun-loving plants. That said, in warm climates that sun exposure is best fulfilled early in the day. Ideally, plant these where they will get six to eight hours of sun in the morning. Afternoon shade is best in warm climates.

 In cool climates, you won’t need to worry as much about the heat of the afternoon sun. Still, be mindful of the moisture needs of this plant. Too much sun and heat will make them high maintenance in the watering department. 


Consistent moisture is preferred over soggy soil.

Heliotropes like moisture, a lot. Water your new plants every other day to help them establish roots. They are not drought tolerant even once established. They will need frequent watering in times of hot, dry weather. If growing these are perennials, cut back on watering in the winter.

As much as they like moisture, they won’t tolerate soggy soil and wet feet. Overwatering and underwatering can both manifest in drooping leaves. Good drainage will help determine the cause of drooping leaves. If your drainage is fine and the leaves are droopy, your plants need more water.  


Hands gently cradle the loose, dark soil surrounding the delicate roots of a heliotrope plant, lifted carefully from its pot.Enhance standard potting soil with compost for nutrient-rich growth.

For the healthiest plants, fertile, loamy soil with good drainage is best for this plant. Clay-heavy soil, or soil that otherwise compacts easily is not ideal. If you have sandy or clay-heavy soil, it’s best to amend your soil with compost before planting. 

In containers, you can use a standard potting soil. If you want to give your potted plants a healthy start, mix in some compost to add nutrients. These plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH. 

Temperature and Humidity

Some lavender flowers are in bloom, while others in the close up cluster are in bud, waiting to open. Ensure adequate air circulation and water at soil level in humid climates.

In terms of soil temperature, wait to plant your heliotropes until the soil reaches 60° F. This is the temperature at which the seeds will germinate, additionally. These are warm climate plants, and the ideal daytime temperatures range from 65°-80° F. Evening temperature ideals are 10-15 degrees lower. Below 40° F, you can expect this plant to stop growing. Freezing temperatures will kill the foliage. 

Some varieties are well-suited to humid weather. ‘Augusta Lavender’, for instance, is very heat and humidity tolerant. Most varieties, however, prefer drier weather. In humid climates, leave some room for proper air circulation and water at the soil level. In some instances, powdery mildew can be a problem. 


White-gloved hands holding a bottle of liquid mineral fertilizer above a green watering can, surrounded by brown pots.Heliotropes require monthly application of balanced organic liquid fertilizer.

Heliotropes are heavy feeders that need fertilizer on a regular basis. For plants in the ground, fertilize at least once per month in the spring and summer. A fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus will help your plants to develop more and stronger flowers. Potted plants can take even more fertilizer. Fertilize container plants every two to three weeks.


a cluster of deep violet blooms on broad green leaves. Pinching young plants between three and six inches tall encourages branching.

Pinching your plant while it is young will cause branching. Do this when your seedlings are between three and six inches tall. Stop pinching mid spring or your plants may not flower well, or at all. Pinching in general will delay blooming, but your plant will produce more flowers, later in the season. Deadheading will also increase your plant’s flowering ability by redirecting energy to new growth. 

In warm climates where this plant is evergreen and perennial, cut the plant back by half in the fall. This will encourage branching and denser foliage. In cooler climates, no pruning is necessary except for deadheading.  


You can propagate these plants by seed or cuttings. We’ve discussed growing them from seeds, which is fairly straightforward. The only caveat is their rather long germination period. When propagating from seeds, be patient. It can take a month to see any action from these seeds. 


Black pots with heliotrope plants; their glossy leaves veined intricately, placed on a wooden table.Plant cuttings in moist, well-draining soil amended with compost and perlite.

Propagating this plant from cuttings is simple and can make your plants last much longer if you live in a cool climate. Rather than losing your plants every winter, you can take cuttings of them and root them indoors over the winter. Then, you have new plants for the spring, and you don’t have to start all over from seeds. 

Take your cuttings in late spring or summer. Your plants grown from cuttings will be carbon copies of the parent plant. Seeds do not always breed true. Choose stems that are four to six inches long and cut them just below a node. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, and dip this end in the rooting hormone. 

Prepare a pot or pot with moist soil that is well-draining and rich. Amending with compost will give your new plants plenty of nutrients to grow on. If you need to improve the drainage, mix in some perlite. Plant the cut ends of your cuttings down in the soil. 

Place your cuttings in a warm, bright location, but avoid direct sunlight. Once the plant has rooted, it will tolerate more sun. Over the winter, keep the plant in a sunny spot. Then, simply plant your new plants in the spring as you would plants grown from seeds. 

Deep Marine

'Deep Marine' heliotrope plants featuring deep purple flowers contrast beautifully with vibrant green foliage.The ‘Deep Marine’ variety is known for their rich cherry and violet fragrance.

‘Deep Marine’ is a popular variety with small, dark purple flowers. They are very fragrant with the signature cherry and violet scent, with rich, opulent undertones. Dark, blue-green foliage has a lot of texture and heavy veining. Bees love these, and other pollinators will enjoy them as well. 


A close-up of 'Atlantis' heliotrope flowers, featuring clusters of small purple petals, illuminated by soft sunlight.This features heavily fragrant, warm purple flowers ideal for filling small gaps among larger plants.

‘Atlantis’ is compact with a mounding habit and dense, deep green foliage. The leaves have a lot of veining and are very textured. This heat-tolerant variety has warm purple flowers that are heavily fragrant. This one is great for filling in smaller spaces between larger plants. 

Augusta Lavender

A bee hovers over purple 'Augusta Lavender' heliotrope flowers, contrasting beautifully against lush green leaves.Its lavender flowers have pale petals with white centers and tiny yellow accents.

‘Augusta Lavender’ has a reputation for its excellent heat and sun tolerance. This variety is great for warm climates and spaces that receive little shade. The flowers match the name in a pale shade of lavender. The center of the small blooms is white with a tiny yellow accent. This variety is taller and less dense


A close-up 'Alba' heliotrope flowers showing delicate white petals surrounding yellow centers. Plant ‘Alba’ near your outdoor living space for its fragrant blooms.

‘Alba’ is a taller variety. If you guessed this one has white flowers, you’re right! It’s also one of the most fragrant varieties with a rich vanilla scent that carries well. Plant this one near your outdoor living space to enjoy the perfume. The flowers will be more visible in the evening because of their color. A wonderful addition to the moon garden

Common Problems

Heliotropes are pretty sturdy plants that don’t have many vulnerabilities. There are a handful of issues to look out for, but you can correct most of them easily. 


A close-up of a vibrant green leaf covered in delicate spider mite webs.Address pests with hand removal or a strong hose stream.

A few pests may be attracted to these plants, but they are mainly an issue for plants overwintering indoors. if you bring your heliotrope indoors for the winter, keep an eye out for browning leaves. These can be a sign of spider mites. Mealybugs may pop up, and alcohol on a cotton swab will clean up a mild infestation. 

Outdoors you may run into aphids or white flies. Removal of aphids by hand works on a mild infestation. Neem oil is a good treatment for these insects in the event of a more serious infestation. 


Heliotrope plant leaves covered in powdery mildew, with additional foliage blurred in the backgroundRegularly remove damaged leaves and prune for better airflow.

The most common disease to affect this plant is powdery mildew. Because it likes a lot of moisture, it is more prone to fungus. This is more of an issue in humid climates, and you can prevent it by watering at the soil level. Avoid watering the leaves, and give this plant space for proper air circulation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Bring your plants indoors for the winter in cool climates. Set this plant in a sunny spot and reduce watering.

Over or under-watering can cause leaves to wilt. Make sure your plant has proper drainage, and keep the soil lightly moist to strike the right balance.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to beautiful flowers that smell wonderful, heliotrope has few rivals. This pretty little garden plant works wonderfully in flower beds, as a border, and even as a container plant. Give your plants plenty of morning sun and lots of moisture, and enjoy their delightful fragrance all summer long!

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