How to Grow: Heliotrope

Heliotropium arborescensVanilla Flower, Heliotrope, Potted Plant, Flower Purple


Other Name

Cherry pie plant


Sun Requirements

Full sun, part sun, part shade


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

summer until fall in colors of white, blue, and lavender


Mature Height x Spread

1 to 2 feet x 1 to 2 feet


Added Benefits

attracts hummingbirds, attracts beneficials, deer resistant


If you’re looking for a fragrant annual that will perfume a container or bed, look no further than the heliotrope. It’s called the cherry pie plant because some think the fragrance resembles that fruity dessert. I think it smells more like vanilla, but to each his own. Even without the scent, the heliotrope would be a popular annual to grow. It features blue, white or purple colored flower clusters on a bushy dwarf plant that’s perfect in a low growing flowerbed, container or window box. It’s best to plant near a window or doorway and at waist height or above where you can enjoy the fragrance that much more. The foliage is dark green and pleated giving this plant another attractive feature.


Where, When and How to Plant

Start heliotrope seed indoors 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost date under grow lights. You can also buy heliotrope seedlings from garden centers in spring. Plant seedlings or transplants outdoors after all danger of frost has passed in a full to part sun location on well-drained fertile soil. Plant in containers or in the ground spaced about 1 foot apart.


Growing Tips

Keep heliotrope plants well watered. Pinch back the young plants to stimulate more branching early in the season. Deadhead the plants regularly to keep it flowering. Fertilize monthly with an organic plant food.


Regional Advice and Care

The flowers actually move with the sun, like a sunflower, and will follow the sun’s path throughout the day. So grow heliotrope where you can enjoy this movement. To increase the fragrance, plant heliotrope in groups and in a location with hot, afternoon sun. The heat will help release more fragrance. If powdery mildew disease causes the leaves to turn white, then yellow and die, consider spacing the plants further apart to increase air circulation to dry out the leaves and spraying with an organic fungicide such as Serenade.

Heliotropes can also be brought indoors and grown as houseplants in winter. Cut back the plants, reduce watering and grow them in a sunny south-facing window. Keep an eye out for white flies and aphids and spray insecticidal soap to kill them.

Despite it’s common name cherry pie plant, all parts of heliotropes are poisonous and should not be ingested.


Companion Planting and Design

Grow heliotrope in containers or in the ground close to the house to enjoy the fragrance. Grow heliotrope as a companion plant with low growing, colorful annuals such as nasturtiums and calendula. Mix them with silver foliaged plants, such as dusty miller or cascading, pastel-colored trailers such as lobelia or alyssum.


Try These

‘Marine’ heliotrope features dark purple flowers while a ‘Mini Marine’ versions grows only 8 to 10 inches tall; perfect for window boxes. ‘White Queen’ features white, fragrant flowers.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.