The vanilla flower is for what it can do – namely to equip balconies, terraces or summery beds with a flowery and wonderfully fragrant decoration – certainly still far too little widespread here. The following article tells you everything you need to know about handling the beautiful flowering plant, in terms of care, propagation and wintering.

Caring for the vanilla flower

Heliotropium means “solstice”, and the solstice is the time in our growing season when the sun is at its highest. Accordingly, the vanilla flower named after the solstice would also like to have a really sunny location. Only in such a location will it develop its full bloom. At such a location, it then shows the second reason for its naming as a heliotrope. The vanilla flower actually turns with the sun, its leaves and flowers turn with the sun. In the morning the vanilla flower “looks” to the east, during the day it follows the course of the sun to the west, when the sun goes down it turns again to the east so that it is in the right position when the sun wakes it up the next morning. Too little light would presumably freeze the heliotropium. You should then develop unhealthy horny growth very quickly. These thin stems should then snap off with every small gust of wind.

The heliotropium has a high nutritional requirement. So it should be planted in a nutrient-rich potting soil, which, however, is best made well water-permeable by adding a little sand. When planting vanilla flowers, you should leave about 8 inches between younger vanilla flowers. Older ones (see overwintering) need a little more space.

The vanilla flower needs a lot of water with its abundance of flowers, but if in doubt it must be able to drain off well, its roots cannot tolerate waterlogging. The water requirement of the heliotropium is often underestimated, as soon as you see droopy leaves, the water dose should be increased. If this is not done in time, the leaves will have brown edges. At least now it is time for a couple of very copious waterings. The vanilla flower usually recovers and blooms again after a few weeks.

In addition, the lush flowering would like to be supported by regular fertilizers. The Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture recommends 2 to 3 g complex fertilizer per liter of water per week for heliotropium, which is classified under “high nutrient requirements”. This is so precisely stated here because the vanilla flower is very sensitive to too much fertilizer. It is not uncommon to observe that a liquid flowering plant fertilizer is used excessively with supposedly good intentions. You should definitely avoid that with the vanilla flower. It is best to start fertilizing with a slightly lower concentration than the manufacturer indicates and slowly approach the wishes of your vanilla flower.

The solstice on the balcony will be 50 cm high. But it can certainly reach stately heights. The stem / stem of the vanilla flower simply grows upright. If you grow it in the bucket and overwinter it, it can grow up to a meter high over the years, and leaves and flowers can then form a “crown” up to a meter wide. Then, by the way, the plant absolutely needs a support pole in the bucket.

Even if you put the vanilla flower in the garden during the season, it can grow up to 80 cm high. In the garden, it should only be planted in places protected from the wind. It is also a good idea to support these vanilla flowers with a stick when they are older, then their flowers will be really big and heavy and the stems will break off.

Flower care for the vanilla flower

When the heliotropium has produced its first flowers, it is up to you whether the flowers will continue to develop for a few months. Only if you cut away the wilted flower umbels in a timely manner, the vanilla flower can and will develop further splendid flowers. With this so-called cleaning of the balcony plants you force the vanilla flowers to form new blossoms by preventing the seed formation.

So you need to rid the vanilla flower of its withered buds before it has seeds. You can do this by simply picking off the withered flowers. If you value very precise design, however, you should better use kitchen scissors. In this way you avoid accidentally tearing off entire parts of the plant when picking. Through this trick, the vanilla flower will continue to work to attract insects in order to ensure its reproduction. So it will keep forming new flowers. In addition, you can usually protect the vanilla flower from fungal infections by cleaning it regularly. The mushrooms prefer to settle on the fertilized flowers.

You can continue to use the harvested flowers. You can simply dry them and put together a flower potpourrie that will spread the beautiful scent in your living room for a while.

Propagate heliotropion

You can grow your vanilla flower yourself from seeds, the seeds are available from any well-stocked specialist shop, growing is very easy: The best way to grow the vanilla flowers under glass is to sow the seeds in a greenhouse from February to March and leave them the seeds germinate at a soil temperature of 18 to 20 degrees. This takes about 2 weeks. After another 2 to 3 weeks, you should separate the seedlings. Until they are planted in their final location, three young plants can be placed in a larger pot; these should be pruned again when they are about 10 cm high.

If you want to prefer vanilla flowers that bloom as early as May, you should sow them in the previous year, by June at the latest. These young plants are then strong enough to be overwintered in autumn and can be planted in the next spring. The early young plants should be watered little in winter and cut back in spring.

Propagation by cuttings is also possible. It is best to cut cuttings around 10 cm long from an existing vanilla flower in June, which you can immediately put in a pot with substrate. If you want to propagate overwintered heliotropium by cuttings, it is best to prune them in February.

Hibernate vanilla flowers

The vanilla flower has its home in the Peruvian Andes. But not at unfriendly heights where it would have to withstand the cold, but at altitudes around 500 meters. In the moist sand riverbeds of tropical rainforest areas, therefore it is very sensitive to frost.

Because that is the case, we often only cultivate it as an annual or sell it as a plant for an annual culture on the balcony. You don’t necessarily have to adhere to that. The vanilla flower is a perennial, and you can overwinter it. It’s definitely worth it, in a few years you will have a stately plant that looks like a small tree.

To do this, the heliotropium has to go into the house before the first frosts, in a cool but very bright place. It is best to give the vanilla flowers temperatures around 5 degrees in winter, which of course is not necessarily the temperature that most of us will find somewhere in our living rooms in winter.

But if he loves heliotropium, it will be quite resourceful, so overwintering in (obviously hardly heated) guest toilets is said to have been successful, in bright garages that are kept frost-free by the adjoining house, in the unheated attic … You could also visit the neighborhood Look around a frost-free greenhouse, or you can entrust your vanilla flower to a professional wintering service. There are even said to be vanilla flowers that have survived a much less favorable winter in rooms where temperatures were well above 5 degrees. Then only a lot of light should be able to keep the plant from forming many thin, tiny shoots. But many a carpenter won’t let that stop them either. It simply cuts off the horny shoots in spring and waits for new shoots.

The vanilla flower will probably lose its leaves and maybe also a few shoots during its winter dormancy, but some vanilla flowers should steadfastly sprout again in spring. If you try to hibernate, you should cut back all dried-up parts of the plant in the spring to the point where life is still visible. When no more frost is to be expected outside, the heliotropium can migrate back to the balcony or in the bucket on the terrace. By the way, they should be carefully accustomed to the sun again there. They should only stand in the light for two weeks before they are put back in a real “sun spot”.

There are several types of vanilla flower

The breeders have long since discovered the vanilla flower, so today there are several other varieties in addition to the original Heliotropium arborescens (blooms lavender blue to purple). Here are a few varieties and their peculiarities:

Heliotropium arborescens

  • “Alba” flowers white
  • “Aurea” develops beautiful golden yellow leaves
  • “Lord Robert” impresses with a dark purple-green leaf color
  • “Marine” grows very compact and develops deep blue flowers
  • “Schloss Ahrensburg” flowers very early and medium blue, with a total height of around 30 cm, the smallest variety
  • “Group Queen” shows particularly large flower umbels in a dark purple
  • “Madame Poschinger” is 50 to 60 cm high and blooms blue

The last two varieties are sterile hybrids, so they can only be propagated by cuttings. If you plan to spend some time with your vanilla flower, you should stick to heliotropium, which is grown as naturally as possible. They probably cope with wintering much better than weak hybrids. Of which you can perhaps even let the seeds ripen and so perhaps one day grow THE vanilla flower that can cope well with the climate in your garden. The vanilla flowers are probably completely overwhelmed with the thought of such adaptability. But the author was able to persuade at least one laurel, which is actually used to the temperatures on Mediterranean coasts, to survive minus 20 degrees in her garden. Some of these varieties are already very well adapted to our conditions, so they should also be able to get along with light, partially shaded locations. Here you should inquire each time you buy, that also depends on the conditions of the rearing.

Diseases and pests

White flies and aphids are common pests of the vanilla flower, especially when you overwinter them. They only have to be combated in the case of severe infestation and should then be combated with natural pesticides that are gentle on beneficial organisms and are based on oil or tea. When it goes outside, these pests are usually “naturally decimated” anyway.

Serious diseases are not known to the Heliotropium, suspicious undesirable developments are mostly related to unsuitable irrigation.

If you have a weakness for true blooms, you should definitely deal with the vanilla flower, and certainly also with how you can get a heliotropium to “make ends meet” in winter for a few years. The vanilla flower is not the right plant for households with children and pets: it contains poisonous pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

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