The vanilla flower, also known as the solstice or heliotrope, is a wonderfully fragrant eye-catcher for every garden or balcony. We introduce you to the most beautiful solstice species and show you how to properly plant and care for South American beauty.
Vanilla flower: flowering time, origin and characteristics
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The vanilla flower ( Heliotropium arborescens ) belongs to the borage or predatory leaf family and has its origin in the Peruvian Andes. The flowering time of the vanilla flower is wonderfully long with up to five months, it lasts from May to September. The sun-loving vanilla flowers show an upright, dense growth and reach heights of 30 to 80 centimeters, depending on the variety.
Many small, five-petalled, mostly dark purple single flowers form lush corymbs over elliptical, alternately arranged, mostly dark green leaves. The leaves are wrinkled and slightly hairy. The vanilla flower is also known as the solstice because its leaves – as with many species of the Heliotropium genus – always align with the sun and rotate with the sun’s position. Another special feature of the vanilla flower, as the name suggests, is its intense scent of vanilla.
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The most beautiful solstice varieties
There are several varieties of vanilla flowers, which differ in the color of the flowers, the color of the leaves, the height, or the smell of the flowers.
Here is a selection of the most beautiful solstice varieties:
- ‘Alba’: White flowers with a very intense vanilla scent
- ‘Marine’: dark purple to deep blue flowers; compact growth: 30 – 40 cm
- ‘Schloss Ahrensburg’: medium blue flowers; flowers very early; smallest variety: 30 cm
- ′ Iowa ′: light purple flowers; Smell of gummy bears
- ′ Aurea ′: light purple flowers; green-yellow foliage
Heliotropes can be planted in pots on the terrace or balcony as well as in beds – the main thing is that the location offers plenty of suns!
The perfect location for solstices
Solstices love the sun and should of course be planted in a sunny place. Even partially shaded locations are suitable, but the optimal development of the plant is achieved in direct sunlight. The perfect location is also protected as well as possible from wind and rain.
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What do you have to consider when planting solstices in the bed?
If you have found a sun-exposed spot in your bed, it is also important that the soil around the vanilla flower is humic, fresh, and permeable to water. You can put some good potting soil into the planting hole so that the plant develops optimally even on slightly poorer soils. Before planting, pull the root ball of the vanilla flower apart a little to stimulate root formation. Also, be careful not to plant the vanilla flower too deeply. Immediately after planting, the vanilla flower is happy to have plenty of water.
Vanilla flowers for the balcony: tips for planting in pots
Vanilla flowers also thrive in pots on the balcony or terrace. When planting, choose a sufficiently large planter so that the roots can develop well. To avoid waterlogging, there must be a drainage hole in the bottom of the vessel. So that this remains free, pottery shards can be placed over it. Our peat-free organic potting soil is very suitable as a substrate. It offers the solstices the perfect conditions for vigorous growth and lush flowers. The expanded clay contained ensures balanced moisture and thus healthy root growth.
Caring for vanilla flowers
In addition to its location requirements, which you can easily recognize from the name, the solstice is relatively robust and easy to care for. Nevertheless, care must be taken to ensure the correct supply of water and nutrients.
The solstices should be watered daily. However, since the vanilla flower is sensitive to waterlogging, drainage or seepage of excess water must be guaranteed.
To meet the nutritional requirements of the solstices, a monthly liquid fertilizer is recommended from April to September. Our purely organic flower and balcony fertilizer provide fragrant vanilla flowers with all the important nutrients quickly and easily.
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Cut the vanilla flowers
So that the vanilla flower invests its energy again and again in the formation of new, magnificent inflorescences, the dried out flowers and parts of the plant should be cut off. In the case of early young plants, it is also advisable to clip the shoot tips regularly. This stimulates tillering, making the plants bushier and not growing too quickly. In autumn, if necessary, you can cut back slightly before wintering.
Hibernate vanilla flowers
Vanilla flowers are not hardy and cannot tolerate temperatures below 5 ° C. But that doesn’t mean that you have to throw the plants away after flowering, because if solstices are overwintered in a sheltered place, they will bloom again in full splendor the following year. With the right care, the vanilla flower gets bigger and stronger from year to year. In autumn, before the first frosts, place the heliotrope in a sheltered, dry, and light place. The temperature should be between 12 and 18 ° C. The plant only needs to be watered a little during the winter months, there is no need for fertilization. In May, when the nights are frost-free, you can put the vanilla flower back on your balcony or in the garden.
On the one hand, the vanilla flower can be propagated through seeds. The sowing takes place from January to March in a warm, light room with a temperature of 18 to 22 ° C. The light is important because solstices are among the light germs. You should therefore cover the seeds with a thin layer of substrate or only press them lightly to establish contact with the ground. Germination takes a little patience: you have to wait 10 to 15 days for the seedlings. From mid-May, the early plants can then be put outside.
Propagation via cuttings is also possible. To do this, cut cuttings about ten centimeters long from the plant in autumn or spring and place them in pots with potting soil. The cuttings form roots and shoots within a few weeks and grow into new vanilla flowers.
Is the vanilla flower poisonous?
The vanilla flower is poisonous. Therefore, despite its tempting scent, it should definitely not be consumed. The roots in particular, but also the above-ground parts of the plant, contain poisonous pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which serve as secondary plant substances to ward off predators. The breakdown products of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids can cause severe liver damage in high doses.
Is the vanilla flower friendly to bees?
Not only people fall for the bewitching scent of the vanilla flower. Bees find a good supply of food in their numerous inflorescences and butterflies like to settle on the blossoms of the vanilla flower.
If you want to make your garden bee-friendly and want to expand the food supply for insects, our bee pasture is ideal.