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It may keep you awake at night.

On warm nights, the rich, slightly spicy perfume of heliotrope envelope the garden. Old-fashioned varieties were grown for fragrance alone; their flowers were a nondescript purplish white. But modern selections such as 'Black Beauty' and 'Iowa' look as pleasing as they smell: leaves are dark green with a purple cast, and deep purple flower clusters 2 to 5 inches across tip each branch.

You'll find plants in bloom in gallon cans in many nurseries this month.

To keep heliotrope looking its best, you'll need to pamper it a little. Near the coast, plant it in well-drained soil in full sun; in hotter climates, provide afternoon shade. The best site is a warm pocket protected from wind and cold. Water regularly from spring until cold weather. Snails, slugs, and some caterpillars favor it, so bait regularly and spray as necessary.

One way to outwit snails and slugs is to plant heliotrope in hanging baskets. It's especially handsome combined with snow-in-summer (Cerastium) or purple lantana. But consider hanging baskets only if you are a meticulous waterer or have an automatic watering system. These plants won't look attractive if you let containers dry out.

In cold weather, heliotrope grows slowly and has few leaves--although it often continues blooming. Termperatures below 20[deg.] are likely to kill it. Except in mild coastal climates, consider it an annual unless you can move it into a greenhouse or other warm spot in winter. If you plan to keep a plant more than one season, prune the current season's growth back to 3 to 4 inches each winter and keep soil fairly dry until spring growth starts.

To take cuttings. In fall, cut 3-inch lengths from side shoots with a knife. Then poke cut ends into sand or perlite and keep them in a greenhouse or other warm spot. Water just enough to keep the rooting medium damp. When roots form, move cuttings to progressively larger pots until weather is warm outside. You can also take cuttings in spring, but plants won't be as large.

To make young cutting-grown plants bushy, pinch back the main shoot when it's 4 to 5 inches tall; later, pinch side shoots the same way.

To start seeds. In mild-winter climates (or if you have a greenhouse or other suitable place to overwinter plants), it's still not too late to start plants from seeds. Sow seeds in containers of sandy soil and keep in a warm place. Transplant to 3-inch pots when they develop four to six leaves. Pinch back tips the same as for cuttings.

Mail-order sources include W. Atlee Burpee Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974; Geo. W. Park Seed Co., Greenwood, S.C. 29646; and Thompson & Morgan, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727. Catalogs are free.
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Title Annotation:heliotrope plant
Date:May 1, 1984
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