Caring For Hebe Plants

Hebe [HEE-bee] is a genus of plants found throughout New Zealand, French Polynesia, and parts of South America. 

The genus includes close to 100 different species, all of which appear naturally in New Zealand.

Purple flowers of the Hebe plant

Hebe plants belong to the Plantaginaceae (plantain) family and range in size from small dwarf shrubs to trees. 

Most of these species are found along coastlines, while varieties with small leaves may appear in alpine areas.

The Hebe genus is named after the Greek goddess of youth. 

The word “Hebe” is often used in the names of various plants with fuzzy leaves or fruit, such as hebecarpum.

Plants from the Plantaginaceae family include:

Hebe Plant Care

Size and Growth

With about 100 species, the size and growth of Hebe plants vary. 

The dwarf shrubs may reach several feet tall and spread several feet.

Hebe speciosa is a popular variety, commonly called New Zealand Hebe or Showy Hebe. 

The plant reaches about 3′ to 6′ feet tall and produces dark green leaves. 

Other varieties include small trees growing to 20′ feet or more.

Most Hebe species have four rows of perpendicular leaves growing in opposite pairs. 

The coastal species often have large leaves. 

Plants found at higher altitudes are more likely to have smaller leaves.

The foliage is typically green and evergreen, lasting through the winter. 

The leaves are often narrow and thick, measuring about 1″ to 2″ inches.

Flowering and Fragrance

Many Hebe plants produce colorful flowers appearing in the summer or fall. 

The flowers are often arranged in spiked inflorescences with two stamens.

The colors range from blue to purple and red to pink. 

The flowers are not considered aromatic, but they tend to attract butterflies.

Light and Temperature

Hebe plants come from tropical regions and prefer sunlight and warm temperatures. 

Depending on the species, Hebe plants should be grown in full sun to partial shade.

These species are rarely tolerant of frost. 

The foliage and the rest of the plant may die out when placed in freezing conditions.

Most species are only winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8 or higher, which includes the southern United States and parts of the coasts.

Watering and Feeding

Watering frequency depends on the species and environment. 

Most Hebe plants need frequent watering, especially in extreme heat.

If grown outdoors, the plant will likely need weekly watering. 

During dry spells, additional watering may be necessary.

To promote new growth, add slow-release fertilizer pellets around the base of the plant in early spring or late winter. 

These plants don’t need fertilizer throughout the rest of the year.

Soil and Transplanting

Hebe plants tend to grow well in a variety of soils and conditions. 

However, they prefer loose soil with good drainage.

Transplant potted plants in the spring. 

While these plants don’t require yearly transplanting, they may occasionally need a larger pot to give the roots room to spread.

If transplanting a young plant to the garden, dig a hole equal in depth to the size of the container. 

Add some organic material or compost before placing the potted plant in the soil.

Grooming

Trimming Hebe shrubs and trees back at the start of winter or spring helps control the shape and size of the plant. 

Cutting the branches back also encourages denser growth.

Cut spent flowers to promote additional blooms throughout the rest of summer and fall.

How to Propagate Hebe Plants

  • Most Hebe plants are easily propagated using seeds or cuttings. 
  • Sow seeds outdoors in the garden at the start of spring or indoors in starter trays several weeks before spring starts.
  • Take cuttings in the fall. 
  • Select a healthy branch with several pairs of leaves.
  • Remove the lower leaves while leaving the top set of leaves. 
  • Dip the end of the cutting in hormone powder to encourage healthier growth.
  • Plant the cuttings in individual 4″ inch pots. 
  • Stick the tip into thoroughly moistened soil.
  • The young plants should take root before winter. 
  • Keep indoors until the last threat of frost before transplanting outdoors at the start of spring.

Hebe Plant Pest or Disease Problems

While these plants are mostly pest and disease-free, they may suffer from common pests such as aphids.

An aphid infestation typically causes yellowing of the leaves. 

A black honeydew substance may also appear on the undersides of the leaves. 

Spray the plants with water or insecticidal soap to remove the pests.

Along with pests and diseases, watch out for the toxicity of the plant. 

Most Hebe species contain at least some toxic chemicals.

The severity of the symptoms varies. 

No matter the species, consider keeping the plant away from children and pets.

Suggested Hebe Plant Uses

Some of the most popular species of Hebe plants are small shrubs with decorative leaves and bright flowers. 

These plants work well in the backs of gardens behind shorter plants or along borders. 

In some areas, they are grown as hedges.

The larger varieties may help add dimension and color to an empty landscape.

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