How to Grow Honeywort

This charming annual will dazzle you with its colors

A cluster of honeywort blossoms are in focus in front of blurred out greenery.

 hichako / Getty Images

This charming Mediterranean annual can’t be passed up. Delicate, bell-shaped flowers surrounded by colorful bracts are framed by rounded green-gray foliage. While the flowers are actually fairly small and insignificant, it is the colorful bracts that are one of the honeywort’s most striking features. They outlast the small flowers and hold their beautiful color for a short time afterward.

Honeywort is a herb that is related to borage, although the foliage is less thickly haired. It is an easy-to-grow annual that is great as cut flowers, when grown in beds, and as a border plant. Learn how to grow honeywort in your garden and enjoy its stunning colors all summer long.

Botanical Name Cerinthe
Common Name Honeywort, blue shrimp plant, pride of gibraltar
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size 2-4 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Humus-rich, well-draining
Soil pH 6.1-7.8
Bloom Time Summer, fall
Flower Color Blue, purple, magenta, yellow, cream.
Hardiness Zones 2-11
Native Area Meditteranean
Blue and purple honeywort blooms hang in front of soft green foliage.
 MichelR45 / Getty Images

How to Grow Honeywort

Honeywort (Cerinthe) is a genus of flowering plants native to the Mediterranean. It is characterized by small tubular flowers that are surrounded by colorful bracts. Depending on the species, honeywort can come in a variety of colors, although the blue and purple species are the most popular. It is an easy plant to grow that requires little maintenance during the growing season, outside of regular watering. 

While this plant has been grown for centuries and offers a rare true blue flower that is hard to come by, honeywort is widely unappreciated and is not always commercially available. This may be because from a distance, the flowers are relatively insignificant and are best appreciated up close. Plus, if grown in less than ideal conditions, the coloring on the bracts is less impressive which impacts the overall appearance of the blooms.

However, honeywort truly is a great addition to any garden. The nectar-rich flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, and the stunning colors cannot be understated. If grown with the right light, soil, water, and care, honeywort can thrive in any yard.

Light

For the most vibrant colors, honeywort needs at least five to six hours of full sun a day. It can also tolerate part shade, but too much shade can cause honeywort to become quite leggy, and its colors will be less bright.

Soil

Honeywort prefers loamy, well-draining soil that is rich in humus. The soil should still retain a decent amount of moisture as honeywort does enjoy moist conditions, but should not become waterlogged. Soil pH should be between 6.1 and 7.8, or mildly acidic to mildly alkaline, for honeywort.

Water

For optimal flower production, water honeywort regularly throughout the growing season. Once the plant is established, it is relatively drought-tolerant, but flower production will suffer without adequate water. When grown in containers, honeywort may require more frequent watering than when grown in the garden.

Temperature and Humidity

This flowering annual is hardy in zones 2 to 11. Honeywort enjoys normal to humid conditions and warm summer temperatures. In regions with cold winters, the plants may not re-seed as easily as they do in warmer areas. 

Fertilizer

When grown in appropriate soil, honeywort does not require any fertilization. However, amending the soil with some compost or manure to keep it rich in organic matter will help to support healthy growth. When grown in containers, honeywort can benefit from monthly fertilization with an all-purpose fertilizer. 

Varieties of Honeywort

Honeywort (Cerinthe) is a large genus consisting of many different species and cultivators. Some of the most popular varieties of honeywort include:

  • Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ is one of the most popular varieties of honeywort and is characterized by intense purple flowers with bracts and sepals in varying shades of bluish-violet.
  • Cerinthe major ‘Kiwi Blue’ is harder to find commercially available and is characterized by bluer bracts and flowers.
  • Cerinthe major ‘Purple Belle’ has brilliant magenta flowers and grows only two feet tall.
  • Cerinthe minor is a smaller, yellow-flowered species, and is considered to be a perennial hardy to zone 5.
  • Cerinthe retorta is characterized by pale yellow flowers with blue-purple tips, encased by dark purple bracts.

Growing in Containers

Honeywort grows well in containers, but the care can be adjusted slightly. When growing in containers, a general all-purpose potting mix is sufficient. Honeywort will require more frequent and thorough waterings when grown in containers, especially if growing in direct sun. To prevent root rot, ensure that the container has a drainage hole so excess water can escape the container.

Growing from Seeds

Honeywort is largely seed-grown since it is so easy to do. Plus, if you already have honeywort in your yard (or you know someone who does) the easiest way to get seeds is to harvest them directly from a flowering plant. Honeywort produces large black seeds that fall to the ground in the late summer or early fall. They can be harvested in germinated indoors, which may be necessary for gardeners in northern regions with cold winters, or they can be left to germinate and self-start outdoors. 

If growing indoors, start individual seeds in small pots 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Soaking the seeds overnight can help to increase germination rates. Once sprouted, the seedlings can be planted outdoors after the last frost has passed. Ensure each plant is spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.