Decadence® 'Blueberry Sundae' false indigo (Baptisia hybrid). Photo by Proven Winners.

One of the greatest joys in life is watching the perennials in your garden emerge every spring. Baptisia, or false indigo, is one of those resilient native wildflowers you can count on to bloom and thrive for decades. In addition to its amazing longevity, baptisia also provides a long season of interest, beginning in spring and lasting well into fall.

“Baptisias have something to offer in all seasons,” says Larry Hodgson, author of Perennials for Every Purpose. “In early spring, they add interest with their thick, asparagus-like stalks; later their tall, lupinelike spikes of pea-shaped flowers appear. Their dense, cloverlike blue-green leaves look great throughout summer, and their often colorful seedpods are the finishing touch through summer and fall.”

Perhaps the only downside is the patience required to grow them, since they can take years to reach their full glory. The rewards, however, are well worth the wait.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care and Maintenance | Baptisia Pictures | Landscaping Design Ideas

THE BASICS

Botanical name:

Baptisia

Common names:

Wild indigo, false indigo

Origin:

North America

Zone:

Typically 3-9 for wild species; 4-9 for cultivated hybrids.

Height/spread:

3 to 4 feet

Exposure:

Full sun to light shade. However, in shade plants may get lanky and bloom less profusely.

Bloom time:

Late spring to midsummer

Length of bloom

Typically 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the temperature. In cooler weather, bloom times may be longer.

Growth rate

Slow. Plants grown from seeds may take two or three years to bloom and as long as 5 years to reach their full, shrublike appearance.

Flower colors and characteristics

Because baptisia is a member of the legume family, the pretty florets are shaped like pea blossoms and are borne loosely on elegant 12- to 24-inch spires. Wild species, such as B. australis and B. alba, are typically limited to shades of blue, purple, and white. However, newer hybrids, such as the Decadence® series from Proven Winners, offer a much broader array of color options including bright yellow, pink, sapphire, and even bicolors.

Special attributes


  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Drought tolerant
  • Flowers attract bees and butterflies
  • Low maintenance
  • Self-fertilizing
  • Rarely bothered by insect pests or foliar diseases

PLANTING

Decadence® 'Lemon Meringue' false indigo (Baptisia hybrid). Photo by Proven Winners.

When to plant:

Any time during the growing season, although plants will get off to a better start and require less watering if you get them in the ground in early spring or wait until the cooler weather of fall.

Spacing:

Typically 3 to 4 feet apart, depending on their spread at maturity. Because plants can take years to reach their full size, don’t be tempted to space them close together. Baptisias form a deep root system, so they are difficult to move once they make themselves at home.

Best way to propagate:

From seed, sown outside in fall or early spring. For the best germination, soak seeds in scalding water for a few hours to soften their hard coating (see Growing Perennials from Seed). Note that hybrid cultivars will not grow true from seed.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

Soil:

Average, well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

Watering:

Keep soil evenly moist until plants become established. Once they take root, they are very drought-tolerant thanks to their extensive root system.

Pruning and deadheading:

Baptisias will rarely rebloom if deadheaded, and doing so will prevent the development of the attractive seedpods. However, you can cut back plants by as much as a third in midsummer to shape them to your liking, just as you would when pruning shrubs. If you want seedpods to form, forego extensive pruning and let your plants go to seed.

Dividing:

Because mature baptisias have thick, long taproots, they don’t fare well if you try to uproot and divide them. Transplanting and dividing is best done while your plants are still young. If you must divide them, wait until spring and dig deeply to avoid cutting into the root system.

Fertilizing:

No need. Because they are legumes, baptisias supply their own fertilizer through the nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots (see All About Roots).

Support:

Baptisias don't normally require staking, but may need some support if they're grown in partial shade. If your plants tend to flop, secure them to a peony ring or other support in early spring.

End-of-season care:

Cut your plants back to the ground after the first hard frost in fall or before new growth emerges in the spring. The frost-nipped foliage will blacken, but the seedpods add interest to the winter garden.

BAPTISIA PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners

Decadence® ‘Blueberry Sundae'Buy now from Proven Winners
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height/spread:

2½ to 3 feet

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

Making the list of Proven Winners’ top 10 blue perennials, ‘Blueberry Sundae’ is about half the size of some native species, making this a good choice for small gardens and urban settings. The upright mounds of blue-green foliage are brimming with long spikes of vibrant indigo-blue flowers from late spring through early summer.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Decadence® Deluxe 'Pink Lemonade' Buy now from Proven Winners
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height:

42 to 48 inches

Spread:

46 to 48 Inches

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

One of the tallest members of the Decadence® series, and the first bicolor, this gorgeous hybrid flaunts soft canary-yellow flowers in spring that gradually age to raspberry purple, with both colors on display at the same time on dark charcoal stems. A great specimen plant or shrub substitute, with a full, bushy, vase-shaped habit.

See the entire Decadence® series.

Photo by: Proven Winners

Decadence® ‘Lemon Meringue' Buy now from Proven Winners
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height/spread:

Up to 36 inches

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

Charcoal stems carry cool lemon-yellow flowers followed by the decorative seedpods in fall. Blue-green foliage is formed in an upright vase-shaped mound. The contrasting colors deliver a pop of color and contrast along with an excellent floral display.

Photo by: Kella Carlton/Shutterstock

Blue false indigo
Baptisia australis

Zones:

3-9

Height/spread:

3 to 4 feet

Bloom time:

May to June

A prior plant of the year (Perennial Plant Association), this is the model of the native species, with deep indigo-blue flowers on shrublike plants with attractive blue-green foliage.

Plant it in the middle of a border along with peonies and irises, which bloom at the same time; or with foreground plantings such as lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), and hardy geraniums.

Also try: White false indigo (B. alba), with creamy white flowers set off by dark charcoal-colored stems. This April bloomer is one of the first to flower.

Photo by: Jennifer Ault / Shutterstock

'Purple Smoke'
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

3-9

Height/spread:

3 to 4 feet

Bloom time:

May to June

This progeny of B. australis and B. alba is named for its distinctive smokey violet flowers, enhanced by purple eyes and dusky charcoal stems. A prolific bloomer, bearing as many 50 densely packed flower spikes, it makes a stunning backdrop to yellow-flowering perennials such as coreopsis and Carolina false lupine (Thermopsis villosa).

Photo by: Nancy J. Ondra/Shutterstock

'Screamin' Yellow'
Baptisia sphaerocarpa

Zones:

5-8

Height:

2 to 3 feet

Spread:

3 to 5 feet

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

Also called yellow false indigo, this showy cultivar is smothered with tall spikes of bold lemon-colored flowers from April through May, held above a dense mound of yellow-green foliage. Rarely growing taller than 2 feet, with a slightly wider spread, these compact plants have a nice, full, bushy appearance.

Photo by: Paul S. Drobot / Millette Photomedia

‘Lunar Eclipse’ Prairieblues®
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height/spread:

3 to 4 feet

Bloom time:

Late spring to early summer

The Prairieblues® series of baptisias developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden are lauded for their exceptional vigor and distinctive colors. ‘Lunar Eclipse’ features flowers that gradually morph from creamy white to light violet and finally to deep violet as the plant ages, with all the colors on display in unison on magnificent 20-inch-long flower spikes.

Also try: ‘Twilight’ Prairieblues®, a bicolor cross of B. australis and B. sphaerocarpa with violet-purple flowers highlighted by lemon-yellow keels.

Photo by Nancy J. Ondra / Shutterstock

‘Carolina Moonlight’
Baptisia hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height/spread:

3 to 4 feet

Bloom time:

April to May

A cross of B. sphaerocarpa and B. alba, with statuesque 18-inch spires of creamy yellow flowers that tower well above the handsome blue-green foliage. Beautiful when paired with ‘Purple Smoke’ or other baptisias with violet or indigo blooms.

LANDSCAPING DESIGN IDEAS

There are many ways to use baptisia in your yard or garden. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Hedge
  • Mass planting
  • Meadow garden
  • Specimen plant
  • Pollinator garden
  • At the back of beds and borders.

Also, add a few to the cut-flower garden to harvest for beautiful, long-lasting indoor bouquets. The beanlike pods that develop in fall can be enjoyed in dried flower arrangements.

RELATED:
How to Grow and Design with Perennial Plants & Flowers
20 Purple Flowers to Brighten Your Garden
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