Grow False Indigo Plant for Beautiful Native WildflowersWith stunning spring flowers and lush foliage, easy-care, baptisia plants enhance perennial beds and borders all season long. Reviewed by Denise Kelly, Horticulturist
Decadence® 'Blueberry Sundae' false indigo (Baptisia hybrid). Photo by Proven Winners.
Baptisia, or false indigo, is one of those resilient native perennial plants you can count on to bloom and thrive for decades. In addition to being long lived, baptisia also provides a long season of interest, beginning in spring and lasting well into 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.
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Wild indigo, false indigo
Typically hardy in zones 3-9 for wild species; 4-9 for cultivated hybrids.
3 to 4 feet tall and wide
Full sun is the ideal environment for Baptisia, though they do tolerate light shade. In too much shade, plants may get lanky and bloom less profusely.
Late spring to early summer
Length of bloom
Typically 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the temperature. In cooler weather, bloom times may be longer.
Slow. Plants grown from seeds may take 2 or 3 years to bloom and as long as 5 years to reach their full, shrublike appearance.
Flower colors and characteristics
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 more colors, including bright yellow, pink, sapphire, and even bicolors.
- Deer and rabbit resistant
- Drought tolerant
- Flowers attract bees and butterflies
- Low maintenance
- Rarely bothered by insect pests or foliar diseases
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 cooler fall weather.
Typically 3 to 4 feet apart, depending on their spread at maturity. Plants can take years to reach their full size, but don’t be tempted to space them close together. Baptisias form a deep root system, so they are difficult to move once established.
Is Baptisia invasive?
Although it's not classified as invasive, Baptisia is sometimes incorrectly referred to as invasive because it is difficult to remove due to its deep root system. A true invasive plant is one that causes ecological harm in a new environment where it's not native, which is not the case for Baptisia.
BAPTISIA CARE AND MAINTENANCE
To see the growth habit of Baptisia, view this short video (less than 2 minutes) to see an established Decadence® Deluxe ‘Pink Lemonade’ Baptisia.
Average, well-draining soil that is slightly acidic
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. You do not need to prune back Baptisia in the fall.
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.
No need. Because they are legumes, baptisias supply their own fertilizer through the nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots (see All About Roots).
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.
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 attractive seed pods add interest to the winter garden.
Decadence® ‘Lemon Meringue' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Up to 3 feet tall and wide
Charcoal stems carry cool lemon-yellow flowers followed by the decorative seed pods in fall. Blue-green foliage is formed in an upright vase-shaped mound.
Decadence® ‘Blueberry Sundae' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Up to 3 feet tall and wide
‘Blueberry Sundae’ is about half the size of some native baptisia species, making this a good choice for small gardens and urban settings.
Decadence® Deluxe 'Pink Lemonade' — Buy now from Proven Winners
Up to 4 feet tall and wide
This gorgeous hybrid flaunts soft yellow flowers in spring that gradually age to purple, with both colors on display at the same time on dark charcoal stems.
See the entire Decadence® series.
Decadence® ‘Dark Chocolate’ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide
Charcoal purple flowers bloom in spring. The dark blooms, which almost look black, creates a noteworthy contrast to the deep blue-green foliage.
Decadence® ‘Vanilla Cream’ — Buy now from Proven Winners
Up to 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide
The buds of this variety emerge as a pastel yellow, but flowers open to display a creamy vanilla color. Even its foliage puts on a show by emerging in bronze but eventually transitioning to a gray-green color. To top it off, this stunner is known for being easygoing in the garden.
Blue false indigo
3 to 4 feet tall and wide
The model of the native species, with deep indigo-blue flowers on shrublike plants with attractive blue-green foliage.
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.
3 to 4 feet tall and wide
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).
2 to 3 feet tall, 3 to 5 feet wide
Also called yellow false indigo, this showy cultivar is smothered with tall spikes of bold yellow flowers, held above a dense mound of foliage. Compact plants have a nice, full, bushy appearance.
LANDSCAPING DESIGN IDEAS
Baptisia is right at home in cottage gardens, meadow and native plant gardens, as well as pollinator gardens. There are many ways to use baptisia, and here are a few suggestions:
- Mass planting
- Specimen plant
- At the back of beds and borders.
- Add to a cut-flower garden for long-lasting indoor bouquets. The seed pods in fall can be enjoyed in dried flower arrangements.
What to plant with Baptisia
Baptisia provides blooms from late spring to summer, so pair it with plants that begin blooming in early spring or late summer and into fall.
- Echinacea purpurea, which has a long bloom time lasting from April through September, would look fabulous planted in front of Baptisia—it sits a little lower, reaching about 1 to 3 feet tall.
- Bulbs that bloom in early spring—such as daffodils, tulips, snowdrops, and irises—can add a pop of color before Baptisia begins it show.
- Asters, which begin their stunning floral disaply in late summer and into fall, will begin blooming as Baptisia seedheads begin to form.
- Roses and Baptisia are a winning combination—when Baptisia isn't blooming, roses add pops of color at various times of year. And when roses aren't blooming, Baptisia's foliage offers something interesting to look at.