Commonly known as false indigo, this rugged native prairie plant features tall spires of colorful blooms along with attractive blue-green foliage. The flowers resemble those of peas or beans, which are related. Once the blooms have faded, they are followed by large clusters of showy seed pods that dry out as they mature and create a rattling noise in the breeze.
Originally, most baptisia plants produced flowers in shades of blue. Now, gardeners can find varieties that flower in shades of white, pink, yellow, red, and chocolate brown, as well as in bi-color combinations. False indigo's blue-green foliage looks appealing year-round.
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Baptisia Care Must-Knows
Plant false indigo in well-drained soil and full sun for the most impressive flower display. This perennial tolerates part shade, but can end up with weak stems that require staking for support. Once each plant gets established, it can withstand droughts without much supplemental watering, thanks to a deep, extensive root system. The bad news is this root system with its long tap root makes it challenging to transplant baptisia.
The good news is that baptisia needs little maintenance. Cut the plant back to the ground after the first frost in fall or before new growth emerges in the spring. Some of the newer varieties grow large enough to resemble shrubs; trim them back to about a third of the original size after blooming to keep them looking tidy.
Baptisia began to gain popularity in the early 2000s when some of the first interspecific hybrids brought new palettes of color and more compact habits. Today, breeders are working to develop additional varieties with bicolor blossoms.
More Varieties of Baptisia
Baptisia australis has blue-green foliage that is attractive even when not in bloom and, because of its size (3-4 feet tall), makes an excellent shrub substitute. Zones 3-9
Baptisia australis minor is a smaller version of baptisia, growing to only 2 feet tall and blooming slightly later. Zones 3-9
Baptisia Companion Plants
Add a pool of sunshine to the garden with a massed planting of black-eyed Susan. From midsummer, these tough native plants bloom their golden heads off in sun or light shade and mix well with other perennials, annuals, and shrubs. Tall varieties look especially appropriate among shrubs, which in turn provide support. Add black-eyed Susans to wildflower meadows or native plant gardens for a naturalized look. Average soil is sufficient for black-eyed Susans, but it should be able to hold moisture fairly well.
Purple coneflower is so easy to grow and attractive and draws so many birds and butterflies that you simply must grow it, if you have the room. Valued for its large sturdy daisylike flowers with dropping petals, this prairie native will spread easily in good soil and full sun. It is bothered by few pests or diseases. It's a great cut flower—bring in armloads of it to brighten the house. And birds and butterflies love it. Allow it to spread so that you have at least a small stand of it. Let the flowers go to seed and the goldfinches will love you, coming to feast on the seeds daily. Butterflies and helpful bees also love purple coneflower. It used to be that rosy purple or white were the only choices in flower color. Recent hybrids have introduced yellow, orange, burgundy, cream, and shades in between.
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers and mounds of handsome, lobed foliage. It needs full sun, but otherwise it is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.