Baptisias for home landscapes

Peonies, daylilies, phlox and coneflowers are common perennials in home landscapes.  Though not as widely planted as some perennials, Baptisias, or false indigos, are excellent plants for home gardens. The common name of false indigo refers to the fact that Baptisia australis and Baptisia tinctoria were used by Native Americans and European settlers to make a blue dye similar to that obtained from true indigo, Indigofera tinctoria. Baptisias are easy to grow, tough, long-lived perennials. They require little care and have no serious insect or disease pests. 

Baptisias can be utilized as specimen plants or background plants in perennial borders.  They can also be grown as herbaceous shrubs or small hedges. 

Plants
Baptisias are large, clump-forming, shrub-like, herbaceous perennials. Plants may grow 4-to-5 feet tall (height includes flower stalks) and 5-to-6 feet wide. Emerging shoots in spring are gray to purple in color and resemble stalks of asparagus. False indigos have gray-green to blue-green to green, clover-like foliage.  Lupine-like flowers are produced in spring on spikes that rise above the foliage. Flower colors include blue, violet, purple, maroon, white, yellow and pink.  After flowering, 2-to-3-inch-long seed pods develop which turn black at maturity (some cultivars don’t produce pods). The showy, inflated seed pods are excellent additions to floral arrangements. 

Baptisias perform best in well-drained soils in full sun. Plants can be grown in part shade. However, plants in part shade tend to be leggy with fewer flowers. Plants also tolerate poor soils. Well-established plants possess excellent drought tolerance. 

False indigoes often take 3-to-5 years to develop into attractive, mature specimens. Young plants often consist of just a few stems and are somewhat ungainly in appearance.  When planted in favorable locations, they are extremely long-lived. 

Baptisia collage
From top left: Baptisia Australis, Baptisia Tinctoria, Baptisia Twilite Praireblues, Baptisia Seed Pods. Photo credit belongs to Cindy Haynes.

Care
Baptisias require very little maintenance. Plants should be watered regularly (in dry weather) throughout the first growing season. Afterward, watering may be necessary only during prolonged dry periods. False indigos are a nitrogen-fixing legume. This ability allows them to grow in nutrient poor soils.  In fertile soils, fertilization is generally not necessary. For established plants, the only chore that typically needs to be done on an annual basis is the removal of the dead plant debris in late fall or early spring.                                             

Propagation
False indigos have deep root systems. Once established, plants are best left undisturbed.  Division is usually not recommended. Plants can be grown from seeds. However, it usually takes 3 to 5 years for seedlings to flower. Also, plants grown from the seeds of cultivars will not be identical to their parent. Baptisias can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Cuttings should be collected in spring when the shoots are still relatively soft. 

Pests
Baptisias are deer resistant. However, rabbits may occasionally browse on plants. False indigos are rarely bothered by insects. Minor (mainly cosmetic) fungal diseases include leaf spots and powdery mildew. In highly alkaline soils, plant foliage may be chlorotic (yellow-green). 

Suggested Species/Cultivars
In addition to the native Baptisia species, numerous cultivars have been introduced by plant breeders over the last 15 to 20 years.  Suggested species and cultivars for home landscapes include the following:

Species/Cultivar

Flower Color

Height*

Width*

Baptisia alba  

White

3-3½

2½-3

Baptisia australis

Blue-Violet

4

4-5

Blue Towers  

Blue-Violet     

4-5

4-4½

Blueberry Sundae

Blue-Violet

3-4

3-4

Carolina Moonlight    

Light Yellow

3-4

3-4

Cherries Jubilee

Maroon to Bronze

3½-4

3½-4

Crème de Menthe

Pale Yellow

4

Dutch Chocolate

Brownish Purple

Ivory Towers

White

4-5

4-5

Baptisia leucantha

White

4-5

3-3½

Lunar Eclipse

White to Blue-Violet

4-4½

4

Pink Truffles

Lavender Pink

4-4½

4-4½

Purple  Smoke

Light Lavender

3-4

4-4½

Solar Flare

Yellow to Bronze

4-4½

4-5

Screamin’ Yellow

Bright Yellow

3-3½

4-5

Starlite Prairieblues™ (Starlite)

Violet-Blue and Yellow

4

4-5

Sunny Morning

Bright Yellow

3½-4

5-5½

Baptisia tinctoria       

Yellow

2½-3

3

Twilite Prairieblues™ (Twilite)

Dusky Purple and Yellow

4-4½

4-5

 

* Height and width in feet (height includes flowers).

 

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