Story by Peggy Hill
I asked Blair Durant, owner of Niche Gardens in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to suggest a plant for this article. Blair said, “Baptisia (false indigo) is a fantastic, long-lived, native plant for many reasons. It’s one of the first perennials to bloom in the spring, providing food for early pollinators. It sends down a big taproot, which makes it extremely drought tolerant once established. It’s tough, easy to grow and tolerant of poor soils, including clay.”
Blair also likes its dramatic emergence in spring, as asparagus-like stems quickly grow to blooming stalks. After the blooms fade, the seedpods develop, slowly swelling and darkening to nearly black. Pick them for fall flower arrangements or leave them in hopes of seeing a few seedlings scattered around the parent plant.
False indigo handles Alabama’s full blazing sun beautifully and it grows to a predictable height and spread. Blair’s only word of caution is to site it carefully because the long taproot makes established plants difficult or impossible to move.
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: False indigo
Botanical Name: Baptisia spp., cvs.
Color: Flowers range from bright, vivid yellow to pale creams and whites, dark violet-blues to lavender, and there are new hybrids in red and yellow tones.
Blooming Period: May
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size: Most varieties are 3-4 feet tall and wide. Smaller varieties are available.
Exposure: Full sun (best) to part shade
When to Plant: Given sufficient water, plant at any time.
How to Plant: Space 2-3 feet apart
Soil: Tolerates clay and poor soil
Watering: Dry to medium, drought tolerant
When to Prune: Cut to the ground in early spring.
When to Fertilize: In spring, top dress with compost.
In Your Landscape: Most perennials look best in groups of three, five, or seven, but false indigo is impressive enough that one plant makes a statement. Sprinkle several around the garden.