(This is part of a series of articles on plants native to our area. But why natives? Because each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.)
This week, rather than a shrub or a tree, we’ll be discussing an herbaceous perennial — a plant without woody stems that dies back in the fall but comes back from the roots in the spring. The plant we’ve picked is blooming now, and is absolutely tough, easy-care and beautiful: the blue false indigo, or Baptisia australis.
Easily grown in any average garden soil, it likes well-drained soil in full (six or more hours a day) sun. It can take part shade, but it might get floppy. It will tolerate drought and poor soil. It is slow-growing above ground the first few years, because below ground it is growing a huge, thick root system, which is what helps it be so drought-tolerant.
After the first year in the ground, it does not like to be moved, so make sure you put it where you want it. Very low maintenance, it doesn’t need dead-heading (cutting off the old dead flowers) or dividing, making this one of the easiest-care plants you can grow.
Since it’s a legume (a member of the bean/pea family), it doesn’t need fertilizer, since it fixes nitrogen. After it blooms, you can cut it back by a third if you want, but this is certainly not necessary. A lazy gardener’s dream!
The plant gets to around 3 to 4 feet tall and wide — this is a big perennial! One is a knockout in your garden. It is blooming now; they bloom for about two to four weeks in late spring, depending on the weather, with tall blue/purple flower clusters. There are also varieties that bloom yellow and that bloom white. The foliage has a grey/blue tint, too — very attractive.
Later on in the summer, if you don’t trim it back, it gets black seed pods that look just like bean pods, which are also nice looking. And they rattle when they dry out — lots of fun for kids. Combine Baptisia with peonies, irises, salvias, veronicas and other late-spring bloomers. The foliage is so nice that it looks great all summer.
There are so many great reasons to include a Baptisia in your garden — deer don’t like them, pollinators and butterflies do! I’m sure you could find a good spot for one.