Baptisia – Plant of the Year

  • Post published:01/26/2010
  • Post comments:7 Comments
Baptisia australis

The Perennial Plant Association has named the beautiful blue Baptisia australis as its Plant of the Year. I am very familiar with this plant, although I have never grown it.

Friends have this hardy and adaptable perennial (zones 3-9) in their gardens, and I have admired it on the famous Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. It is commonly known as false indigo, a reference to the lovely color of the lupine-like races of blossom. An important blue dye was derived from the West Indian plant Indigofera, but it was expensive; early settlers often made do with false indigo.

Baptisia is a perennial, but it grows to a shrubby size, three to four feet tall with as wide a spread. The most important thing to know about Baptisia to grow it successfully is that it has a deep taproot and does not like being moved or transplanted. Therefore, it behooves a gardener to be careful about siting it.

It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade although it may need staking in the shade. It is slow to get established, but within three years you will have a plant the size of a small shrub. It blooms in the spring for three or four weeks, but even after bloom season it is an interesting plant because the seed pods eventually turn black and are useful in dried arrangements. Those seed pods also account for another common name, rattleweed.

Baptisia has so many benefits – a long bloom season, hardiness, interesting seeds, drought tolerance, deer resistant – that you might ask why I have never grown this plant which I do admire and enjoy?  It is the problem of where to put it and not decide to move it the following year. This is the same reason I have never managed to plant an asparagus bed. I have a bad habit of moving everything. Except for the roses. I’m going to have to work on that.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Mattenylou

    What a gorgeous blue that is! I was just outside poking around looking for signs of spring on this warm day, not much to see, but your blog has been getting me in the mood to get out there and dig around.

  2. Lisa at Greenbow

    This would make a good backdrop for your roses. It grows tall and is such a deep green that the roses would be so noticable. I wonderful plant.

  3. Carol

    Baptisia is a wonderful plant Pat. I would hurry and make up my mind about where to put it… though I did move one once from another garden and it survived… so if I can do it I am sure you can… considering it’s taproot I dug a large root ball. Even more wondrous is picking your own asparagus!! If you love asparagus just extend your veggie garden a bit. It is so good to learn that other gardeners have a hard time making up their minds! LOL I have had holding beds become permanent beds from my indecision. You sure do not have trouble deciding on where to put words … this post… as with all of yours… is a joy to read. ;>)

  4. Pat

    Mattenylou – I have been enjoying a January thaw, but the temperature is dropping again.
    Lisa – You have given me a good idea – a spot right next to the Rose WAlk. Many thanks.
    Carol – This post has probably moved me to a decision on the baptisia. I’m not sure about the asparagus yet.

  5. I’m with you on liking to move plants. I read that a good garden spends half its life in a wheelbarrow. I am not familiar with baptisia, and thanks for the intro. I wonder if it would be happy in the Pacific Northwest, not that cold but not that sunny, either.

  6. Pat

    Stephanie – It is very adaptable, but I think sun is important I’d give it a try.

  7. Ellen Sousa

    I have admired this plant from afar but sadly have had no success growing it here in central MA…we have very moist soil on our property and it just seems to rot. Same thing for lupines. In my town, I see one growing next to a busy road in full sun, and it’s glorious in its full bloom! Wonderful plant for the right spot!

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