False Indigo Growing Tips: Growing And Caring For Baptisia Plants

False Indigo Growing Tips: Growing And Caring For Baptisia Plants

If you’re looking for a striking perennial that needs minimum care to produce maximum results, take a good look at Baptisia plants. Also known as false indigo, the flowers were once used by Native Americans and early European settlers as a dye before true indigo became available.

False Indigo Flowers

Members of the Fabaceae or pea family, false indigo flowers’ distinctive pea-like blossoms also come in white (Baptisia alba) and yellow (Baptisia tinctoria) as well as the more widely known blue (Baptisia australis). There are also several hybrid cultivars on the market today.

Native to the prairies of southern North America, Baptisia plants grow well in almost any well drained soil in USDA planting zones 5-9. Leaves are trifoliate (three leaflets) and range in color from dark blue-green to light yellow-green and can become so dense as to give the plant a shrub-like appearance.

Fully mature plants can grow two and a half to three feet tall and produce racemes or flower spikes adding another 12 to 24 inches (30-61 cm.) to their height. Each of these racemes are covered with flowers and will bloom for about six weeks in spring or early summer. A fully mature plant can produce a hundred of these glorious spikes.

False Indigo Growing Tips and Care

Like many prairie plants, Baptisia takes some time to establish its deep root system before taking off, so the first of false indigos growing tips would be to have patience. It can take up to three years for your seeds or seedlings to produce flowers.

The second of our false indigo growing tips would be to choose your site carefully. Once planted, Baptisia plants don’t like to be moved. Their roots can grow up to 12 feet (3.5 meters) deep and a single clump can expand to 3 or 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m.) wide. When deciding how to plant baptisia for the best effect, remember that some garden plantings of these hardy perennials have been known to last for decades.

Baptisia plants need plenty of sun and once established, are extremely drought tolerant. No pruning is necessary, though some gardeners prefer to remove the dark seed pods as part of their Baptisia plant care regimen. Others like the look of the dark pods and leave them as contrast in the garden.

Beyond the first few years, Baptisia plant care requires very little from the gardener. They like a yearly dose of general garden fertilizer and are bothered by very few pests or diseases. For organic gardeners, these plants are gems. Alkaloids produced in the species are toxic to many insects, which leads us to the third of our false indigo growing tips and concerns the occasional caterpillar found crawling along the leaves of this plant. Care should be taken to leave them undisturbed. These prairie darlings are host plants for several species of butterfly.

How to Plant Baptisia

When offering advice on how to plant Baptisia, most authorities will recommend seed and this is, in fact, the most common method of propagation, but what they don’t mention is that fresh seed is best and most reliable for germination. If you know someone who already grows false indigo flowers in their garden, don’t hesitate to ask for a few seed pods just as the pods begin to split. Check the seeds for tiny holes – there’s a tiny weevil that attacks the seeds but not the plant – and discard any that are damaged. These seeds can be sown directly, planting them a quarter inch deep and will usually germinate in about two weeks.

If fresh seed is unavailable, how to plant Baptisia seed becomes a little more complicated. Hardened seeds should be chilled in the refrigerator for six to 12 weeks. The stratified (chilled) seeds must then be scarified, which means the seed coat must be worn down with sandpaper or nicked with a knife point. The seeds then need to be soaked in water for 24 hours and planted indoors. Seedlings can be moved to the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

A much less involved method for is to propagate by stem cuttings. Take your cuttings in the early spring before new growth becomes too woody. Cuttings should be long enough to ensure that at least one set of leaf buds will be below the soil surface. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and plant in a loose growing medium. Keep the humidity high with a glass jar or plastic tent and the cuttings should root in about eight weeks.

The third method for how to plant Baptisia is also the least recommended and least successful. Propagate by plant division only if you have no other alternative. As stated before, these plants don’t like to be disturbed once they are established. If you must, divide in spring just as new growth appears. Dig deep and take as much root as possible. You’ll need a saw to cut the plant apart and plant the divisions as quickly as possible. If the roots dry out, they won’t survive. Water well immediately after planting and keep your fingers crossed.

False indigo flowers can be a welcome addition to any garden, formal or informal. All it takes is a little time and patience and your Baptisia plants will reward you well for years and years to come.

How to Care for an Indigo Plant

Indigo plants (Baptisia) are often called False Indigo or Wild Indigo. They are perennial plants that are hardy in zones 3 to 9 and grow from 3 to 6 feet tall and just as wide. Indigo are well-placed in the back of a border or garden or in a wild, naturalized setting. There are two varieties: Baptisia australis, which has pea-like blue flowers and Baptisia alba, which has white flowers.

Place these plants in a relatively permanent location as transplanting is not advised, due to the abundant taproots. Flowers bloom in early summer, and the dried seed pods are attractive in arrangements. Historically, the indigo plant was used to make blue dye.

  • Indigo plants (Baptisia) are often called False Indigo or Wild Indigo.
  • Flowers bloom in early summer, and the dried seed pods are attractive in arrangements.

What is Baptisia Australis?

Common Name – False Indigo, Blue Wild Indigo

Botanical Name – Baptisia australis

Baptisia Australis or False indigo belongs to the pea family. It resembles the family in its flowers and foliage. In addition, it has a fondness for cooler weather like other members of the pea family. False indigo is different from other members of the pea familyly due to its bold and beautiful flowers.

The eye-catching flowers are not the only part of the appeal in False indigos. These plants are virtually pest, tough, and disease-free perennials with fascinating seed pods, beautiful foliage, and a long season of interest. These plants are all you could expect from any perennial.

Leaves – False indigos have clove-live leaves with blue-green coloring.

Flowers – This plant grows pea-like flowers that start as tight buds, plump. These flowers grow on long racemes. They have a vivid blue color, usually with flecks of yellow or cream. The flowers are followed by seed pods, which indicate that they belong to the pea family.

Below mentioned are some of the facts related to False indigo that you should know if you are planning to plant one in your garden.


False indigo grows like a shrub that is small with four to five feet height and three to four feet width. However, in most of the areas, it dies back to the ground during winter.

Exposure to Sun

False indigo requires sufficient exposure to the sun. If it does not get a sun exposure of at least six hours, then it can get floppy. Moreover, sun exposure also prevents the plant from fungus diseases.

Hardiness Zone

False indigos are highly perennial and adaptable in USDA hardiness zone3 to 10.

Time to Bloom

The False indigos bloom in late springs through the time of early summer. You can get beautiful seed pods like the pea pods if you do not deadhead the flowers. These seedpods turn rattle and dark in the breeze.


Below mentioned are some of the amazing varieties of Baptisia plants.

White Wild Indigo – The botanical name for wild white indigo is Baptisia Alba. It is a similar plant and grows white flowers that are set against dark stems.

Purple Smoke – Its botanical name is Baptisia x Purple Smoke. It is hybrid with blue flowers having a purple eye in the center.

Twilite Prairieblues – The botanical name of this plant is Baptisia x varicolored Twilite Prairieblues. It has yellow flowers tinged with buttery yellow.

How to Grow Baptisia Australis?

If you want to grow Baptisia Australis in your garden, then here are some tips to help you.


Dry and well-draining soil is suitable to grow False indigo. It does not require specific soil pH however, it grows best in the soil that falls between neutral to slightly acidic.


You can grow False indigo from seeds. However, they are slow to grow, and it will take around two to three years to grow flowers. But the beautiful flowers are worth the wait. If you plant a young False indigo plant, it will also take at least two years to get established before it starts to blossom.

Seeds of False indigo have a hard outer coating. So if you are planning to grow False indigo plant from seed, then it is better to make some scarifications as it will help in improving the germination.

All you need to do is soak the seed in hot water for eight hours before scarifying them. It will soften the seed, which in turn will help in growing the plant appropriately. False indigo plants have long taproots therefore, they are difficult to separate. Nevertheless, they can also grow from cuttings.

How to Care Baptisia Australis Plant?

Baptisia plants require a lot of sunlight once they are established, and they are also extremely tolerant of drought. These plants do not require pruning however, some gardeners remove the dark pods from the plants as a part of their plant care regimen.

False indigo plants do not require too much maintenance. All you need to do is water it regularly for the first year. Once established properly, they are highly tolerant of drought.

You can also enjoy the seed heads in these plants. The seed pods of this plant are highly attractive. Nevertheless, they can make the top of the flower heavy. In addition to this, they are prone to splitting open, especially in the pants that grow in partial shade. You can avoid this by providing modest shearing to your False indigo after flowering.

The leaves of False indigo become black and unattractive after the first hard frost. In addition to this, the False indigo plant also collapses by the mid-winter therefore, cutting them back is usually suggested.

Pests and Problems

False indigo plants can get fungus diseases like powdery mildew, rust, and leaf spot if they are grown in crowded and damp conditions. Hence, it is important to ensure good air circulation around the False indigo plant. A yearly dose of fertilizers can also help in avoiding fungus diseases and few pests.

False indigo plants can be a welcome addition to all types of gardens. All it takes is a little patience and time, and your False indigo plant will provide you beautiful flowers for years and years to come.

Baptisa alba, white false indigo, growing wild in the Upstate.
Photo by Joey Williamson, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Baptisias have acquired many names over the years as botanists have named and renamed them, attempting to properly identify relationships. As a result, some baptisias actually have more botanical names (accepted and synonyms) than they do common names. It is possible to order baptisias under four or five different names, and the plants received will all be identical. The accepted botanical name (according to the USDA PLANTS database at the time of writing) along with commonly used synonyms, are listed below.

Baptisia alba: This species is known as white false indigo or wild white indigo. Commonly used synonyms are B. albescens and B. albiflora. Baptisia pendula, B. lactea and B. leucantha are synonyms for some of its varieties (subdivisions of a species with some hereditary variations distinctive from other members of the species.) It is native throughout South Carolina, but more common in the Piedmont, growing in open, dry woods and clearings. It grows 2 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 2½ feet wide. White flowers on 12- to-18-inch-tall upright racemes bloom in early to mid spring. Flowers last for 4 to 6 weeks. The stems, including the stalks of the flower clusters, are charcoal gray and contrast well with the flowers and blue-green foliage. It grows best in full sun or very light shade and in dry to moderately moist, well-drained soil.

  • var. alba is native to the Southeast. Seed pods hang downwards when ripe. This variety is sometimes known by the synonym B. pendula.
  • var. macrophylla is native to Midwestern states. Seed pods are more upright on this variety. Synonyms for this variety are B. lactea and B. leucantha.

Garden grown Baptisia australis beginning to bloom.
Photo by Flatbush_Gardener, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0

Baptisia australis: The species is sometimes called by the synonym B. caerulea. Blue false indigo is the common name. B. minor is a synonym for a short western variety. It is the best known Baptisia and was named the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association. It is not native to South Carolina, but common in much of the Southeast and Midwestern states. It grows well throughout the state. This common species grows 3 to 4 feet in height and the same or slightly more in width. It has a broad, dense, shrub-like appearance. The flowers are bright indigo blue, held in upright racemes above the foliage. Bloom time is typically mid to late April in the Piedmont and lasts for up to 6 weeks. Foliage is attractive, blue-green with a waxy texture. This species prefers well-drained but moderately moist soil and full sun or light shade. It will tolerate drought once established.

  • var. aberrans is native to Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. It grows in dry, rocky, limestone soil.
  • var. australis is native to states east of Mississippi and the variety most often found for sale.
  • var. minor is native west of the Mississippi and is significantly different in appearance from B. australis, enough that it has sometimes been classed as a species, B. minor, in its own right. It attains only about half the height and leaf size of B. australis, growing only 18 to 24 inches tall, with small lacy-textured foliage. Flowers, however, are the same size and height and born in great abundance. This natural variety is also more drought tolerant once established, as suits its drier native climate.

Baptisia bracteata with arching flower stems.
Photo by Mike Haddock, Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses

Baptisia bracteata: Long-bract wild indigo or cream false indigo is the first Baptisia species to bloom, beginning in early March to early April depending on location. Compact plants grow 18 to 24 inches tall with low arching stems forming a wide mound. Stems end in long sprays of pale yellow flowers. This species grows best in full sun and well-drained to dry soil.

  • var. bracteata is native to the Southeast, including South Carolina, in the sandhills and open woods in the Piedmont.
  • var. laevicaulis is native to Louisiana and Texas.
  • var. leucophaea is native throughout the Midwest. B. leucophaea and B. bracteata var. glabrescens are synonyms for this variety. Flowers are pale yellow to cream, and leaves are softly-felted gray-green. This variety is more commonly found for sale than the species.

Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea with felted gray-green leaves.
Photo by gmayfield10, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0

Baptisia sphaerocarpa: Yellow false indigo is native to the lower Midwest and Gulf states. It grows up to 2 to 3 feet tall and 2 to 4 feet wide with upright stems. Flowers spikes are 12 to 15 inches long with large, bright yellow flowers held above bright-green foliage. Plants prefer rich, deep and well-drained soil, but tolerate poor, sandy soil once established.

Bright yellow flowers of Baptisia sphaerocarpa.
Photo by Amy. B, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0

  • ‘Screaming Yellow’ is a compact selection that flowers heavily. The leaves on this Arkansas selection are slightly larger and more yellow-green.

Baptisia tinctoria: This species, also commonly called yellow false indigo or yellow wild indigo, is native throughout the East coast and Midwest. It is native throughout South Carolina. Flowers are bright yellow to cream, flowering later than other baptisias, in late spring to early summer. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall with a wide arching habit. Flower clusters are short, usually only 4 to 5 inches long. It grows best in well-drained, moderately moist to dry soil in full sun, and is quite drought tolerant once established. This species was used historically for a blue dye.

Baptisia tinctoria was once used extensively for dyeing.
Photo by Cwohlers, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0

False Indigo 'Purple Smoke', Bastard Lupine 'Purple Smoke', False Lupine 'Purple Smoke'

One of the oldest hybrid cultivars of false indigo, Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' is an upright, densely branched perennial bearing long spikes of pea-shaped, smoky violet flowers with a purple eye. A mature plant of 3-4 years can bear over 50 blooming stalks! Blooming in mid to late spring, the richly-colored blossoms contrast nicely with the near-black stems. They are held just above a dense, bushy mound of finely textured, grey-green foliage. Amazing showy in bloom, 'Purple Smoke' is quite vigorous, so allow space for its development.

  • Spreads by underground rhizomes and typically grows up to 4-5 ft. tall (120-150 cm) and 3-4 ft. wide (90-120 cm).
  • Requirements are fairly simple: Full sun in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils. Although it will grow in some shade, this plant tends to become leggy and may require staking. Tolerates poor soils and drought. Do not disturb once established as it develops a deep taproot that is easily damaged if you try to transplant it.
  • Attracts scores of butterflies and hummingbirds. Baptisia is rabbit resistant and rarely bothered by deer as they consider it unpalatable.
  • Looks stunning in beds and borders, cottage gardens, prairies or meadows and native plant gardens. Great as a specimen plant or in small groups.
  • Trimming foliage after bloom helps maintain rounded plant appearance.

White False Indigo

White False Indigo is a marvel among prairie plants. Its growth cycle begins in spring when a slender purple stem emerges from the ground. By late June it has transformed into a beautiful, five foot flowering perennial. Architectural spikes …

Cultural Details
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture Medium, Moist
Sun Exposure Full Sun, Partial
Height 3' - 5'
Bloom Color White
Bloom Time June, July
Spacing 3'
Zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Root Type Taproot
Benefits Pollinators, Host Plant, Deer Resistant
Seeds per Oz 1600
Propagation Treatment Moist Stratification, Rhizobium, Scarification
Days to Moist Stratify 30 days
Direct Sowing Time Fall

White False Indigo (Baptisia alba) is a marvel among prairie plants. Its growth cycle begins in spring when a slender purple stem emerges from the ground. By late June it has transformed into a beautiful, five foot flowering perennial. Architectural spikes bearing columns of white blooms arise from a base of gray-blue foliage - all elevated on sturdy forked stems.

Individual plants are very long-lived, but young transplants can take up to four years of development before they are full grown and producing flowers. The plant has a deep taproot and does not respond well to being moved, so site them carefully. Mature plants can be quite large, with a leafy growth diameter up to four feet wide. Bumblebees are frequent visitors, and this Baptisia is a larval host plant for several species of butterflies and moths, as well.