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Connecticut Garden Journal: A quick guide to growing baptisia

Baptisia Australis, USA
Ken Shankar/Getty Images/500px Prime
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Getty Images / 500px Prime
Baptisia Australis.

When the peonies and Siberian irises are blooming you may notice another perennial flower making a statement. Baptisia, or false indigo, is a hardy native perennial that features colorful, pea-like flowers on a large, flowing plant.

The traditional species of Baptisia australis features a blue colored flower. But there are newer varieties and other species that have purple, yellow, red and pink colored blooms. Baptisia alba features white flowers. Check out the 'Decadence' series of baptisias for some of these unusual colored varieties.

Baptisia is what I like to call a “shrub-like” perennial. It grows quickly in spring into a 3- to 4-foot tall perennial in a classic vase-shape. It may need support to keep it from flopping over as it gets larger. The pea-like leaves and flowers give away its legume background. Baptisia fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere for food and helps other plants grow, too. It has a taproot, so once established, it's a tough plant to move.

Plant baptisia near other spring bloomers, but remember its size. It will eventually spread over time into a large clump. After the flowers finish in early summer, you can deadhead baptisia and enjoy the dark green foliage. It makes a perfect backdrop for lower growing summer annuals and perennials such as profusion zinnias, salvias, and coreopsis. You can also leave the seedpods to dry on the plant. They form a rattle shape with seeds inside. In fact, historically they were used as a child's toy. Baptisias are generally free of damage from animals, insects and diseases. Come fall, baptisia will die back to the ground.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.
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