Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Baptisia australis
Overall Low Maintenance Rating: 5 Stars
My preference is for plants a little out of the ordinary, ones that not everybody may have seen, and one of my favorites is baptisia (Baptisia australis), also known as false indigo. Baptisia forms a huge mound of blue-green foliage topped with blue spires of pea-like flowers in the spring, looking a bit like a gigantic lupine. It can get 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide and is quite hardy in our area. Full sun is must as it can get sort of floppy in the shade.
While the common variety is blue, other selections have different flower colors. ‘Carolina Moonlight’ is a lovely pale yellow while another species, Baptisia alba, has white flowers. There is even one named ‘Screaming Yellow’ and the name is entirely apt! I added one this year called ‘Solar Flare Prairieblues’ which has bright yellow flowers that fade to orange. The Prairieblues line also includes some different shades of blue including a rich midnight blue named, appropriately, ‘Midnight Prairieblues’. I have not yet seen this one in person, but I’m told it looks like a large, bushy delphinium.
|Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' with Iris 'Sultan's Palace'|
There is also a dwarf form (Baptisia australis var. minor) which is a bit harder to find, but well worth it if you have limited space, as it only gets around 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. I’ve only seen it available in 2 places, both online – Well Sweep Herb Farm in New Jersey and High Country Gardens in New Mexico. Both companies are ones I’ve ordered from in the past and been very happy with.
|Baptisia australis var. minor|
If I had to give baptisia any negative points it would have to be for permanence. The root system on baptisia is impressive. You’ve probably heard that they have a tap root (a single root reaching down anywhere from 2 feet to hell)? Well, these plants don’t have just one tap root, they have many that go to hell and part way back. And if you damage them, the plant will die. It makes them nearly impossible to transplant. Once it’s full grown, you’re pretty much stuck with it where you planted it so site it carefully.
Disease 5 Stars
I have never experienced or heard of a disease affecting baptisia.
Pests – Insects 5 Stars
Pests – Animal 5 Stars
The only animal pests that have affected my baptisia have been voles and they don’t do any permanent damage. In the winter, the little varmints gnaw off the stems, sending the dried plant tumbling across the garden like a huge tumbleweed. I would have cut them off in the spring anyway and the plant always re-sprouts, so no harm is done.
Kind of weird seeing it roll across the snow in January, though.
Invasiveness 5 Stars
Baptisia is not invasive, but it can get large. Treat it as you would a medium sized shrub.
General Maintenance – Water 5 Stars
Baptisia has an extremely long and deep root system, allowing it to search near and far for water if none is forthcoming from the skies or the gardener.
The usual caveat applies to newly planted baptisias. All baby plants require extra care till they are established.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing 5 Stars
Another plant I would be afraid of fertilizing; baptisia does just fine on its own!
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning 5 Stars
Baptisias are actually better if you don’t mess with them. The flowers are self-cleaning, meaning the dead ones fall off without any help, and the seed pods it forms are quite attractive and last the rest of the season.