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Indigofera kirilowii, a Ground Cover for Large Areas

Indigofera is a genus of about 750 species of flowering plants. It may be best known for the tropical herbs Indigofera tinctura and Indigofera suffructicosa, which are both used to produce indigo dye. Other species include annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees, which vary in hardiness from USDA zones 6 to 11.

Indigofera kirilowii grows in in my own garden. Views of Indigofera kirilowii in my woodland garden. Look closely at the lower left photo. Do you see the bee behind the flower? He flew toward the back just as I took this photo.Visitors frequently admire the soft, fernlike foliage and want to know about it. Hardy in zones 6 to 9, it is a deciduous, suckering subshrub that has small pinnate leaves and pink and white racemes of flowers from May to midsummer, with sporadic blooms into fall. Its cotton candy colored flowers are attractive to pollinators. It looks much like a ground hugging wisteria.

It grows well on banks and does a great job of stabilizing the soil on a slope. Individual plants grow to about 2 feet tall and wide. They spread by underground runners, and Indigofera kirilowii makes an excellent ground cover for large areas. It is easy to pull up excess plants, but I would never plant Indigofera kirilowii unless it had room to roam. 

Indigofera grows well in light shade to full sun. It is not picky about soil, but it will especially thrive in well-draining, loamy soil. My Indigofera grows in a section of the woodland garden that gets no supplemental water, and it has done well. It has been a very low-maintenance plant. Flowers are produced on new wood, and I do usually cut the dead stems to the ground in late winter to neaten the appearance and to make room for the fresh spring growth.

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Reader Comments (19)

Thanks for this post on Kirilow indigo, Deb!

As you may remember, I tried adding it to my garden last autumn.

Sadly, it did not leaf out this spring...

It should have been hardy here, so not sure what went wrong...

It was a very small plant and it did come from a Florida nursery, perhaps it was not well-enough rooted or perhaps its Florida provenance did not prepare it for even a mild Tennessee winter?

I'm a bit more focused on natives these days, so I don't think I'd go out of my way to mail order it again, but if I ever come across it in a local nursery, your favorable review will probably make me pick up a pot or two and try it again! :)

May 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

I grew an indigofera in Florence that was much taller but the flowers looked very similar to yours. I loved it. It did so well in one of the toughest areas of the garden - dry shade! I want to see if I can grow it here in Washington.

May 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

That is a beautiful plant! I've been thinking about ground covers lately, and considering adding more Wild Ginger--which also performs well in dry shade.

May 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

Will look out for that one, might be worth trying in our garden!

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Your description of this plant as looking like a ground cover wisteria made me want it grow it immediately! I have just the place I would like to grow this so will look for it, maybe it will have to be in seed form.

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

It's a gorgeous plant, Deb! Your post immediately sent me to my western garden guide to see whether there are varieties that could work here as I can use more plants to cover sloped surfaces. There is one species that could work in my area, if I could find it - I. australis. The down side, in addition to the availability problem, is that it grows 5-8 feet tall, which limits my placement options but I'll still look for it on my next trip to the Australian natives nursery (the only "local" source, some 3 hours away).

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

It’s fascinating to learn about completely new plants from all over the world – today you have introduced me to yet another plant I have never heard of before. Thanks – it’s beautiful :-)

May 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

This plant is new to me even though I can grow zone 6 plants. Very pretty and I like how it fills a large area in a groundcover manner. I guess the suckering can get out of hand though if it really likes its location.

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

This plant is a new for me. Lovely! The foliage and the flowers are attractive.

May 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

Lovely plant that DOES look like ground-hugging wisteria but anything with underground runners make me very nervous.

May 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

My Indigofera is a small tree.
Similar trusses of flowers, and feathery leaves.

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Studer

What a fascinating and very useful plant Deb - I love the flowers on it!

May 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

What a fascinating plant Deb!

What a lovely plant, if never heard of it before. I need to look in to whether it would thrive at the back of one of my borders. Thank you!

May 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

Very interesting, I've never heard of this plant. Very attractive.

May 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I love indigofera! I had some growing as a ground cover once but my husband thought it was a weed and pulled it up! He's not allowed to pull weeds anymore!

May 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

hi, deb,
may i ask how you came by this indigofera? i have been looking high and low, but i have been unable to find the groundcover (less than 12" tall) version. thanks in advance!

May 6, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterdoctor-jabs

Lovely indigofera groundcover. Can you tell me the name of the multi-trunk tree planted with it?

December 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Hi Linda, that tree is Cornus florida, Florida dogwood. It is well over fifty years old, and I am afraid it will not live many more years. I will certainly miss it! Deb

December 29, 2018 | Registered CommenterDeborah Elliott

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