September is a great month. Fall begins, football season starts, and we have great weather. One thing many people, including myself, love about fall is the great fall colors in our plant life. Most people associate fall color with trees, but there are a lot of great shrubs, perennials, and even groundcovers that have great fall color. One great groundcover for fall color would be plumbago or leadwort.
Plumbago, Cceratostigma plumbaginoides, is also called leadwort. It is a perennial groundcover growing up to 10 inches tall and can spread up to 24 inches or more. This plant spreads by rhizomes or underground running stems. The leaves of plumbago are 1.5 inches long and have a red to copper tint to the leaves in the fall. The flowers are less than one inch in diameter, have 5 petals and are true blue in color. The blue colored flowers are hard to find in plants, so this plant is a good find. The blue flowers are held in clusters on the ends of the branches. The flowers are similar in size and shape to phlox flowers. The bloom period runs from August until frost in the fall. The leaves will stay on the plant and hold their color later into the fall. Leadwort produces a deep red, pointed capsule for the seeds that is persistent into the later months of winter.
Plumbago grows moderately fast as it spreads through the rhizomes, but it isn’t considered invasive. It grows best in full sun with average to dry soils. It will grow in part shade and wet soils, but wet soils should be well drained. It is a great addition to rock gardens, rock walls, and edges of rock gardens. Leadwort is a great choice due to its drought tolerance, deer resistance, and lack of pest and disease problems.
According to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, plumbago is originally from the Beijing region of China. There is a tropical plumbago which is also a blue flowering plant that is grown as an annual in Nebraska, and the species that we plant in Nebraska is actually a hardy plumbago of a different genus. Plumbago comes from a Latin word that means ‘looks like lead’ because the flowers are similar in color to lead and a plant dye can be made from this plant that is used to stain lead.
True blue flowers are rare to find growing naturally, however, with plumbago we can have that. This is a plant that is drought tolerant, unaffected by deer, and has minimal disease and insect problems. Leadwort is a great plant for fall color because of the amazing blue flowers and the red-colored leaves. So, the next time you are looking for a groundcover to increase the interest of your landscape in the late summer and into the fall, look for plumbago.