Leadwort Plant Profile

How to plant and care for leadwort

leadwort close up

 

Suzanna Ruby / Getty Images

It may not have the most attractive name, but leadwort is definitely an attractive perennial. But don't be fooled by its beauty—this hardworking plant is known for its toughness, as it can tolerate difficult growing conditions and droughty soil while remaining relatively impervious to deer and various garden pests. It earned its somewhat unappealing name from the Latin words plumbum, meaning "lead" and agere, or "resemblance"—the powdery blue color of its flowers is reminiscent of the residue of lead, and it has also been rumored that a Greek botanist once believed that these flowers may even be a potential cure for lead poisoning.

The easy-to-grow and non-invasive leadwort is the common name assigned to the flowering members of the Plumbaginaceae family, which are ordinary garden plants originating in China. These are 17 official species of ceratostigma plumbaginoides accepted throughout the world.  

The leadwort makes such a fantastic garden plant thanks to the fact that it's fast-growing yet not overly invasive. It's known for its clean green foliage and deep, truly bright blue flowers—and it also paves the way for a fiery fall leaf display. These plants sprout bluish-purple flowers that are about three to four inches in diameter, while the green foliage takes on a reddish tint in the winter months. They are typically produced starting from July until the first signs of frost, and the sepals and bracts associated with these tubular flower are red, creating a gorgeous pop of color during its flowering season.

Botanical Name Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
Common Name Leadwort, plumbago, dwarf plumbago, Chinese leadwort
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 6-12 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide
Sun Exposure Part sun to sun
Soil Type Slightly acidic soil
Soil pH 5-9
Bloom Time Summer and fall
Flower Color Blue
Hardiness Zones 4-9
Native Area China
leadwort bush
Federica Grassi​ / Getty Images

How to Grow Leadwort Plants

For starters, be sure to plant these particular flowers in the spring, as leadwort needs a full growing season in order to get its roots properly established in your garden. Leadworts are often planted as a ground cover under shrubs or small trees, and many gardeners will interplant them with bulbs that bloom in spring, such as crocus, sunflowers, hyacinths, and daffodils.

However, you'll want to avoid combining leadwort with other perennials, primarily because they beautiful blue flowers have a habit of outgrowing neighboring plants. Also note that these plants can take some time to emerge and start growing, but it's then that they will start to grow much faster than most other perennials. They are also great at helping to choke out weeds.

Light

The leadwort plants will grow best in either full fun or partial shade.

Soil

These plants will experience the best growth in well-drained, slightly acidic soils that are rich in organic matter. However, leadwort is also adaptable to sandy and clay soils.

Water

The soil cannot remain too wet (particularly in winter), as these plants will rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Be sure to wait until spring to plant your leadworts. As the weather begins to turn colder, consider applying a light winter mulch and waiting until growth resumes in mid-spring before cutting the stems back to the ground.

Fertilizer

Leadwort can be lightly fertilized with a slow-release fertilizer in the spring, and then again in the early summer, which will promote rapid filling in between transplants.

Potting and Repotting

It's a good idea to plant leadwort plants in a solid flower plant soil mix. A layer of clay pebbles can be placed at the bottom of the pot to help facilitate drainage and promote the growth of your flowers. They will require regular watering and repotting about every two years.

Propagating Leadwort

These plants can reproduce asexually by trimming plant stems, as well as through the dispersion of their flower seeds. You'll want to propagate with 3- to 4- inch stem cuttings during the summer. 

Some Varieties of Leadwort

  • Plumbago Auriculata: Deep or pale blue color, cup-shaped flowers
  • Plumbabo Europaea: Dusty pink to lilac color, 5 oblong and connate lobes drooping down
  • Plumbago Indica: Bright red or deep pink color, inflorescent flowers arranged along a spiked stem

Pruning

You'll want to prune out all of a leadwort's dead or broken branches in the late winter or spring (while the plant remains dormant). Pruning shears should be used to cut through branches with a diameter of no more than a quarter of an inch, with loppers used on larger branches.

Growing in Containers

The leadwort plant will need to be grown in a container placed by a window or doors that receive ample sunlight throughout most of the day. The plant should be placed outside during the spring and summer months.