How to Choose the Ideal Penstemon: A Guide to Selecting the Best Variety for Your Garden


Penstemons, also known as beardtongues, are a popular choice for gardeners looking to add a touch of color to their flowerbeds. With their vibrant red and firecracker stalks, these beautiful perennials can be a standout addition to any garden. One variety that is often asked about is the Penstemon barbatus, also known as ‘Husker Red’.

P. barbatus is a popular choice for its unique characteristics. With its narrow towers of red flowers, it can add a touch of height and drama to any garden. This variety is also known for its dark foliage, giving it a special edge over other penstemons. If you’re a fan of digitalis or snapdragon, then P. barbatus may be the perfect choice for you.

When it comes to picking the perfect penstemon, there are a few things to consider. First, you’ll want to make sure you know what kind of environment the penstemon will be living in. Some varieties, such as the P. barbatus, prefer full sun, while others, like the P. heterophyllus, are more tolerant of shade. Knowing the soil requirements of your chosen variety is also important, as some penstemons prefer well-drained soil while others can tolerate heavier soil.

Another important factor to consider is how long the penstemon will stay in bloom. Some penstemons, like the P. barbatus and P. eatonii, have a longer blooming period, while others may only bloom for a few weeks. If you want a penstemon that will give you a show of color all season long, be sure to choose a variety with a longer bloom time.

Finally, if you’re not sure which penstemon variety to choose, it never hurts to ask for help. A knowledgeable nursery or garden center employee can give you tips and information about the different varieties available and help you pick the perfect penstemon for your garden. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, there’s a penstemon out there for everyone.

How to Plant and Grow Penstemon

Penstemon, also known as beardtongue, is a beautiful flowering plant that belongs to the plantain family. It is native to North America and is known for its vibrant and colorful flowers. There are many varieties of penstemon, such as catmint, maroon, and red, each with its own unique features and characteristics.

When planting penstemon, it is important to choose a suitable location that meets its growing requirements. Most penstemon varieties prefer full sun, although some, like the foothill penstemon, can tolerate partial shade. They also prefer well-drained soil, so make sure the soil is sandy and loose.

Penstemon can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. If you’re starting from seeds, begin by scarifying the seeds to help with germination. You can do this by nicking the seed coat with a knife or rubbing it on sandpaper. Once scarified, sow the seeds in a seed tray or directly in the garden. Make sure to water them regularly and provide them with the necessary sunlight.

If you’re using cuttings, you can take stem cuttings in late spring or early summer. Cut a length of stem just below a leaf node and remove any lower leaves. Dip the cutting in rooting hormone and plant it in well-draining potting soil. Keep the cutting moist and in a warm location until roots develop.

Penstemon plants vary in height, with some growing to be only a few inches tall, while others can reach up to five feet. One popular variety, the Palmer’s penstemon, can grow up to three feet in height and has beautiful spikes of deep pinkish-lavender flowers. Another variety, the prairie penstemon, is known for its tall, spires of pink, white, or purple flowers.

The penstemon genus is generally fairly resistant to pests and diseases. However, they can be susceptible to mites and rust in humid conditions. To prevent these issues, make sure to provide adequate airflow around the plants and remove any infected leaves.

When it comes to soil requirements, penstemon can grow in a wide range of soil types. However, they prefer a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Before planting, it is a good idea to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter to improve its fertility and drainage.

Penstemon plants are hardy and can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. They are drought-tolerant once established, but will benefit from regular watering, especially during hot and dry periods. Make sure to water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth.

In conclusion, penstemon is a beautiful perennial plant that can add color and diversity to any garden. Whether you’re looking for tall spires of flowers or compact dwarf forms, there is a penstemon variety that will suit your preferences. By providing the right growing conditions and care, you’ll be able to enjoy a vibrant display of penstemon flowers in your garden.

Penstemon Overview

Penstemon is a genus of flowering plants in the family Plantaginaceae. They are commonly referred to as beardtongues. With over 250 species to pick from, penstemons offer a wide variety of choices for gardeners. They are native to North America and can be found in a range of habitats, from prairies to arid regions.

Penstemons are known for their long, tubular flowers that come in a range of colors, including shades of pink, purple, blue, and red. One popular hybrid is Penstemon x mexicali, which features bright blue-green foliage as a lovely background to its vibrant flowers.

When it comes to growing penstemons, they have a few basic requirements. They prefer well-drained soil and do best in full sun or part shade. They are perennials, so they will survive the winter and grow back year after year.

Penstemons can be propagated through stem cuttings or by seed. Taking stem cuttings is a common method used by gardeners like John Leeds to propagate their favorite penstemon varieties. Cuttings are usually taken during the summer, before the flowers begin to bloom. The cuttings can then be planted in a tray with well-drained soil and placed in a sheltered spot until they begin to root. Once rooted, they can be transplanted into pots or flowerbeds.

In addition to their striking flowers, penstemons make great companions for other plants in the garden. They can be paired with plants like catmint or dark-leafed companions to create a spectacular display.

Penstemons are low-maintenance plants, making them a favorite choice for many gardeners. They require minimal care and can thrive in a wide range of conditions. With their beautiful flowers and compact growth habit, penstemons are a great addition to any garden.

Where to Plant Penstemon

When it comes to planting penstemons, you want to choose a location where they can thrive. These lovely perennial plants are known for their spires of tubular flowers, which come in a wide range of colors. Penstemons do best in full sun, but they can also tolerate partial shade. It’s important to provide them with well-drained soils to prevent root rot. They are also quite adaptable to different soil types, including sandy, loamy, and clay soils.

As for weather conditions, penstemons are generally hardy and can withstand cold winters and hot summers. However, some species have specific habitat requirements. For example, strictus penstemon prefers rocky soil and mountain habitats, while digitalis penstemon thrives in rich, moist soil found in woodland areas. Pinifolius penstemon prefers drier conditions and can tolerate drought.

Penstemons can be planted directly in the ground or in containers. When planting in the ground, make sure to prepare the soil by removing any weeds or grass and adding organic matter such as compost. Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the root ball of the plant and place the penstemon in it, ensuring that the top of the root ball is level with the ground. Backfill the hole with soil and gently firm it around the plant.

If you’re using containers, make sure they have drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil. Fill the container with a well-draining potting mix and plant the penstemon at the same level as it was in its original container. Water the plant thoroughly after planting and keep the soil evenly moist, but not overly wet.

When deciding where to plant penstemons, consider their height and growth habit. Some penstemon varieties, like cobaea penstemon, can reach heights of up to four feet and may need support or staking. Others, like the bushy ‘Husker Red’ penstemon, have a compact growth habit and are perfect for smaller gardens or flowerbeds.

Penstemons are known to attract pollinators, such as bees and hummingbirds, with their vibrant tubular flowers. If you’re looking to create a wildlife-friendly garden, planting penstemons is a great idea. These plants also provide nectar and habitat for other beneficial insects, like lady’s ear and wake-robin beetles.

Once your penstemons are established, they don’t require much care. Deadheading the flowers can encourage more blooms and prolong their flowering period. In colder climates, it’s a good idea to leave the dried flower heads on the plant over winter to provide some protection. In spring, you can cut back the stems to about an inch above the ground to make room for new growth.

Overall, penstemons are versatile and relatively low-maintenance perennials that can add a splash of color to your garden. Whether you have a sunny spot in your yard or a shady corner, there’s a penstemon variety that will suit your conditions. Try growing them in borders, rock gardens, or mixed flower beds for a spectacular display of flowers year after year.

How and When to Plant Penstemon

Penstemons are a popular group of perennials that are known for their showy flowers and attractive foliage. These plants are a great addition to flowerbeds and can add a pop of color to any garden. If you’re looking to grow penstemons in your own garden, here’s a guide on how and when to plant them.

Planting Requirements

Penstemons can be grown in various soil types, but they prefer loose, well-draining soil. Before planting, make sure the soil is well-prepared by removing any weeds or rocks that could hinder the growth of the plants.

When it comes to temperature requirements, different penstemon types have different preferences. Generally, penstemons prefer mild temperatures and can tolerate both heat and frost. However, some types, like the Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), prefer hotter areas and rocky soil, while others, like the foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis), do well in cooler areas.

When to Plant

The best time to plant penstemons is in the early spring, around March. This gives the plants plenty of time to establish their root systems before the hotter summer months. However, if you live in a milder climate, you can plant penstemons in the fall as well.

Planting Methods

There are two main methods for planting penstemons: from seeds and from cuttings.

If you’re starting from seeds, begin by filling containers with loose, well-draining soil. Sow the seeds and lightly cover them with a thin layer of soil. Keep the soil moist, but be careful not to overwater, as this can cause fungal problems. The seeds should germinate in about two to four weeks.

To propagate penstemons from cuttings, take a 4- to 6-inch cutting from the stalk of a mature plant. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end into a rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in a pot filled with moist soil and keep it in a warm, bright location. The cutting should root in about four to six weeks.

Planting and Care

When planting penstemons in the ground, make sure to space them about 12 to 18 inches apart to allow for proper airflow and prevent the spread of diseases. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball and gently place the plants in the hole. Backfill the hole with soil and water the plants well.

Penstemons are relatively low-maintenance plants. They’re drought-tolerant once established, but regular watering is necessary during the first few weeks after planting. Water the plants deeply and allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings.

To keep penstemons looking their best, deadhead the flowers after they fade. This will encourage the plant to produce more blooms and prevent self-seeding. Additionally, some penstemon varieties, like Penstemon barbatus, benefit from a light pruning in late summer to encourage a second bloom.

Common Problems

While penstemons are generally healthy plants, they can sometimes be prone to certain problems. Some common issues include fungal diseases, insects like aphids and leafhoppers, and overwatering. To prevent these problems, make sure to provide good airflow around the plants, remove any infected leaves, and avoid overwatering.

In colder regions, penstemons may not survive the harsh winter conditions. In this case, it’s best to grow them in containers and bring them indoors before the first frost. Alternatively, you can choose penstemon varieties that are more cold-hardy, such as the Penstemon hirsutus or Penstemon x hybridus.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to successfully plant and care for penstemons in your garden, and enjoy their beautiful flowers year after year.

✿ Read More: Gardening Tips and Advice.

Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.