The pink flowers of Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) adds welcome color to a spring garden.

I adore flowers of all kinds, but I must confess that my favorite types look as if they belong to a cottage garden, which probably explains why I am wild about penstemons.

There are many different species of penstemon with varying colors, ranging from shades of pink to red with some white ones thrown in.  

Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) adds vibrant color to a hummingbird demonstration garden.

All penstemons are native to the western half of North America where they thrive in well-drained soil.  Most grow in higher elevations, and all are drought tolerant.  For those of you who love to grow native plants that are low-maintenance, penstemons are a must-have.

The 4 – 6-foot flowering spikes of Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) lightly perfume the air of this desert landscape.

 I like plants that add a touch of drama to my garden and penstemon do a great job at that when they send up their flowering spikes that tower over their lower cluster of leaves.  Bees and hummingbirds love their flowers and it is fun to watch their antics as they sneak inside the flowers for nectar.

A row of rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius) adds lovely color to this area at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

While penstemon may look rather delicate, it is anything but as it can survive temperatures over 100 degrees and temperatures that dip anywhere from 15 degrees Fahrenheit all the way down to -30 degrees, depending on the species.  

The bloom time for penstemon depends on the species as well as the climate they grow in.  For desert dwellers like me, most bloom in late winter into spring.  Each year, I eagerly await the appearance of the first unfolding flowering spikes of my firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatoni)  to emerge in January.

In my garden, Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi) is another favorite of mine in the garden, and its flowers begin to open in late February.  This year, I am growing pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius), which is a new one for me and I am curious to see how it will do.  Another penstemon that I am anxious to try is rock penstemon (Penstemon baccharifolius), which blooms spring through fall.  Lastly, I have added Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) to my garden.  I used to grow it years ago and was happy to incorporate it back into my landscape.

It’s important to note that penstemon grows best when grown in the western half of North America.  The season in which they bloom can vary depending on the USDA zone.  In my zone 9 garden, I begin to appear in January and last through spring. For those who live in colder climates, penstemon will bloom later in spring or even begin flowering in summer.  However, no matter when they bloom, penstemon are sure to add beauty to the landscape with a touch of drama.

**Do you have a favorite penstemon?

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

13 replies
  1. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    Do they die away and come back as they would in the midwest or stay green out here in AZ? What about the RABBITS? Do they bother the plants?

  2. Robin Leja
    Robin Leja says:

    Well, I have a penstemon in my garden, but I don’t know what type it is! Considering this is Ohio, and it blooms in red, I suppose it would be easy to figure out. I love it, but it blooms long before the hummingbirds stop here to visit. Darn it!

  3. says:

    Hi Kristen,

    When not in bloom, they are an unremarkable evergreen clump of leaves that fade into the background until it is time for them to blossom. Young penstemon are susceptible to rabbits, but a temporary chicken wire cage works well to deter them for the first few months after planting.

  4. Cheryl Ann
    Cheryl Ann says:

    I love the red ones! I need to buy some and get them out back in my garden, and a few for the front! That sounds like my goal for the day! I have some purple salvia that the hummingbirds visit frequently. We are in zone 9, too.

    Do penstemon grow easily from seed? I think that might be the way to go. WHEN would I plant the seeds?

    Thank you for sharing this!

  5. Tamara
    Tamara says:

    I found you site two weeks ago and have been try, and to read them all. :0). You wrote about Hopbush in an old post. Would pruning twice a year keep Hopbush to 3-4 ft wide by 8-9 ft tall? I need to screen a view and have a narrow area. It was suggested that I use Italian cypress, but they get so tall.

  6. says:

    Hi Cheryl.

    Penstemon do grow easily from seed. You can plant the seed anytime and they will come up when they are ready. I would plant them in March and then make sure that they have some water so they will grow 🙂

  7. says:

    Hi Tamara,

    Hopbush are wonderful shrubs, mostly because they are easy to keep them in whatever size you want. They can grow up to 12 feet tall and even wider but, are easily pruned into whatever shape you want. The key to pruning them only twice a year as you mentioned, is to prune them back smaller than the size you want. This will allow them time to grow out to the size you want before you need to prune them again.

  8. Tamara
    Tamara says:

    Great! Thanks so much for your time!

    One more question. I inherited rose bushes planted in full sun, no shade. I have managed to keep them growing but would like to move them to the east side of my home, only mid day sun, will they be happy there?
    Thanks. I love the detailed information you give us!!!

  9. says:

    Hi Tamara,

    Your roses will like having an eastern exposure. It’s best to move them in winter when they are dormant. Prune them back to about two feet tall and wide before transplanting and water deeply after. You should be all set! Let me know how they do.

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