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Red globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Did you know that some flowering, desert perennials are grown easily from seed? It’s true. Many of the plants in my garden are volunteers that grew from seed from my established plants.

I have several ‘parental’ plants in my front garden along with their babies that have come up on their own with no assistance from me.

Pink globe mallow 

My favorite perennials that grow from seed are my colorful globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).  The most common color seen in globe mallow is orange. However, they also come in other colors such as red, pink, and white. You can purchase the less common color varieties, but they can be hard to find at your local nursery.

White globe mallow

When I first designed my garden, I bought pink, red, and white globe mallows. These plants are now over 17 years old and produce a large number of seeds once flowering has ceased.  Because these colors can be hard to find, people ask me to sell them seeds that I harvest each year from my colorful perennials.

Light pink globe mallow

Harvesting seeds from spent flowers is easy to do. Once the flowers begin to fade in spring, I look for tiny, dried out seed pods, which is where the seeds are contained. I then pick them off and place them in a little bag.  It’s important to keep the colors separate so if someone wants red globe mallow, they won’t be growing pink or white ones.

Desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), and verbena (Glandularia spp.)

There are other desert perennials that come up easily from seed, such as the ones pictured above in a garden I visited a few years ago. 

So how do you grow these drought tolerant perennials from seed? Surprisingly, it’s not hard to do, and if you go to a lot of trouble and fuss over them, they probably won’t grow. So starting them in little pots and transplanting them isn’t the best way to go about it. Instead, sprinkle the seed throughout the landscape, allowing some to fall a foot away from a drip emitter or near rocks. You want to mirror the natural conditions where they sow their seed in nature. Warning: this only works in areas where pre-emergent herbicides are NOT used. 

Growing these perennials from seed is very inexpensive, but some patience is needed while you wait for them to sprout.  Not all will come up, but those that do, will add beauty to your garden and before you know it, you may be harvesting seed to share with your friends.

What type of plants have you had come up in your garden from seed?

There are many flowering perennials that I can think of that only flower once a year and many people think that the lovely blooms of penstemon count among them.

Parry’s Penstemon
But, did you know that if you prune the flowers just as they begin to fade that you can stimulate another flush of colorful blooms?

Gopher Plant (Euphorbia rigida), Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) and Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi)

I’ve grown penstemon for years and recently planted a Parry’s penstemon in my front yard.  I enjoyed seeing its pink blossoms waving in the breeze and the hummingbirds who stopped by for a drink of nectar.

The individual flowers began to fall, leaving only a few behind, which is the best time to prune the flowering stalks back. 


If you wait too long, the chances are that you will lose your window of stimulating your penstemon to produce more flowers.  It’s best to do this when there are a couple of blossoms left on the plant.


This is what my young penstemon looks like right now, but within a couple of weeks, new flowering spikes will begin growing.

The reason that pruning off the first set of flowers stimulates a second bloom period is that the penstemon’s goal is to produce seeds.  To do that, they produce flowers to attract pollinators and once pollinated, the flowers drop and the seed develops.  However, when by pruning off the flowering spikes when there are a few flowers left, we disrupt the cycle and the plant will produce another set of flowers for the purpose of producing seeds.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)

Doing so will promote a second bloom for several penstemon species including firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s penstemon (Penstemon parryi).  

I am excited to show you two pictures of one of my favorite perennials.

Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii)
 
Isn’t this a cool picture of a bee, ready to pollinate the flowers of this penstemon?
 
I must confess that I did not take this photo (or the other one below).  My husband took both of these beautiful pictures.
 
This firecracker penstemon is happily growing in my garden and is now over 14 years old, which is rare.  
 
Every winter, it sends up spikes covered in red, tubular flowers, much to the delight of the resident hummingbirds.
 
The blooms last through spring in my desert garden.  In cooler climates, it will bloom in spring through early summer.
 
To learn more about this red beauty and how easy it is to grow in your garden, click here.


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I hope you have enjoyed my favorite flower photos.  Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a series of my favorite DIY blog posts, so please come back for a visit!
 
I got asked, what my favorite plant is. 
 
Well, asking a horticulturist to tell you what her favorite plant is, is rather like asking a mother to tell you who her favorite child is – it’s impossible.
 
But when pressed, I breakdown and admit to liking one particular plant slightly more than all the others.
 
 
Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) is my favorite plant.  There is so much to love about this beautiful perennial; it is hard to know where to start…. reddish-orange flowers, it attracts hummingbirds, blooms winter through spring, is low-maintenance, drought tolerant and native to the desert.  
 
Need I say more?  Well then, I will……
 
This particular penstemon species can be found growing in the Southwestern United States.  Heat and cold don’t bother it.  It can grow in 100+ temperatures and is hardy to -20 degrees F.  
 
Beautiful orange/red flowers bloom in the winter and spring.  Grown easily from seed, Firecracker Penstemon reaches a mature size of approximately 2′ x 2′ when in flower. 
 
 
Firecracker penstemon is a welcome asset to the desert flower garden.  Plant in full sun and keep away from the shade as they will grow leggy from lack of sunlight.  I particularly like the way they look when planted singly next to boulders.  They also look spectacular in bloom when planted in groups of three.  
 
Place alongside other plants that are either yellow or white which will contrast nicely with the orange/red color of this Penstemon’s blooms.  Recommended companion plants include damianita, blackfoot daisy, prickly pear cactus,  brittlebush, agave, angelita daisy, and desert marigold.  
 
For maximum hummingbird viewing, be sure to plant firecracker penstemon where you will be able to see the hummingbirds feeding.
 
MAINTENANCE: This perennial is low-maintenance.  The primary requirement is the removal of spent flower stalks, which will often promote additional flowering.  Firecracker penstemon is drought tolerant when established, but will require regular irrigation to look their best.  At the minimum, supplemental water will be needed in the summer months.  Older plants can be-be cut back to remove old, woody growth.  NO fertilizer is required.
 
Now you know why firecracker penstemon is my favorite plant!  I encourage you to try this beautiful plant in your zone 5 – 10 garden.  I am sure you will love it as much as I do.