Every winter season, SWG’s Noelle Johnson awaits the appearance of the first flowers of her penstemon. As early as November, her firecracker penstemon begins to bloom in her low-desert garden. Hummingbirds arrive soon afterward and sip the nectar inside each trumpet-shaped blossom.
Don’t be fooled by the fragile beauty of penstemons. This native perennial is a hardy plant that handles 110+ temperatures of the low desert and -30 degrees F temperatures. There are over 280 species of penstemon native to the western half of North America. These lovely perennials flourish in dry climates.
Most penstemon species have loose, tubular blooms that flare out at the ends as they emerge from a base of elongated leaves. They come in many colors – pink, purple, red, blue, and even yellow. As you can see, there is a penstemon color for everyone! Plant breeders create new types of penstemon all the time so options for using this sturdy perennial are increasing.
They look best with a natural theme, among wildflowers or next to boulders. Noelle mixes hers with other water-wise perennials such as blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) and angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis).
In areas with mild winters, blooms begin in late winter and extend into spring. When grown in colder climates, penstemon blooms in late spring into summer, depending on the species.
Well-drained soil and full sun are two factors critical in growing penstemon successfully. Local nurseries and botanical garden plant sales are the best sources for transplants. Penstemon can also be started from seed. Water well and allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
Firecracker, Palmer’s, Parry’s, and Santa Margarita penstemon grow in Noelle’s low desert garden. We encourage you to try growing one where you live!