Penstemon are a type of flowering perennial that do very well in arid climates. There are many different varieties, which handle the intense heat and also cold winters in the Southwest. So, whether you live in the low-desert or mountain regions, there is a penstemon for you.
Every winter season, SWG’s Noelle Johnson awaits the appearance of the first flowers of her penstemon in her Phoenix-area garden. As early as November, her firecracker penstemon begins to bloom much to the delight of the hummingbirds in her neighborhood.
The blooms of penstemon are so lovely and give them a delicate appearance. However, don’t be fooled by their fragile beauty – this is one tough plant! In fact, they do best when given little attention.
They are hardy perennials that handle 110+ temperatures of the low desert and -30 degrees F temperatures of cold winter temperatures. There are many to choose from with over 280 species of penstemon native to the western half of North America.
Most species have loose, tubular blooms that flare out at the ends as they emerge from a base of elongated leaves. If you like color in the garden, penstemon comes in a variety of colors including pink, purple, red, blue, and even yellow. As you can see, there is a penstemon color for everyone!
Penstemon look best in landscapes 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. Penstemon in colder climates they bloom in late spring into summer, depending on the species.
Well-drained soil and full sun are two factors critical for growing penstemon successfully. Local nurseries and botanical garden plant sales are usually the best sources for transplants. Penstemon can also be started from seed.
To care for them properly, water them to a depth of 16″ and allow the soil to dry out for a week 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!