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How to Grow Penstemon (Beardtongue)

By David Salman, High Country Gardens (asalmanMarch 31, 2012
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An essential plant in any xeriscape, Penstemons are unsurpassed in attracting hummingbirds to your garden. For beginners, we recommend growing a few of the easier species like Rocky Mountain Beardtongue (Penstemon strictus), Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius) and the beautiful Penstemon ‘Elfin Pink’.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on March 11, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

An essential plant in any xeriscape, Penstemons are unsurpassed in attracting hummingbirds to your garden. For beginners, we recommend growing a few of the easier species like Rocky Mountain Beardtongue (Penstemon strictus), Pineleaf Beardtongue (Penstemon pinifolius) and the beautiful Penstemon ‘Elfin Pink’.

Because many Penstemons are adapted to harsh Western habitats, it is important to keep a few cultural considerations in mind when bringing them into our gardens:

  1. Plant only in well-drained soils; wet clay soils and Penstemon aren’t compatible. Avoid overly enriched soils; too much compost can shorten their life span.
  2. Plant high, leaving the top of the rootball just above the surrounding soil to avoid burying the crown of the plant.
  3. Avoid bark, grass clippings or compost as mulch materials. These mulches are detrimental to healthy Beardtongues. They will cause disease in wet, cold weather. It is better to leave them non-mulched or use gravel.
  4. Allow to re-seed. Penstemon will sometimes live for only 2 or 3 years (e.g., Penstemon palmeri). To keep them going, allow some of the plants to set seed (don’t deadhead them). The volunteer seedlings will be more vigorous and longer lived than the original parent plant.
  5. Fertilize sparingly. Beardtongues like “tough love” and need only to be fertilized once each year in the fall. Apply a light application of an organic or natural fertilizer. Yum Yum Mix is an excellent fertilizer for Penstemon and other native plants. It has a high trace mineral and phosphorus content while being low in nitrogen.


  About David Salman, High Country Gardens  
David Salman, High Country Gardens David Salman is a 1979 graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in Horticultural Science. He started Santa Fe Greenhouses, a retail greenhouse and nursery in Santa Fe, NM in 1984 and the High Country Gardens mail order catalog in 1993. Through many years of hands-on experience, David has acquired expertise in a wide range of horticultural endeavors. These include all aspects of greenhouse production, perennial propagation, commercial tree farming as well as regionally appropriate landscape design, installation and maintenance for the Intermountain West. David spends his time running the business in addition to writing and producing the High Country Gardens catalog. He also devotes considerable effort searching for and evaluating the garden performance of new and interesting plants. He places special emphasis on native species from the US and northern Mexico, as well as cold hardy, xeric species from western Asia, China and South Africa.

High Country Gardens specializes in waterwise ("xeric") perennials and other plants that need very little or no extra water once established. We have spent years offering and developing unusual garden-tested perennials, cacti, succulents, grasses, and shrubs that ship right from our greenhouses to your landscape. The fragrant and colorful blossoms and foliage on many of our flowering xeriscape plants, such as Lavender, Penstemon, and Agastache, attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
For More Information About Penstemons PentLady 3 184 Sep 8, 2009 9:00 PM
Chinese Dogwood lailani 2 48 Sep 7, 2009 6:15 PM
Mildly invasive(?) nford 1 47 Sep 7, 2009 5:02 PM
nice article onewish1 1 30 Sep 7, 2009 1:16 PM
Cornus kousa 'Chinenses' clay3 0 44 Apr 17, 2008 12:46 AM
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