Penstemon & Digitalis Bloom

Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

I am planning some plants for next year. Do Penstemon and Digitalis bloom at the same time?

I have been outside cutting plants back and tidying up the gardens. It's been a real chore. They are over grown and in need of thinning and a huge haircut! I am also harvesting some seed. It all takes time and energy. I have done three beds and "miles to go before I sleep"!

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I just went back in my photos for a few years.

For me penstemon Digitalis Husker Red is in full bloom on May 29 and will rebloom if deadheaded. I have shots of it on June 22 after it grew back from being deadheaded.

Digitalis grandiflora is in full bloom on May 24 and also reblooms with deadheading.

So the answer, I think, is yes!

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

I agree. The digitalis grandiflora blooms a really long time in my garden, especially if I deadhead (which I don't always get to, I must admit!). The various penstemons come and go, some earlier, some a little later, but The foxglove is there the whole time.


Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

Hi Donna and Pam!
It's been awhile. Thanks so much for responding. I am sorry I haven't replied sooner. I have been so busy pulling weeds, dead heading, harvesting seeds and making a list of spring bulbs I want to purchase--plus company.

I have Penstemon digitalis 'Husker's Red' in my garden. I collected the seed-not sure what I am going to do with it--maybe grow a couple of more. They are neat plants and appear to be relatively drought tolerant. After this summer, it's an attribute I have on my mind.

I also have started from seed Digitalis grandiflora. I believe that's the yellow one that is a perennial rather than a biennial. I think I may plant it with a Jackmanni clematis, and something (?) white at their feet maybe a short white salvia or dianthus.

Pam, I believe it was you that gave me a Digitalis grandiflora last year. I have it in my garden. It survived extreme heat and drought and even bloomed. It looked pretty sad but made it through the summer with "some" watering. I cut the stalk off and its green leaves look very happy. I really like it. Thank you for sharing your D. grandiflora.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

I'm glad the Dg did so well through your difficult summer. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much bigger it is next spring- at least that's been my experience. I also find new volunteers every spring, which makes me very happy. I have a couple of really good clumps now, and have given lots away as well.

My Penstemon Huskers Red that I grew from seed last year is not nearly as red as the ones I bought so I could compare. Very disappointing after all the time and effort it took to germinate them. My bought ones are already big enough to divide- so are the others, but I have them in a less conspicuous spot and probably won't bother.

You gave me a lovely David's Lavender Phlox, which has also grown beautifully. The deer nipped the first buds this year, and it was just recovering and starting to bloom again when I left in early August. Tomorrow I'll be back in the garden for the first time since then, nearly 7 weeks later. I'm very excited, can't wait to see what's going on their!


Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)


I received one from Pam in Chalfont in 2009 and it morphed into about ten plants, which I am using to naturalize areas of my new home. This is such a gorgeous plant.

Unfortunately, Red Husker d grown from seed has a reputation for being disappointing.

Thumbnail by DonnaMack
Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

I have read on High Country Gardens website that Husker's Red has been grown from seed so much that the Husker's Reds aren't truly Husker's Red. I believe they said they propagate theirs by division, so they are the real Husker's Red. I bought mine from Lowe's on the clearance rack last year. It's the only one I have seen so I have nothing to compare it to regarding whether it is very "red" or not. I need to look at the ones on DG plant files. I bought it last year. This is the first year it has bloomed---huge, huge blooms (at least, I thought they were huge for a Penstemon)!! I did not know I had to stake the plant, so it toppled over. :( Next year, I will know better.

I have so much to do before winter and cold sets in. I ordered a "bunch" of spring bulbs today. I have lots of Winter Sown flowers to still plant. My husband planted about 30 Digitalis 'Glittering Prizes for me about two weeks ago. They get about 4 feet tall, and he put them at the very front of the flower bed as a border. :( :(
So, today, I quietly moved them to the back of the flower bed. I lost a lot of perennial winter sown flowers this summer due to the heat. I tried to keep them watered, but their root system in their little pots just couldn't handle the heat. One just has to do the best they can with what Mother Nature hands out to you.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Well I'm finally here, and it's very sad. Summer is truly over, fall is here. The plants that were just getting started when I left 8/6 have gone by. The few blooming now are mostly overshadowed by dying foliage and overgrowth. Verbena Bonariensis ran rampant, which is not a bad thing if a little unkempt looking, late sedums are vibrant, the odd rose is cheerful...

Lots and lots of work ahead!!!


Thumbnail by Pfg Thumbnail by Pfg Thumbnail by Pfg
Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

I have penstemons that will bloom all summer if they are deadheaded.
Red Husker and Dark Towers.Both sent in the same 3 pak from Bluestone.I thought something was funny when one grew soooo much taller.
All of these have a June 3 date in Z6a
Dark Towers #1-#2
Red Husker

Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836
(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Lucky ou! Or did I do someting wrong? My Red Husker only bloomed once. I cut it back when it went by, and that was it. Dark Towers bloomed later, then I was away so it didn't get trimmed. I have no idea I'd it kept blooming, but it's certainly over now!


Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

HMMMMMMMM.I dont have an answer for your red husker but digitalis did the same for me.It was tried 3 times here and nothing so I gave up.
Do you want to try again with RH and let it go to seed? maybe babies will give you a full start.
Its amazing what one zone will do.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

My plants are healthy, but only bloomed once. This is the first year, though. Maybe next year will be different?

BTW, not all RH's will be really red from seed. They say you have to choose seedlings for color, which means starting many to get a few. It takes months for them to germinate, and I just don't have the space to allocate. The 4 plants I grew from seed are significantly more green than the ones I bought from Bluestone. Division is much more certain.


Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Thanks Pam.
That explains why I have a RH that isnt really red.I thought I had planted it in the wrong place and moved it twice.No more of that backbreaking chore for me then.
Do you think there are roots that will spring forth next season?

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

The zone is not the issue.

Letting Red Husker digitalis go to seed will not work if you want the true plant. I mentioned this above in my post. People have repeatedly turned up at my door over the years with "Husker Red" with green leaves. It was a popular plant in my old community. One person had a truly annoying habit of offering me excess plants that had reverted, and when I declined showed up at my door with a box full of the stuff, which I accepted sweetly and threw in the trash. It's self seeded. Why in the world would I want a plant that did not have the trait I purchased it for? I did the research years ago. This article discusses the issue of seed reversion and specifically mentions Red Husker digitalis.

Here is the significant part of it:

"Continued seed propagation of “new” plants developed through the selection process still results in plants that do not exhibit the desired characteristic, or do so only weakly. Occasional seedlings of ’Husker Red’ penstemon will produce pale pink flowers, not white ones, or foliage that is more green than burgundy. This reversion can result in less than 100% uniformity in a seedling and may ruin a planting. The result could be a dissatisfied customer if the plant doesn’t look like the picture. What a challenge! Therefore, it is essential that people in the landscape and nursery industries know whether a particular plant can reproduce in a predictable manner so growers, sellers, and buyers are all working with plants that have the same traits. Plants that do not breed true from seed (produce identical offspring), need to be propagated vegetatively. "

Another interesting quote:

"Before they will release the new plant into the horticultural trade as a named variety, good breeders make sure the characteristic is reasonably stable by testing it in many locations. (Fig. 6) This process of selection and reselection can take years. In fact, eight years passed between the discovery of a single Penstemon digitalis with red foliage and the release of Penstemon digitalis ’Husker Red’ by Dr. Dale Lindgren seen in (Fig. 7)."

In other words, you need to take a cutting or divide it.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I have been searching for a source for this plant for my new yard, and in doing so found an interesting blurb from High Country Garden's website:

'Husker Red's' combination of burgundy foliage and tall spikes of abundant white flowers make this *1996 Perennial Plant of the Year* a garden standout. Many nurseries have since propagated the plant from seed (not cuttings) resulting in many 'Husker Red' plants lacking the deeply colored leaves of the original. Not so from us. Our plants are grown from breeder Dale Lindgren's original stock.

I got mine originally from a garden center, and purchased it in the fall (on sale!) so I could be certain that I had the true plant. Beware of ebay sites! I have seen reverted stock offered there.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Thanks for the info. My RH that is dark red all season came from my sister.I really prefer it.

Hobart, IN

Good to know about the 'HR' seed not coming true. I haven't collected it in the past and now I won't. I also have 'Mystica' from BS which I think is a bit paler and more silvery. Wonder if it's a not-true seedling from 'HR'.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

After all, what is Digitalis Husker Red without the red (or burgundy)?

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Cindy: I grew Mystica this year for the first time. I believe it's different in that the base plants are bigger and seem to mound.Its my finding here that the flowers are pinker than RH.

Donna: I couldnt believe the difference in the two huskers I have. Actually 4 the 3 pak from BLSTn had 2 huskers and a dark tower.The Huskers were greener than my sister gift.
Sister gift was posted above
#1 Red Husker and bonfire euphorbia in May
#2 Mystica with iris June
#3 Mystica blooms

Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836
Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Did they actually sell them to you? That wasn't right, fair or nice. But I think it's common. The leaves are not supposed to be green!

If that annoying person hadn't tried to "gift" me with his discards years ago, my curiosity would never have been piqued, and I never would have done the research. So whenever I saw them being offered, especially seeds, I took a pass.

The real deal can be spotted from the moment of sprouting. The burgundy should jump out at you.

A good time to buy them is fall, when they are trying to get rid of them, and you can really see the color.

Thumbnail by DonnaMack
Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

The RH posted above is from Bluestone.Its a May sprout .
Bluestone red husker today Green as can be

Sisters Gift May 2012.Great dark red color until August,now its bronze.

Thumbnail by ge1836 Thumbnail by ge1836
Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Things that make you go hmmmmmm....

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Donna.Your story about the gifted husker seedlings reminded me of why I dont get offers like that anymore.
I am such a pickie bi*** about plant color and shape etc.No one offers, too intimidating I guess.
Plus I dont dig and trade anything simply because it is too hard and I save my energy for my own chores.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' is a fine plant... but it tends to be the only one people grow! There are about 270 species of Penstemon... endless possibilities for experimentation! Having said that, many do best in dry, well-drained conditions... though these conditions can be created (i.e. rock garden settings) if one doesn't have them naturally.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

My Bluestone HR's are nice and red, unlike the ones I grew from seed. I ordered it while the seedlings were still very small because I read somewhere about the color differences. I also ordered Dark Towers from Lazy S, and it's gorgeous too.

A new favorite is P Romney's Purple, also from Lazy S. They call it a blooming machine. It was about finished in early August and I cut it back before I left for several weeks. It's blooming its head off now, which looks great with the Phlox Dark Kiss and Verbena Bonariensis that are also in full swing. I'm thankful for that, I must say. I left a summer garden and came back to fall :(

I know what you mean about doing your own chores, ge. This weekend I started the re-arranging that seems always to be necessary this time of year. I'm finally getting enough quantity through propagation and division of some favorites to achieve a more cohesive design in certain areas. It's been a long haul as I keep trying to renovate this very old, very large garden. And, as usual, as I work I see bright pictures of what will come next year. And each year, even though there are always disappointments and surprises, I get closer to my goal. I also have become much more specific about what I will and won't have here, much less interested in unsolicited 'gifts.'

I'm still a sucker for new ideas, though. I still get excited about fanciful descriptions of plants I've never grown, and have to try them. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. It's all a process, right?


Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

The reason people in the midwest go crazy for 'Husker Red' is that they, like me, have tried to grow others and failed because of our clay based soil. I bought a book on penstemons years ago because I had Husker Red and I wanted to expand. I amended my soil and tried to grow three others, amongst them, Stapleford Gem. After several expensive experiments I just expanded my Husker Red, which is one of my favorites anyway. Some of the penstemon I liked had sommewhat electric hues - pretty in pics but not so great in my garden.

It's not that people necessarily lack imagination. For me, adjusting my soil to such an extent isn't practical, and there are so many other plants to grow, many of them unconventional. But sometimes substitutes are just as nice, if not better. I tried and tried to grow campanula persificolia from seed and by buying plants. Then I discovered what I considered to be substitutes - Campanula Bernice and platycodons - and I like them better.

I grow a few rock garden plants, like arabis caucasica, which has been in my yard for years. I've mentioned on a few threads how one can successfully grow it in the midwest. I find that there is well drained, which I can manage, and sharply drained, which I can't. And I don't want a rock garden. I really admire the way High Country Gardens makes clear in its catalog, quite accurately and honestly, what will work. There are a lot of great and unusual plants out there. No need to beat one's head against the wall.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I've actually had great luck with trades. An individual had lilium speciosis alba, which I had always wanted, and I had coveted. I traded Silver Sunburst for it, which I have a lot of, but which is out of commerce. Sometimes people write to me because they have seen a plant I wrote about and would like it, and ask me to review their trade lists. That's how I traded fragaria vesca reugen, grown from seed, for Nepeta Sweet Dreams and Thalictrum Black Stockings. I traded Heuchera Firefly, grown from seed, for 2 baptisia australis, which I established successfully in my new garden. I was really lucky on the last two trades, since the super lady I did them with lives within driving distance.

I traded allium christophii, which I have by the bucketfull, for my first digitalis grandiflora, which has produced enough plants through spontaneous seedlings to allow me to naturalize an area. A sweet person sent me my first hardy geraniums, so I sent him Silver Sunburst and Anastasia.

And some gifts rock. I just received two Nepeta Six Hills Giant and two Nepeta Joanna Reed, and a bunch of hardy geraniums.

Ge, I understand your hesitation. And I understand the work. And I don't publicize my trades by establishing a trade list. My first trade (frasies Thalictrum Nepeta) was at the request of the other person, who realized that I did not have a trade list and dmailed me. I've putting together a lady fern/allium christophii trade for next spring, since I couldn't transplant my lady ferns.

Under the right circumstances (and they really do have to be the right ones) it can work.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Donna: Without getting into a section on "why I dont trade" I'll just say its health related.
I have become more selfish as I get older.Its just a matter of conserving my energy. My gardens arent as big as many and I am trying to reighn in any expansion.In fact I have been planting hostas in areas where I cant garden on a constant basis.
I am with you on the "no trade list" I hate to turn people down.

Pam: I am trying to manage what garden I have.
I confess RH is the only penstemon I have beside Dark Towers and Mystica which are new last year.
I have many nepetas that I also like.
I agree about the process.Process is me,visualizing an area transformed is how I started all this project.
I have loved every minute even tho I gripe a bit.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

I guess its a true and certain sign of "loosing ground" when the first decision of the day is weather I will need a bra or not to just do gardening.

Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

Oh ge! I love it! :) Deciding to wear a bra or not. A couple of days ago, I was outside for a short time and knew I was going to change and go into town so, I did not put a bra on to do the yard work. That was a first!

In the last two days, I have planted 70 plants. Most of them Digitalis purpurea 'Glittering Prizes' and Digitalis purpurea 'Apricot Beauty'. I am going to have to move some of the Glittering Prizes, as I have them too close together. (Not sure where I am going to put them!)

Interesting comments about Penstemons. I have Penstemon 'Husker'sRed by the road. I bought it at Lowe's on a clearance rack BEFORE I realized it doesn't stay true to color. Donna, I too read the info. on High Country about this plant after I bought the one at Lowe's. It has some green and some burgundy, but I still like it. HOwever, I must say the ones in the above pictures are stunning. I just planted today Penstemon barbatus 'Hot Pink Riding Hood'. I started from seed two years ago, Penstemon cobaea. The bloom is white. I planted this at the bottom of my steps. It has done really well and has made several large babies over the summer. The HR is on a big slope so has good drainage, the P. cobaea is a native to Mo and does fine here. I have three P. barbatus 'Navigator Mix' to yet plant. They are a dark pink, a light pink and a lavender. I have thoroughly studied all of the Penstemons High Country Gardens catalog offers. There are some they say one can grow in the "East'.

I have many plants I could "give" for postage, but I really don't have the time to box them up and take them to the mailbox. I have white crepe myrtles, lots of Buddelia, lots of Dianthus 'Bath's Pink' and Callicarpa americana. I hate to throw them away, however, but I have another 60 plants on my deck I still need to get in the ground. If I can get ahead, I will try to offer them to DG members.

I have about 9 Digitalis grandiflorus I am quite excited to plant that I Winter Sowed. I think the color is outstanding and the leaves are a pretty color of green. I have several Chalcedonica 'Maltese Cross', Oriental Poppies, and Penstemon digitalis and a few other odds and ends to plant.

The weather has been great for working in the yard.

When you deadhead the Penstemon, I assume you cut it down to the rosette? Also, do you deadhead as soon as it is through blooming and before the seed heads turn brown? Then, does the Penstemon put out several bloom stalks? I am new to growing Penstemon. My Penstemons have put out one bloom stalk. Maybe, it is because they are young plants? Do you have to stake your Penstemons? Mine fell over.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Mine are only in second year bloom.They stand great so far,bigger plants I wont know until a few years.
I deadheaded as soon as flowers faded first bloom. No second bloom on either Dark Towers or RH.Maybe I cut too low.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

There may be more than one way to do it, but I have always deadheaded my penstemons to the highest set of leaves, not the rosette. I think it causes it to rebloom more quickly.

Mine have never flopped. Is it possible that you are giving them a bit too much nitrogen fertilzer? It tends to cause floppiness.

Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

This is what I found on "garden

Hundreds of penstemon cultivars are available to gardeners. Some are only a few inches high and regrow from their crown every spring. Others can reach 2 to 3 feet high and produce new leaves on old growth. Needless to say, you must know how your pesntemon grows in order to prune it properly. However, if you accidentally prune a penstemon that grows on old growth to the groun, it should regrow (but it will do so as a stubbier versi9on of itself).

1. Pruned herbaceous or perennial penstemons in mid-spring after all danger of frost has passed.
2. Cut penstemons that regrow from the crown back to the ground (just above the crown).
3. Shorten the stems of penstemons that leaf out on existing stems making cuts just above a healthy bud or leaf. Ideally reduce the height by one-quarter to one-third, for sturdier stems, and to keep the plant from flopping over during the summer.
4. DEADHEAD penstemons (cut back faded flower stalks before seeds form) in late summer or early fall when the flowers have started to fade and the flower stalks have begun to die. Remove flower stalks as close to the crown as you can.
5. Remove dead leaves and broken or dead stems when you deadhead flowers. You might be tempted to cut back you penstemon now--but don't do it. Penstemons need their stems left intact to protect the crown from winter damage. The stems also provide visual interest and height to winter-dormant gardens.

I did not cut my stems back when they started growing and maybe that is why they flopped over. I did not fertilize them. I am somewhat confused about the above article. Step 4 says to remove the flower stalk to the crown; Step 5 says they need their stems to protect the crown from winter damage.

I have Penstemon cobeae and P. barbatus '.R.' and just planted P. barbatus 'Hot Pink Riding Hood' which all appear to have a mounding habit. But, not all P. have a mounding habit. Penstemon palmeri does not or so it appears in the pictures. So, I guess it means to cut the stalks of of the mounding ones and leave the stems on the ones that don't mound.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Oops- my blooming Penstemon is Prairie Dusk, a gorgeous shade of purple. Also P Elfin Pink is blooming again. They are both smaller and more delicate than HR. I trimmed off just the spent flower stalks. This spring I bought a B & D small battery operated trimmer. It's great for deadheading, I can get through the whole garden in no time. Veronicas, Salvias, Lavender, Heuchera, Dianthus, early spring bloomers, all sorts of things I never used to get around to now get trimmed regularly. I even use it occasionally to touch up the edges of the beds when the grass gets raggedy looking.

As far as trades go, I've been in a couple of group trades that, although I received a couple of plants I'm happy with, were disappointing overall. I've also traded privately a little, and that has always been successful. I don't really spend time looking, but if something interesting came up I would do it. But only for specific plants, no surprises. I do like seed trading, and have signed up again for Deejay's round robin. For plants though, I tend to order on line from good suppliers and co-ops.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

So glad I read thia
Pfg: a trimmer how fantastic.I want one for crismis. It kills my back when its time for the nepetas.

Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

Birder, thank you for the info on penstemons. My dumb luck reuslted in method number 3, and lots of rebloom. Then at the end of the year I would cut them to the ground. Gotta find some next year. I couldn't bring myself to take them from my old yard. They are very much up front and center.

And Pfg, thank you for the information on group trades. I have avoided them - all trades were private and all were successful - many initiated privately by the other person. There is a doll of a woman about 20 miles away who has hundreds of cuttings, and I've swapped with her. The beauty of that is that she asks what I would like, and I can see it. There have been some sellers here that also sell on ebay, and if you look them up on ebay, you see bad reviews. I was looking at Husker Red, and even from the pics you could see it was green, along with many complaints. There are also VERY bad reviews for a person on Cubits, where there is a lot of advertising in posts, which I don't care for. I like that DG separates that stuff.

In the last year I have been my own supplier, but I have also ordered from Forest Farm, Old House Gardens and now Santa Rosa Gardens. I've gotten smaller roses from DG approved sites. They all have great track records. Or sites recommended by discerning DGers, like by Gary (Leawood Gardener). But the most important thing I learned is to stop ordering in fall for the spring. You pay top prices for the next season's plants, and you know? They will be there next year. At discount.

Jackson, MO(Zone 6b)

Good idea: battery operated trimmer! I too have Elfin Pink. It's in full shade, in clay soil, and the poor thing gets bigger and bigger every year! It only blooms once, however. Maybe it's because I have never deadheaded it. Elfin Pink is such a sweetie, such a clear, pink colored bloom. And, it must be quite hardy for it to be in the location I have it. What was I thinking? I wasn't! I would probably kill it if I tried to re-locate it due to its long tap root. I have tried to collect seed from Elfin Pink but have been unsuccessful.

Baltimore, MD(Zone 7a)

This is my, still potted, Red Penstemon. The leaves are green, the blooms a nice red.
Any idea of what this one is called? This picture was taken in May--and the plant was
a division from my neighbor. So--I have no ID on it.

I even posted this same picture to ask what this plant was????


Thumbnail by Gitagal
Elgin, IL(Zone 5a)

I'm going to cry. My Santa Rosa order is arriving to morrow and I just noticed that they have digitalis Husker Red. For $1.99! I looked under digitalis instead of penstemon.

Well, maybe if I pull out my white mirabilis.....

This message was edited Sep 28, 2012 7:23 AM

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

Here's the link for the trimmer.

I have the 2-in-1, which is the only one my HD had. But the long blade is useless IMO. I only use the shears. Lightweight, easy to use, and plenty strong enough even for light touching up of the box shrubs. Nepeta is a piece of cake.

Boo Hoo... I've just gone on the Santa Rosa site... Lots of interesting things at great prices, but I just got a big order from Bluestone, and a bunch of Mamajack's co-ops delivered the same week. Not to mention i have to catch up from being away so long. No time and no budget left for newbies right now. Too bad. But I will definitely keep them in kind for the future!


Post a Reply to this Thread

Please or register to post.

Upload Images to your reply

    You may upload up to 5 images