Return to the Perennials Forum | Post a Follow-Up

 o
Let’s talk Penstemons….

Posted by christinmk z5b eastern WA (My Page) on
Sat, Mar 9, 13 at 11:28

I wanna’ know about the Penstemons everyone grows, the situation you have them in (drainage, supplemental water, etc), special requirements & care, and how long lived you find them. Plus any other tasty morsels of information you want to throw out there about them.

I’m sorry to say it, but this genus has kind of scared me off. Somehow I’ve got to thinking they are all, for the most part, terribly short lived or fussy about placement. Pretty sure it all stems from the ‘Ruby’/aka ‘Firebird’, plant I tried years and years ago, when first starting out. It did great for two years and then pooped out. Needless to say, short lived plants have always miffed me, no matter how beautiful they are, lol.

P. digitalis ‘Huskers Red’ is an exception, it has done very well for me (could be because this species is generally thought to do better in wetter climes?) for many years. They have some new digitalis cultivars out, but honestly the differences from this one are minute to my eye.

I got some seeds of the lovely looking P. whippleanus ‘Chocolate Drop’ and was able to get a small start going. Not sure if the poor little dear made it through the winter, but I guess time will tell, lol. A local public garden had a killer stand of P. pinifolius a couple years ago. Not sure if it is still there or living, as haven’t gone back to check in a long time…

On the whole I’ve been deterred from trying others from my (perhaps) misconceived notions about them. Maybe I’m wrong and there may be some gems out there that some of you could convince me I should try, lol.
CMK


Follow-Up Postings:

 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I love Penstemon, too.

The only one I have is 'Huskers Red' which I've planted in all sorts of locations. It thrives everywhere I've put it --- some are at the front of the house which faces east and is shaded after noon --- some are in a long garden that slopes down to the west and gets full sun all day long (but also gets watered) --- and some in a dry part of a side garden where it's shaded by roses.

The only reservations I have about my Penstemon is its short bloom time, though I do love the leaf color. I'll be curious to hear comments from others about their varieties.
Molie


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I've never really been into these plants, but maybe that's because my limited experience has left me underwhelmed. I never did like Huskers Red, although it grew just fine (until it died). The other two I still have are Penstemon barbatus 'Prairie Dusk' and Penstemon virens.

Part of my problem may be because they're in a very hot, dry location and they don't bloom all that long and always look like they're just 'hanging on', but they do come back year after year, so I guess they are doing more than just 'hanging on'. Of the 2 mentioned, virens probably has the prettiest flower, but it is kind of a tiny plant.

I should probably move these this spring to see if they could develop into something I really like. I tend to kind of forget about them until I see them bloom and am underwhelmed once again.

Kevin


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I've grown a few Penstemons and I've enjoyed them. 'Pike's Peak Purple', 'Iron Maiden' and I just added 'Dark Towers' last year.

I have them growing in full sun in loamy clay on a slight slope that has extra gravel and a low wall along the low side, that tends to increase the drainage. I do use a sprinkler there when it needs it, but most of the plants can do with some dry conditions, so I let it dry out a little before I do.

The Pike's Peak Purple' is a great edger. I had it growing successfully for 3 seasons and then I planted a Heliopsis 'Midwest Dreams' next to it that flopped all over it all summer and it disappeared. But, it reseeds gently and I still have a few seedlings that I'm happy to have. It is a long bloomer.

'Iron Maiden' is the most easy care of the three. It maintains it's erectness very well. It grows without effort and has come back for 4 years so far. I got the seed as an extra in an order. The only trouble I had with it, is that they are orange. I thought I could work it in to my bed, but the color was just jarring with everything I grow. I thought it would be just purples blooming at that time, but it was more of a mix. So I've moved them to another location and not sure they will stay there either. They are a pretty good height.

'Dark Towers' was the first season with it last year. The foliage is really a nice addition to a bed, but unfortunately, they flopped awful. I am waiting to see if they will do any better this year, or else I will have to give them support. Not something I ever plan to do. I would have to love them to do that for them every year. So they are on probation at the moment. Come to think of it, maybe my soil is not lean enough to keep them upright.

That's it. I plan to try more varieties. I find them easy to grow. Can't speak to how long lived they are.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I grow P. strictus, Rocky Mountain Penstemon. I grew it in PA before moving here and it was in a clay/loam bed with some supplemental water and bloomed well and increased well but not too fast.

Here in Denver it's native though I've only seen it wild at 7000+ feet. The beds I have it in here are very dry with not a lot of supplemental water. I swear my soil has been amended in the extreme with peat as it repels water and dries out fast. They bloom ok for me and the foliage turns a purplish color in the winter. I think if they got more water the blooms would last a little longer.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

My oldest penstemon is ‘Husker Red’. Like you and others have mentioned, this penstemon seems to do well in a wide range of conditions… I’ve got a few that are growing in “boggy” soil and a few others growing directly under an elm tree in extremely dry shade. They are all thriving.

I also grow p. digitalis ‘dark towers’ (three years), p. heterophyllus ‘electric blue’ (five years), p. mexicalli ‘red rocks’ (four years), and p. smalli (two years).

‘Dark Towers’ doesn’t seem to be too particular either. I’ve had it for three years so far, so I can’t speak to longevity, but I prefer it to ‘Husker Red’. It grows much taller and keeps its foliage color better.

P. heterophyllus ‘electric blue’ is tougher than I expected. I’ve pushed its zone slightly; I think it is listed as zone 6-9 and I have lost a few that were planted in areas that are more exposed. But the ones that are slightly sheltered from the winter winds have returned for the past 5 years. The survivors are planted in raised beds with no supplemental water.

I’ve got ‘red rocks’ growing in wetter conditions, not raised at all (in un-amended clay soil), next to an area that collects standing water. The hummingbirds love this one. P. smalli was grown from seed I received in a trade in 2010. I’ve got this one in both a raised bed with amended soil and in un-amended, hard compacted clay soil. The ones in compacted clay soil don’t grow as quickly as the others, but still seem pretty hardy.

Other than raking chopped leaves through the beds in the fall, I don’t do anything for them. No extra water, no special treatment. They’re pretty easy to care for.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Thanks all for posting your findings.

-PM2, that 'Iron Maiden' is impressive looking. Had to laugh at your story of finding the orange so jarring. I don’t have many particular color themed gardens, but there certainly is a couple colors that uhhh…. disturb my equilibrium, Lol. Hot pink is one of them.

-Sharon, good to hear ‘Red Rocks’ has been fairly long lived for you AND that it has done well in less than perfect drainage/moist areas. I’m thinking that is the sort I need to be on the lookout for. It is SO soggy here in winter and the rainy part of spring.

I just remembered, there is a small, local nursery around here that specializes in natives. According to their website they have a good deal of Penstemons. Never been there, but perhaps this summer I should. Maybe I can ‘pick their brains’ as to what they have found to be the best for this area. Hey, any excuse to go plant shopping, lol ;-)
CMK


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

molie wrote:

The only reservations I have about my Penstemon is its short bloom time,

I have only one Penstemon in my garden. It is "Sweet Joanne" (recommended a couple of seasons ago by our own echinaceamaniac).

I planted it late fall 2011 and so last season was it first full one in the garden. But I can report that it was in bloom all summer.

And I appreciate more and more, given these hotter and drier summers, that this plant is definitely water conserving.

I do have a couple of caveats:

- it did have a tendency to flop (possible due to its youth)

- there were a couple of stems that seemed to wilt in the summer. But an application of a fungicide did seem to stop this problem.

This post was edited by rouge21 on Sun, Mar 10, 13 at 23:28


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

As others, I was less than enamored with the two weeks of bloom for Huskers and Dark Tower.

Enjoy quickly because this won't last long. "Is that all there is?" Yep

Then took another look out there, due to this topic.

So, I bit. Ordered 'Delft Blue Riding Hood' and 'Ruby Candle'. They promise at least eight weeks of bloom and then shear for a fall flush. Drought tolerant once established, need well drained soil, hate wet feet. I could live with that.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Over the last twenty years I've tried 17 different penstemon cultivars, plus 5 different penstemon species. With a few notably exceptions, penstemons have been a poor buy for me.

The only ones (tried), which have been adequately long lived are: Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red', P. barbatus 'Coccineus', P. hirsutus 'Pygmaeus', P. pinifolius and P. strictus. I've had all of these for at least 5 years.

None of the others lasted more than 2 or 3 years.

I believe the short life expectancy, of so many, is due to the alkalinity of our soil. Perhaps they also don't do well in mixed perennial beds.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

-SunnyBorders, well I guess your something of an expert after trying that many! Really value your input here- thanks!

Think I may have P. hirsutus 'Pygmaeus' seeds somewhere. May have to try them out.
CMK


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

SunnyBorders, I'd like to know of the five that have lasted in your garden, which is your favorite? Are there any that are tall and upright without staking? I'm in the Northeast where we typically have more acid soil, so if your guess is right, maybe I'd have a better chance of keeping them going. Do any of those five reseed?


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Curious here, too, SunnyBorders since mine thrive any place I put them, maybe they like our CT soil.

I also will check out the longer blooming ones suggested by you and Boday and Rouge21.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

FWIW 'CMK' here is a thread re "Sweet Joanne" from a couple of summers ago.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sweet Joanne Penstemon

This post was edited by rouge21 on Mon, Mar 11, 13 at 9:45


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Wish it were that way here, molie.
Think penstemons are extremely attractive plants.
Love some of the colours.

So happy that blue Penstemon strictus does very well and can be moved around in own garden.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Don't know about expert, christinmk, but the old adage is "If you want to know where to place a plant, plant three of them and the plant will tell you where".
In my case here, it's a often a matter of "nowhere".
If only plants could talk and just tell you!


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Find Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' the most vigorous and showy (most noticeble) of the five (I've tried), prairiemoon2.

Think christin2 mentioned how well it's done for her too.

My favourite is definitely Penstemon strictus, mentioned above. I love the very blue colour, maybe with a hint of purple in it.

Re staking, find 'Husker Red' and 'Coccineus' only need a bit of staking, P. strictus, a bit shorter, needs staking sometimes and P. pinifolius is quite low.

Never seen reseeding of any in the garden. Think P. hirsutus seeds are mentioned above.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Thanks SunnyBorders. As for reseeding. The 'Iron Maiden' and 'Pike's Peak Purple' both reseed gently in my garden.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Thanks, all. I'll definitely look for these longer blooming ones --- love all the blues!


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

-Sunnyborder, to my mind, any person that grows that many of a genus is likely to love it and be observant of all the little traits, preferences, dislikes, and such. Like I said, an expert ;-)

I've never had to stake my 'Huskars Red' before. If I recall right, it might have gotten a wee bit leansy-weansy in a slightly shaded location?? It is very upright now it is in full sun. Lean soil we do have, lol.

-Doug, thanks for the link to that other thread.

Ooooo....Annie's Annuals has loads of kick-aster Penstemons. Everytime I read "short lived" comments I want to forget the genus and move on to something else. Then I look at pictures of them and change my mind :-<

Anyone ever try P. x gloxinioides? Annie states that they have been long lived for her (although the fact she is in CA may make the world of difference, lol). Fab flowers on it though!

CMK

Here is a link that might be useful: Penstemons at Annie's Annuals


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I'm like a rodent gnawing away once something piques my interest. So I wandered over to Perennial Resource (Walter's Gardens) and they wax poetic about Penstemon Pina Colada series - floriferous, long blooming, drought tolerant etc.

The only drawback I see is that spread is six to eight inches but they will self seed so in a couple of years you could have whole swatches of them. And the flowers have shades of color.

The only thing they don't do is tinkle turnes.

http://www.perennialresource.com/encyclopedia/view/?plant=2287


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

boday the 'Pina Colada' series does look good. Similarly the "Riding Hood" line-up also looks interesting.

Here is a link that might be useful: Riding Hood Penstemons


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Rouge

That Delft Blue that I ordered is a 'Riding Hood'. They sure are bright, hard to overlook them. I used to be in the pastel camp, things change.

And then a short course on deadheading


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Oops
messed up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2-tfrQYwqs


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

boday, there really is a video for every topic under the sun...isnt there?


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Yep, you can spend hours learning stuff, just bring your curiosity.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I have loved Penstemons since I saw my first one in the wild as a teenager, and so like sunnyborders I've tried a bunch, though since my record keeping is spotty at best I haven't any idea exactly how many. I have killed several that were really better suited for areas with less rainfall and perhaps no spring mud season during which our frozen subsoil leaves the surface very wet for a week or so until a thaw happens. I find they do best on a slope or in better drained soils rather than areas that are really fine textured.

I currently have a red selection of P. barbatus that's been around so long that I no longer remember the variety. In a previous house I grew P. hirsutus 'Pygmaeus', and it was still thriving after several years when we moved. I don't know if it still graces the rock garden there or the new owners no longer have it. (I find it too difficult to revisit previous gardens.) I grow 2 or 3 selections of P. pinifolius on a sunny dry slope and it seems to have no problems along with one other needle-leaved variety whose name has temporarily escaped me (and the tag is frozen in place.) They are already out of the snow now and are still green and perky looking. They are relatively low-growing and make a small, neat mound of fine-textured foliage when not blooming, so I like them regardless of how long they bloom.

In 2011 I planted P. strictus, virens, and Blue Lips. They jury is still out as to whether they will be long term residents of the garden or whether they will die due to a combination of cold and wet.

Last summer I planted P. Sweet Joanne, Mesa, Stapleford Gem, P. virgatus Blue Buckle, smallii, and a couple forms of P. mexicali. I'll know in a few months how they have done over this winter, but I expect it will be a couple of years before it's clear whether they really like my garden.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I've grown a few penstemons, P. digitalis has been long-lived for me despite nearly drowning almost every year. I've grown Iron Maiden before, started from seed and it did well the second year from seed though it flopped (probably not enough light) and the third year it began to dwindle. I winter sowed P. hirsutus (hairy penstemon) in 2011 and in 2012 it flowered beautifully. Not sure on its longevity, though. I moved in January and though I'm going back to my ex's house come spring to dig up some of my plants and bring them to my mom's place, I won't be able to see how long-lived P. hirsutus is. It prefers dry soil and is grown in a raised portion of the bed it's in. Here are some pictures:

Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Penstemon 5-18-12 photo PenstemonhirsutusHairyPenstemon5-18-12.jpg

Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Penstemon 5-18-12 photo PenstemonhirsutusHairyPenstemonB5-18-12.jpg

I sure am going to miss my beds. I put so much time and effort and money into them.

Karen


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

funnthsun
Got so upset, I actually threw in the trowel, so to speak, for a while.

--------------------
Now that's clever - a pun, and an in joke, and all things sneaky and devious. I swooped right past it, something niggled and I had to go back.

I know a bunch of construction types, I'll try to sneak it by them - you'll be famous.

Author, author.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Here in the northeast, I have grown ' iron maiden' and some WNY, native white variety I saved from a construction site. Also 'huskers red' and heterophyllus 'electric blue'. The Iron maiden, native variety, and husker's red have done beautifully and were long lived. Electric blue was short lived for me, but I believe it was in too moist of conditions for it. I also have had a gloxinoides for three years now. I bought two. One died over the 1st winter and the other is on it's fourth year. I see it's still green outside. It is next to my spigot outside and also gets wet in the spring from snow melt. I am really surprised it is still doing so well. Seems to do O.K. with more water and it comes in so many different colors. The hummingbirds really enjoyed it when it was blooming. I absolutely love Penstemons and wish there was a catagory just for them on here. Being short lived does not bother me because so many other perennials can be and they are also very easy to winter sow the seeds you collect. I have also taken cuttings of my gloxinoides in milk jugs. Every one of the cuttings took. They were still doing great in the fall before winter hit. We'll see if they are still alive come spring. The hummingbirds enjoy them and anything for the hummingbirds in my garden!


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

The first year I discovered winter sowing, I traded for a lot of seeds, many of them penstemon cultivars. Looking back, the hardiest of them all appears to be 'Mystica' altho' I grew 'Husker Red' as well as a number of others. Other than 'Mystica' the other cultivars were short-lived. The bees absolutely love 'Mystica' and are constantly on the blooms from early morning until the sun goes down. It's been my observation since planting out in 2010 that the foliage of 'Mystica' is evergreen no matter how severe the winter altho' it does look pretty beat up by the time the snow melts.

As far as growing conditions, mine are planted in mostly or else full sun in well-drained sandy loam altho' not on a slope. My soil pH leans toward acid--azalea, hydrangea & blueberries have been growing here, happily neglected, on my little green acre for the past 50 years or more. Few of my perennials get supplemental water and then only in extreme drought conditions. I've watered hydrangea and astilbe along with anything newly planted. Most everything else has to make do with whatever Ma Nature provides in the way of moisture.

I winter sowed more P. 'Mystica' this year & hope to plant out several healthy clumps to fill some holes in my beds--the deer discovered my garden last season and have decided to feast at my smorgasbord. Since they left the 'Mystica' foliage alone, I'm motivated to plant a great deal more of it.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Blimey - like hemerocallis and echinaceas are to many of you on this forum, penstemons are my failsafe easy peasy super- reliable choice. Although I have only grown half a dozen species and many hybrids, they are dead easy tp propagate (which is why I have loads of them), flower for months on end, require zero effort and provide masses of colour, grace, substance.....what's not to like?

Although the pitiful Sweet Joanne is complete rubbish......along with a few of these little modern (snivelling) specimens I have seen about of late.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I grow, P. triflorus, P. cobaea, P. havardia, P suberbus, P. wrightii, P. baccharifolious, Penstemon barbatus, Penstemon subulatus. Penstemmon tenuis. I am probably forgetting one or two.

I grow them in the edge of woods in an Oak/Cedar parkland and the desert ones out in brutal sun of a sloping scree. the P.cobaea can take some part shade and is endemic to this area and the P. tennuis likes shade and more moisture and is from the gulf coast area of Texas so it is more thirsty and has died back only to return. . This is brutal un irrigated Central Texas. This year I am growing P. parry and P segundiflorus and P pinifolius from seed and establishing a plant of P. wrightii ( mountains of West Texas). I am growing these in a limestone rubble that is very thin to no topsoil. I mix in some washed Decomposed granite and compost into the native soil. I keep it pretty lean for the desert penstemons. Most of the types have been coming back for 10 years if they are not ripped out by those voracious deer.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

I can report back that 'Sweet Joanne' has been a great plant in my garden. (Unlike for Campanula, but my memory is that our growing conditions are quite different.) I know that they bloomed for at least 2 months in my garden since I have photos on June 20 and August 23, and I have memories of there being flowers on them just about all summer. I just wasn't great about taking photos in between. One of them was planted in 2012, and it did so well in its first year that I got another one. My soil in this bed is several inches of highly organic soil over clay, but since it's on a good hill, it drains well.

From 2013


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Mine is nothing like yours, nhbabs - wonder what I am doing wrong - and I surely am because mine looks good, healthy, bushy clumps of foliage....and hardly any flowers. I wondered if it was a fail in expectations or whether I had just gotten used to the weedlike clumps which flower for months and months at the allotment - even up to Xmas.
Wantonamara - what a great list - I have only recently learned anything of the many species - great plants - looking forward to trying more of them.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Campanula, Under the other Penstemon thread where I extrapolated further, I had a URL listed that you might find interesting from the LBJ wildflower Center. There are 13 pages of wild penstemons. Maybe that was the list you were referring to and not what I had planted in my garden. Anyway I have listed it again below. If you click on the USDA symbol it will show you the range on a map. Sometimes one can click on a state and it will take it down to the county level. I find this invaluable for finding if things are , alkaline tolerant, cold hardy and xeric enough for my needs. I am a push the envelope gardener. Things have to be tough in my garden.

I think the P. tennuis and P. cobaea and P. cobaea v. purpuria would be a perfect fit for mild England. My source for Penstemon seeds are Plants of the Southwest, Southwestern Native seed ( a very old style mail order place, no phone number, just an address, LOL), Western Native Seed, Prairie Nursery. Actually, I get most of my seeds from friends.

I do not know much about hybrids because they are designing plants for the normal garden situations, unless it is High Country Gardens who has plants for the High deserts and Rocky Mountains and some low desert. They have some cool penstemon plants. Even here , I have to be careful, because some of their plants can't take the length and heat of my summer.They do have some plants that I could see growing in my yard.

I am lucky that I am close to the LBJ wildflower research Center because their Spring and Fall plant sales are killer.

Here is a link that might be useful: 13 pages of wild penstemons

This post was edited by wantonamara on Fri, Mar 14, 14 at 23:28


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

wantanamara, how lucky you are to live close to the LBJ Research Center, must be the Mother Lode for finding great native plants. I'd empty the bank account if I lived that close. I'm further north, slimmer pickings. My soil is a bit friendlier but its hot and dry here too.

I'm growing:
P. pseudospectabilis
P. palmeri, gets huge & armed with sharp edges on blue leaves
P. eatonii, pretty sure, seed came in desert mix from Az, might be another red
P. ambiguus

I sowed P. barbatus, cyananthus & more ambiguus, I'm still waiting to see results.

The only one that hasn't done well was P. pinifolius. The inferno summers of 2011 & 2012 did it in both years.

You mentioned drainage. Agree. Its a classic xeric plant, to my mind the SW native types are the prettiest. All are low maintenance and good re-seeders.

I'm wanting to order P. virgatus, it doesn't need cold strat. so I may order some seed on a short list from PoSW.

campanula, I believe the P. ambiguus would work well there if you have a sandy spot. Its a very long blooming 2ft bush rounded type native to the US central plains. Smells great, surprisingly bright flowers.


 o
RE: Let’s talk Penstemons….

Yes,Texas Ranger, I am looking to pick up a couple of Penstemon laxiflorus. Mine died in the big drought and had not had a chance to make a lot of seed. Nor has it been rainy enough for the seed to sprout Lately.

This post was edited by wantonamara on Sat, Mar 15, 14 at 23:13


 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!


Return to the Perennials Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.


Learn more about in-text links on this page here