February 8, 2023

Penstemon’s Are a Top Desert Perennial

With many beautiful varieties of penstemon, it is hard to recommend just a few. These perennials are spectacular in bloom, with their trumpet shaped flowers ranging in color from orange to red, to purple, to white, and everything in between. Hummingbirds cannot resist their flowers.

Penstemon eatonii
Firecracker penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) blooms late winter through late spring.
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) provides a great splash of color in spring. Photo: Donna DiFrancesco
Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) provides a great splash of color in spring.

Penstemons are wonderful accent plants, and make great additions to rock gardens or as a foreground plant among desert shrubs. When several species are planted together, they create a spectacular show of color.

The growth habits of penstemons include low-growing ground covers with short flower spikes or small basal rosettes that produce tall, multiplying, floral spikes.

Culture & Care

Penstemons like full sun in general, but require some protection from the intense sun of the low desert to look their best. Most are widely adaptable to heat and cold. They require good drainage, and are drought tolerant. They do not require water during the cooler winter months, but require some watering during the dry summer months, but do not overwater. Penstemons resent crowding and need adequate growing room for each plant. Generally it is best to plant 2 to 3 feet apart in full sun or filtered sun. Expect that they will reseed themselves in just the perfect spot in your landscape.

*Featured photo information: The Coral Penstemon (Penstemon superbus) attracts a beautiful hummingbird. Photo: Jeff Lee

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Did you know that up to 70% of water use is outdoors? That’s why we love desert plants and feature them each month. You can also learn more on our Arizona Low-Water-Use Plants page. Visit our page on Planting Trees and Shrubs for tips on plant selection and how to plant properly. Also, be sure to read through all of our featured Plant of the Month blogs!

This feature is based on a concept and text originally developed jointly by the Arizona Nursery Association and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) with partial funding from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.