Asperule pruning and removal

Penstemon: planting, pruning and care

Penstemons offer abundant and long-lasting flowering, which comes in beautiful, often bright shades. Most of them are in bloom from May until the first frosts. They are appreciated for their rather light and airy flowering, which brings verticality and a rural, natural side to the massifs. These are plants that deserve to be better known and more widespread in gardens. Most varieties offer purple, pink or red flowers, although they can also be blue or white. The throat of the penstemons is usually a lighter shade, which gives superb contrast effects and nuances. Discover the Penstemons barbatus (especially the variety ‘Coccineus’, with a bright red tone), ‘Garnet’, or hartwegii, with large red and white flowers. You can pick the flowers of penstemon to make bouquets! They hold up quite well in a vase.

The penstemons need to be installed in the sun and in draining ground, but they will offer a more abundant flowering if the soil remains cool in summer. They are quite drought-resistant plants and can tolerate poor soils quite well. Their biggest fear is excess moisture in winter. The penstemons find their place in the massif, on the edge or in rockery. As for maintenance, they especially need to be pruned in early spring. It is also preferable to cut the deflowered stems during the summer … their flowering will be even more generous!

About Alexandra

Youngest member of the blog team, Alexandra is a living proof that value does not wait for the number of years. Botanist graduated in France and Switzerland, author of a thick dissertation on the culture of .


Latin name: Penstemon sp.

Common name: Penstemon, galane

Flowering: between May and October

Height: often between 40 and 80 cm, sometimes more

Exposure: full sun or partial shade

Soil : draining, light

Hardiness: variable, generally between – 5 and – 15 °C

The Penstemons, also called galanes, are perennials that offer a long colorful flowering. In the wild they are found in North and Central America, mainly in the western United States and Mexico, but also in Canada and Guatemala. They often grow in mountain areas, but also in lowlands. There are between 250 and 300 species. They have been hybridized in Usa since the beginning of the 19th century (especially in England and Germany), to give birth to many varieties.

The penstemons were formerly classified in the Scrophulariaceae family, with the Verbascum (mulleins) and Buddleias; but they have recently been reclassified in that of the Plantaginaceae, the plantain family, such as snapdragons, digitalis or veronicas. Their flowering is also reminiscent of that of digitalis.

The name Penstemon would come from the Greek Penta: five, and stemon: stamens, in reference to the fifth sterile stamen (the other four being fertile), one of the particularities of penstemons.

The penstemon is a plant that grows quickly. Most varieties are between 40 and 80 cm tall. However, the barbatus penstemons can exceed one meter in height, while some are much lower: the Penstemon cardwellii, Penstemon menziesii and Penstemon rupicola do not exceed 20 cm. In nature, the largest species can reach three meters, and the smallest, only ten centimeters in height!

Although the penstemon often bears very straight, erect stems, there are also small creeping penstemons, with a spreading habit, such as the Penstemon menziesii. Penstemons can also have a bushy shape, and the base of their stems is sometimes woody. It is also not uncommon for the stems to take on a rather dark, red or purple hue. This is often the case with the Penstemon digitalis, which gives a very nice contrast with the white bloom. The stems can be slightly hairy, as in the Penstemons pallidus or hirsutus.

Penstemons have the advantage of offering a long flowering! They are usually in bloom from May-June and until the first frosts. Pruning penstemons can delay flowering, but often makes it possible to make it more generous and longer.

At the time of flowering, the penstemon bears long erect stems, where flowers are collected in panicles or terminal clusters. These are available in blue – purple – pink – red tones, going up to very dark burgundy red, sometimes purple. They can be plain or two-tone. It is common for them to be shaded by a white throat, either in a progressive way, or by a clear line. The throat can have fine lines drawing patterns, as in the variety ‘Souvenir d’adrien Régnier’. The effects of contrasts and shades are often magnificent! The flowers can also be entirely white. Much rarer, we can find some penstemons with yellow flowers (such as ‘Mersea Yellow’).

The colorful flowers of the penstemons

The flowering of the penstemons! From left to right, the varieties ‘Le Phare’, ‘Hewell Pink Bedder’ and ‘Sour Grapes’ (photo Eric Hunt)

The flowers are tubular or in the form of elongated bells. They can measure between 2 and 7 cm in length, and are more or less thin depending on the species. Thus, the Penstemon barbatus has thin and slender flowers, little open, unlike other varieties such as ‘Glory of the Four Streets’. The flowers consist of five welded petals, which open into two lips. The upper lip ends in two lobes, and the lower in three lobes. The flowers of the Penstemon mensarum have a slightly different shape from the other species, with the lobes of the lower lip much more marked. Inside the corolla tube, there are five stamens, four of which are fertile and one sterile.

The flowers of the penstemons resemble those of the digitalis, and, when they form small bells, can also remind of bellflowers. The large-flowered varieties (such as ‘Glory of the Four Streets’) have a very “horticultural” aspect. They are perfect for bringing a lot of color to the beds and mixed-borders, in association with other perennials, but can have an “artificial” side. Those with small flowers, and botanical penstemons in general, have a more natural and spontaneous appearance. They will be integrated more into country-style or naturalistic gardens.

The flowers are rich in nectar and attract pollinators. In nature, penstemons are pollinated by bees and hummingbirds.

The leaves of the penstemons are whole , not divided. They can be oval or lanceolate, but often have an elongated, rather narrow shape. Those of the Penstemon schoenholzeri have a beautiful linear shape, thin, light … but the thinnest are those of the Penstemon pinifolius, since they look like pine needles! The leaves measure between 4 and 12 cm in length, which can even exceptionally reach 20 cm in length. Those of Penstemon barbatus and Penstemon digitalis are quite large, exceeding 10 cm in length. The leaves can be attached to the stem by a petiole, or sessile (directly glued to the stem by the blade). They are opposite, that is to say arranged opposite each other on the stems, or whorled (at least three leaves inserted at the same level).

The leaves are usually green, but can also take on purple or reddish hues. Thus, the young leaves of the Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ have a purple color, very dark. The Penstemon ‘Dark Towers’ bears even darker, almost black foliage. In the Penste mon grandiflorus , the leaves are bluish-gray, with a thick, almost succulent texture.

Depending on the varieties and the climate in which you grow them, the leaves of the Penstemons can be deciduous, evergreen or semi-evergreen.

The leaves, simple and elongated, of the penstemons

The foliage of the Penstemon schoenholzeri, and the pubescent leaves and stems of the Penstemon hirsutus (photo Salicyna)

In autumn, after flowering, the penstemon forms ovoid fruits (capsules) that dry, turn brown, and open when ripe to release many small seeds.

Penstemons are perennials, but they can be grown as annuals in the coldest regions. Their hardiness often varies betwee n-5 an d-15 ° C. It depends on the variety you have chosen, but also on the drainage of the soil. The plants will be more sensitive to the cold in a waterlogged soil in winter, which is why it is important to cultivate the penstemons in a suitable ground, or to improve the drainage during planting. Similarly, installing a mulching layer will allow you to protect the plants.

Penstemons are plants that do not live very long. Generally, they begin to become less vigorous after four years of cultivation. It is then time to renew the tufts. You can cut them for this.

The fruits and seeds of the penstemons

The capsules of the Penstemon pinifolius (photo Salicyna), and the seeds of the Penstemon digitalis

Written by webseopl2022 on .


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