New gardener? Try Mexicali penstemons
It’s understandable why gardening with annual flowers is so popular – they bloom all summer long and are relatively easy to care for. But in order to produce all these flowers, most annuals need heavy amounts of water and fertilizer to stay looking so lush and beautiful. On the other hand, gardening with perennials (plants that die to the ground but come back every year) sometimes seems too complicated… they bloom at different times, they come in different sizes, and they last many years so planning ahead is even more important.
Where to start with perennials? For westerners, Mexicali penstemons may be great plants for beginning perennial gardeners (they’re great for most gardeners, actually!) because they bloom nearly all summer, are adaptable to a wide range of garden conditions but also do well in containers, and don’t need a lot of water to stay looking healthy and full. The added bonus is that they’re great pollinator plants, too!
Penstemons are one of the west’s most abundant native wildflower species. With over 250 species in North American, the greatest percentage of these are native to the west. Here’s a breakdown by state (courtesy American Penstemon Society):
- AZ- 43 species
- CO – 62 species
- ID- 46 species
- MT- 32 species
- NM- 42 species
- NV- 45 species
- UT-71 species
- WY- 39 species
Mexicali penstemons are a group of penstemons with mixed parentage; hybrids of less-hardy Mexican species with large, showy flowers crossed with native American species that exhibit vigor and cold-hardiness. Bruce Meyers (White Salmon, WA) was one of the earliest and most prolific breeders of these beautiful and adaptable plants, and the first two penstemons introduced by Plant Select®, Red Rocks® and Pike’s Peak Purple®, came from some of Myers’ best selections.
Plants grow to be bushy, mounded plants that are ideal for mass plantings, drifts, raised beds, perennial borders, rock gardens or naturalistic gardens. They begin blooming in early summer in earnest, and will often bloom sporadically through August. Flowers are tubular, often with white-striped throats. Once pollinated, most will set seed which can be left intact to self-sow in the garden, or removed (deadheaded) to encourage further blooms.
Wildlife benefits: Mexicali penstemons attract bees, moths and butterflies. Plants are also considered deer-resistant.
Growing tips: Though adaptable to a wide range of conditions, they do best in well-drained, loamy soils with moderate water. All need at least 6 hours of sun a day to produce full plants with strong flowers.
At a glance: Penstemon x mexicali. Watch the video here.
Red Rocks®: Rosy-red flowers with white throat
- Pike’s Peak Purple®: Violet-purple flowers with white throat
- Shadow Mountain®: Lavender-blue flowers with white throat and purple-red lines
- Windwalker® Garnet: Reddish to purplish flowers with white throat
- Carolyn’s Hope: rich pink buds fade to medium pink flowers with white throat
*Funds raised through sales of Carolyn’s Hope will benefit breast Cancer research at University of Colorado Cancer Center. Watch the video Carolyn’s Hope: here.
Height: 12-18” tall
Width: 12-14” wide
Growth habit: clumping perennial
USDA Hardiness Zones: 4b-8
How to Use: containers, perennial borders, mixed flower beds, naturalistic gardens
Culture: Sunny spots with moderate to dry conditions in most soils
Thanks to Pat Hayward, Plant Select, for writing this piece.
San Joaquin Vaiiey, Visalia.——- wondering about growing in pots ?
Also would like different varieties and colors.
Have 6 in 2.5 acre yard all same color, pink or nearly coral pink.
Suggest other color options and availability.
Local Nurseries/Lowe’s/Home Depot seem to have only pink color plants.
Hope to hear from you.
The big box stores mostly carry the most common varieties of plants available. Plant Select promotes 5 varieties of Penstemon mexicali. The colors do not vary much from darker pinks, corals and light pinks with white accents. There is one that offers a shade of lavender, Shadow Mountain. Try a local garden center and you should find more varieties. Penstemons are great plants, try others for more unique colors like orange/yellow. Enjoy!
I would like to order the Penstemon Shadow Mountain but can’t find it anywhere in the U.S. Do you know a mail order source that carries it? I live in a small town (Walla Walla, Wa) & no one here carries it.
Walla Walla Nursery should be able to order some in for you. Enjoy!
I live in Montana zone 5. I am not seeing any green growth on red rocks or pikes peak purple. Are they doomed or just late to wake up? Thank you for any advice. It is May 13th.
I’d give them a little more time. In CO there was a late freeze that set lots of plants back.
Will these drop seeds and start growing new plants? We planted the Red Rocks last year and this year a bunch of weeds popped up all around these two plants. But in looking at them closer, they almost look like new Red Rock plants coming up.
Yes, they could be. This penstemon will seed around, but usually not as abundant as you suggest. Weed half of the patch and you’ll win either way.
Do I need to cut these back in the spring?
They will look nicer in the summer if you trim them back in the spring.
My Windwalker Garnet Penstemon plants (3) I planted last spring did not grow upright. Instead they grew robustly, but rested on the ground. Do they require more sun than just partial to grow upright? Thank you.
Yes, that is correct. Full sun and low watering will keep them full and upright.
Where can I buy these in Ontario, Canada. Can I grow them from seed?
They are available in Toronto at Maple Leaf Nurseries. Pretty sure. Try mail order too.