Plant of the month: showy penstemon

By Jackie Rogers

If you have ever seen purple-blue flowers populating the winter landscape in Southern or Baja California, then chances are you may have seen Penstemon spectabilis, better known as showy penstemon. This California native perennial is a great plant to add to your garden if you’re looking to have a backyard bustling with birds and bees. If you are lucky, showy penstemon may even attract hummingbirds. It flowers within its first year during the winter, so it is a great option if you want to quickly add a splash of color to your garden.

Showy penstemon grows to a height of just over 3 feet. It has beautiful flower clusters of wide-mouthed tubular blossoms that take on a blue or purple color. The flowers can grow up to 1 inch long and are surrounded by thin, oval leaves, which grow up to 4 inches.

This native plant prefers well-drained soil and partial shade. To ensure good drainage, it is best if you can locate a slight slope in your backyard to plant it. However,  if grown in the full sun, it can flourish in soils that hold more moisture, including rocky, loamy, or clay soils. It can also withstand cold temperatures as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Overall, it is a hardy flower that can do well in varying conditions.

Once established, showy penstemon is a low-maintenance plant requiring minimal watering of only once a month. Although its life span is relatively short for a perennial plant at 5-10 years,  it often self-seeds. Luckily, it is also naturally deer resistant. Furthermore, as a pioneer plant, showy penstemon is one of the first plants to grow in a disturbed habitat. If you are trying to restore your backyard, this plant is an ideal choice.

Showy penstemon does well with other plants native to California such as sagebrush (Artemisia californica), San Diego viguiera (Bahiopsis laciniata), California encelia (Encelia californica), buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), manzanita species, scrub oaks, and various annuals such as the California poppy. If you have any of these already in your garden, consider adding the beautiful and easy-to-grow showy penstemon.

To learn more about this beautiful California native, click here. 

For tips on growing plants that are disease- and pathogen-free, and protecting them from pests, see guidance here and here.

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