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Mexicali Penstemons: Easy-to-Grow Perennials

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Our monthly Plant Profiles from Plant Select® feature plants that thrive in the Rocky Mountain region and also provide critical needs for wildlife.

Annuals versus Perennials--The Gardener's Dilemma

Red Rocks® Penstemon with honeybees Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

It’s easy to see 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 are water and fertilizer-hogs, requiring heavy amounts of water and fertilizer to stay looking lush and beautiful.

On the other hand, gardening with perennials (plants that die to the ground in winter and 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.

Easy and Beautiful Perennials for Any Garden--and For POllinators too

Mexicali penstemon Photo: David Winger

Where to start with perennials? For westerners, Mexicali penstemons are great plants for beginning perennial gardeners. (They’re great for most gardeners, actually!). 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 bonus is that they’re pollinator plants, too!

Penstemons (also called beardtongues for the fuzzy stamens on their "lip") are one of the West’s most abundant native wildflower species. With over 250 species in North America, the greatest percentage of these are native to the West. Here’s a breakdown by state (courtesy the American Penstemon Society):

Rocky Mountain penstemon (Penstemon strictus) in a meadow garden with indian paintbrush. Photo: Susan J. Tweit

  • 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 North 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.

form and bloom time

Carolyn's Hope Mexicali penstemon Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

Mexicali penstemons grow into 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

Sphinx moth nectars at a Penstemon mexicali Pikes Peak Purple® Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

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 

Bumblebee nectars at Pikes Peak Purple@ Mexicali penstemon flowers. Photo: Pat Hayward for Plant Select®

Penstemon x Mexicali

  • 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.)

  • Height: 12-15” tall
  • Width: 12-15” wide
  • Growth habit: clumping perennial
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4b-8
  • How to Use:  containers, perennial borders, mixed flower beds
  • Culture:  Sunny spots with moderate to dry conditions in most soils

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