Hairy Beardtongue, Penstemon hirsutus – Facts and General Description
Growing this lovely Penstemon is quite easy, and I find it puzzling why it isn’t sold in most garden centers. This Native Perennial is a great perennial to provide color while your garden is transitioning from early spring to early summer flowers. For instance, Hairy Beardtongue will allow nectar to be available in between Columbine and Winecup Flower blooming periods. By having Penstemon in your garden, it ensures a more continuous supply of nectar in your garden. This allows you to enjoy more hummingbirds and bumble bees feeding on the nectar, which is better for your local backyard ecosystem. For example, Hairy Beardtongue is even the host plant for the Baltimore Butterfly!
The common name ‘hairy beardtongue’ comes from the hairs that can be seen along the stems.
This plant can make a great border plant due to its compact size colony-forming nature. It also makes a good border in a wildflower or micro prairie.
Hairy Beardtongue may be small and compact, but it is a bee magnet! It is the smallest and most compact of all Penstemon flowers. I’ve found the purple/white tubular flowers are beautiful on their own, and bloom for about a month. But I particularly enjoy seeing bumblebees crawl up the tubes of the flower to get the nectar. They will just go from flower to flower (see video below);
Growing Hairy Beardtongue from seed
Germinating Hairy Beardtongue is quite simple. It should be direct sown on the surface in fall, or winter sown in pots (just press seeds into the surface). This seed needs a month or two of cold/moist stratification to break dormancy and germinate.
That is all you need to do though, just follow my Winter Sowing instructions or watch this video for what I do (so easy). After germination, just treat it like any other seedling. Provide it sunlight (but don’t cook it), keep it damp but not soggy.
Alternatively, you could just sprinkle/press some seed into the area you want it to grow in February/March, and just watch for germination. I don’t prefer doing this because sometimes I mistake the seedlings for weeds. But once Penstemon plants are established, and I will do it as it is the easiest way to propagate the plants.
How long will it take to bloom if I grow it from seed?
You can expect to have full blooms the second year for this plant. It should come back for many years, and produce some volunteers nearby. It is colony forming, so you should consider that where you place it.
For instance, the second year on my plants (the first time they bloomed) they were all about 4″-6″ diameter (10-15 cm). The following year, they had grown to 8″-12″ (20 cm – 30 cm).
Saving Seed from Hairy Beardtongue flower
This plant will produce a lot of seed. Each bloom will make its own pod at the top of the stalk, and take a month or more to mature. As always, saving seed and germinating more plants is the most economical way to grow more of this flower in your garden.
Once the plant has gone to seed, just clip the seed heads off the stalks. Then, all you need to do is store them in a cool dry place in a breathable container (paper bag, envelope) for about a week to make sure they are really dry. Finally, you can just crush the pods over a bowl, and tons of small seeds will fall out. After this you can just store them in the refrigerator in a zip-lock bag until you are ready to winter sow them.
Penstemon hirsutus Growing Requirements
I’ve found Penstemon hirsutus to be very adaptable in terms of where they grow. I have hard, rocky clay soil and they seem to thrive! I have them in some drier areas, and some wetter areas and they seem to perform well. Most of my plants are in full sun, but I have a few that had partial shade and they grew just fine. As I said, this is a great plant for pollinators! I absolutely love watching the bees crawling in and out of the tubular flowers!
Do you need to deadhead penstemon hirsutus?
You can deadhead them, as it might give you some more blooms. I’ve never done this, as usually about the time this flower is done blooming I have other native perennials just starting to bloom. But, there shouldn’t be much harm in trying it, since it blooms so early.
My overall opinion of this flower
This is a very tough plant! I’ve not seen any disease on my Penstemon plants thus far, and they have been very healthy. I also haven’t had any ‘pest’ problems such as deer/rabbits browsing the foliage. In fact I haven’t seen any real damage to any of my plants! That alone makes me want to grow more of them.
This is one of the compact native perennials I’ve had that requires next to no maintenance. Its compact size, blooms, and versatility make it an ideal choice for front yard flower beds, meadows, borders – just about anywhere. It does spread a bit, as it is clump forming, but it is easy to control. I have already scattered a bunch of seeds around the edge of my yard and other places in my garden, hoping to get some more ‘free’ plants!
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Penstemon hirsutus Reference Table
Small tubular flowers ~ ½-1” long by ¼-1/2”” diameter (12 mm x 6 mm)
Multiple branching stems with many blooms rising from leafy foliage on the ground
1-1.5’, (30-45 cm)
1’ (30 cm)
Full sun or partial shade
Almost any – wet or dry
Moist or dry
Versatile flower – can go many places and look nice