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May 2010
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Beard Tongue (Penstemon) : characteristics, growing conditions and care that should be taken.

All but one of the 250 species of annual beard tongue are American natives, although they vary greatly. Virtually all of them are perennial, but some are grown as summer annuals. The name “beard tongue” alludes to the fuzzy, insect-attracting stamens protruding from the open-faced flowers.

Characteristics of Beard Tongue

– They are very showy, growing from 2 feet to 4 feet high, are rather bushy and have very long, slender spikes which bear many trumpet-shaped flowers with hairy throats from whence the name “Beard Tongue” comes.
– The colors range from white, pale rose, azure blue, lilac, coral, scarlet, violet and purple.
– The foliage is light green and the stems are wiry and thin, giving an airy appearance to the whole plant.
– Because of the tubular blooms, hummingbirds and butterflies love this plant. The hummers and butterflies also like the fact that the blooms are long lasting.

Growing Conditions for Beard Tongue

– Plant only in well-drained soils; wet clay soils. Avoid overly enriched soils; too much compost can shorten their life span.
– Plant high, leaving the top of the rootball just above the surrounding soil to avoid burying the crown of the plant.
– Penstemons will grow in full sun or light shade in hot summer areas, needing slightly acid soil enriched with compost or leaf mold.
– Propagating beard tongue: By seeds, cuttings, or division.
– Seed germination takes 10 to 15 days at a temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Cuttings or division are often used for choice, named varieties. Cuttings may be taken in the spring and root readily.
– Avoid bark, grass clippings or compost as mulch materials.
– These mulches are detrimental to healthy Beard tongues.
– They will cause disease in wet, cold weather. It is better to leave them non-mulched or use gravel.
– Allow to re-seed. Penstemon will sometimes live for only 2 or 3 years. – To keep them going, allow some of the plants to set seed.
– The volunteer seedlings will be more vigorous and longer lived than the original parent plant.
– Fertilize sparingly.
– Beard tongues like “tough love” and need only to be fertilized once each year in the fall.
– Apply a light application of an organic or natural fertilizer. Yum Yum Mix is an excellent fertilizer for Penstemon and other native plants.
– It has a high trace mineral and phosphorus content while being low in nitrogen.

Caring for Beard tongue

– It is best to water regularly and dead head the flowers once they have finished blooming.
– Once the season has finished in the autumn cut the plants down to the ground; it is a good idea to mulch the ground that Penstemon grow in at the same time.


– Pentstemons are very free blooming and are good for cutting purposes.
– Their graceful growth and variety of colors make them easily adaptable to almost any perennial border.
– The dwarfer ones are grown in rockeries.

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