Hummingbirds Love Drought-Tolerant Penstemon Flowers

The beautiful, flowering spikes of penstemon transform the garden in spring and summer, attracting hummingbirds from near and far.

Grow Penstemon Flowers for Hummingbirds

Bnbhc18 Jim Frandeen, penstemonCourtesy Jim Frandeen
Female Anna’s hummingbird 

Penstemon, also known as beardtongue, is a valuable addition to the drought-tolerant garden. Its tall flowering spikes paint the landscape in spring and summer. Each spike consists of multiple blossoms ranging in color, from pale pink, rose, magenta, orange, purple and to red, depending on the variety. Besides adding beauty to your backyard, hummingbirds are drawn to penstemon’s nectar-filled tubular flowers, which makes it a must-have plant for every hummingbird garden.

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All About Penstemon

drought tolerant flowersCourtesy Noelle Johnson
Firecracker penstemon 

Native to North America, the plant can thrive in a variety of locations. With over 100 varieties available, there are many options for almost any garden.  

Penstemon are versatile perennial plants, looking equally at home when planted in groups of three or five as in an informal garden design. They’re a great choice to use as edging plants in your borders. Some types, such as Parry’s (Penstemon parryi), do well in wildflower gardens because they are easy to start from seed. When planted among lupine, the blend of purple and pink adds a cooling touch.

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Care and Growing Tips

drought tolerant flowersCourtesy Noelle Johnson
Pink flowering parry’s penstemon
  • Common name: Beardtongue
  • Scientific name: Penstemon spp.
  • Zones: 3 to 9
  • Light needs: Full sun or filtered shade
  • Soil: Well-draining

These low-maintenance perennials put on a great show. The majority are tough and drought-tolerant once established, and they thrive on neglect. Give them plenty of sun to ensure strong growth. These flowering plants do best in gardens with well-draining soil and some supplemental water during the warmest months of the year. Fertilizer isn’t needed. Rich, fertile soil will actually decrease flowering, and the plants won’t tolerate clay soil or wet feet in winter.

They begin flowering in late winter in areas with mild temperatures, and the blooms last through spring. In cooler regions, these water-wise plants flower later in the season and continue to bloom through summer. Their height increases dramatically when in flower, from 1 to 2 feet, up to 4 feet, depending on the species. Once the blooms fade, remove the flowering spikes.

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Benefits for Pollinators

drought tolerant garden, hummingbird and penstemonCourtesy Katherine Poulsen
A black-chinned hummingbird visits Parry’s penstemon blooms.

Wherever you plant penstemon, be sure it’s near a window or your favorite sitting area. That way, you can see your visiting hummingbirds up close. I grow firecracker (Penstemon eatonii) and Parry’s (Penstemon parryi) in my desert Southwest garden. These plants are a magnet for Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds aren’t the only pollinators that this plant attracts. Some types, like Rocky Mountain (Penstemon strictus), attract bumblebees as well. Pineleaf (Penstemon pinifolius) offers deer-resistance, so there’s no need to worry about the plants getting eaten. It’s best to choose varieties that are native to your area. Consult with your local extension office, garden center or a native plant expert.

Next, check out the best perennials to grow for hummingbirds.

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.