Penstemons are one of the most valuable late summer-flowering perennials and often are daily easy to propagate from cuttings so well worth giving it a try.
You can propagate some fresh stock each year in late summer and keep it in frost-free conditions until the following year. Cuttings are the best method when propagating Penstemons.
This is the best method to produce plants true to the parent. Softwood cuttings can be taken any time during the growing season – those taken early in the year require bottom heat. The more vigorous cultivars of Penstemon can be taken early in the year (for planting out in early summer) and usually grow rapidly enough to give a flower display by late summer.
Take softwood cuttings as follows:
Take non-flowering tip cuttings of about 10-12.5cm long and trim with a sharp knife to just below a leaf node.
Gently remove the bottom two leaves and trim the top and side leaves by up to one-third to reduce leaf surface area and, in turn, moisture loss.
Dip the cut ends in hormone rooting powder and insert in a 50:50 mixture of compost and perlite or grit.
Up to five cuttings can be inserted into a 9cm (3.5in) pot, or modular trays can be used for larger quantities.
After rooting, they can be left undisturbed over winter or individually potted on.
Rooted cuttings of penstemons need frost-free conditions during the winter, but can otherwise be grown with little or no warmth and should be kept as cool as practical, with good ventilation whenever possible.
- How to grow: penstemons
- Penstemon Care And Maintenance – How To Grow Beard Tongue Plants
- Penstemon Beard Tongue Information
- How to Grow Beard Tongue Penstemon
- Penstemon Care and Maintenance
- Penstemons: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
- Penstemon, Penstemon: “Beardtongue”
- Cheat Sheet
- Keep It Alive
- February 2006 The Possibilities Of Penstemon By Suzanne Falkenstein and Harvey Long
- Penstemon picks
- Pruning tips
- Love Apple Farms
How to grow: penstemons
Mercifully, a number of nursery owners began to breed penstemons at the beginning of the 20th century in an attempt to fill the gap.
One red variety called ‘Southgate Gem’ (bred by Bradshaw & Son in 1910) subsequently became the parent of two classic penstemons that are still unrivalled today: the wine-red German variety ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’ (released in 1918), which became a commercial success in the 1950s when it was renamed ‘Garnet’; and the scarlet-red ‘Schoenholzeri’ – or ‘Firebird’ as it was known here – created in 1939 when a Swiss grower crossed ‘Garnet’ with ‘Southgate Gem’. Both make bushy, narrow-leaved plants with lots of flowers, are hardy and have been awarded an AGM.
‘Raven’ penstemon Picture: Martin Pope
‘Firebird’ penstemon Picture: Alamy
Edward Wilson, a former student at Pershore College, home to one of the National Collections of penstemons, has raised a series of hardier, large-flowered varieties using P. hartwegii.
One of the first, ‘Pensham Just Jayne’, has deep rose-pink flowers with a magenta eye; the shorter, mauve-pink ‘Pensham Miss Wilson’ celebrates Edward’s daughter becoming a teacher.
Never cut penstemons down in the autumn. Leave all the growth intact and wait until late April or early May.
Though ‘Garnet’ survived minus 20C in the severe winter of 1981 – a winter that saw off many of my plants – hardiness is a problem with most varieties.
However, more are killed by winter wet than severe temperatures, so if your garden has heavy clay soil always plant in spring or summer and add coarse grit. You could also choose a well-drained slope or create a raised bed.
Penstemons thrive in sunny positions and tolerate dry conditions once established.
Take cuttings in late summer or early autumn as an insurance policy against loss – using soft leafy shoots about 3in-4in in length.
Trim each cutting below the leaf joint, removing bottom leaves, and place three cuttings in a 2-litre pot containing a half-and-half mixture of sand and compost. Place in a cold frame or in a sheltered place and pot up individually in April, to plant out in May or June.
If you’re tempted by penstemons in the garden centre or nursery during late August and September, when they look their best, wait until next spring before you plant them in the border. Keep the plant in a cold frame until spring and take “insurance” cuttings.
Their pretty colours and elegant habit allow penstemons to blend seamlessly into the herbaceous border, however recently planted.
You can use them with old-fashioned roses, between daisies (asters, rudbeckias and echinacea) and weave the darker forms through softly flowing grasses such as Stipa tenuissima.
Rudbekia Sweet Coneflower Picture: Photolibrary.com
Where to buy
Pershore Plant Raisers, Pensham, Pershore, Worcs WR10 3HB.
Bluebell Cottage and Gardens Nursery, Lodge Lane, Dutton, Warrington, Cheshire WA4 4HP (01928 713718; bluebellcottage.co.uk).
Penstemon Care And Maintenance – How To Grow Beard Tongue Plants
Penstemon spp. is one of our more spectacular native plants. Found in mountainous areas and their foothills, the herbaceous species is a temperate zone darling and thrives in most areas of the western United States. Also called Penstemon beard tongue, the plant produces dozens of tubular flowers arranged on a tall stalk. Learn how to grow beard tongue plants and you will have the birds, bees and butterflies doing summersaults to get at the plentiful blooms and their sweet nectar.
Penstemon Beard Tongue Information
If you have gone hiking in areas of Mexico to western North America from May to August, you will have seen these attractive flowers. Penstemon plants are related to snapdragons and come in a variety of cultivated hues for the home gardener. The flowers are perfectly shaped to accommodate hummingbirds, who spend their nesting period at the Penstemon snack bar.
Each flower has five petals and they come in hues of lavender, salmon, pink, red and white. The stems are triangular and the leaves are arranged opposite
with grayish green tones. Several different species exist and more are in cultivation. The exact shape of the leaves varies in each cultivar of Penstemon plants. They may be oval or sword shaped, smooth or waxy.
Penstemon beard tongue is a commonly found perennial, which may also grow as an annual in chilly or excessively hot regions.
How to Grow Beard Tongue Penstemon
The best location for your Penstemon is in a full sun area with well draining soil. Penstemon care and maintenance is minimal if the site and moisture requirements are met. Poorly draining soils and freezing temperatures while the plant is still active are the biggest causes of plant mortality.
The perennial is remarkably tolerant of drought conditions and is a stalwart presence in even low nutrient soils. It has had to be adaptable to thrive in windy, exposed areas of mountain foothills.
You can grow Penstemon from seed. They begin as rosettes low to the ground before forming the characteristic flower stalk. Indoor sowing should begin in late winter. Seedlings are ready to transplant when they have a second set of true leaves.
Space Penstemon plants 1 to 3 feet apart and mix in a little compost at planting time to help conserve water and increase porosity.
Penstemon Care and Maintenance
Water the young plants at least once per week as they establish. You can reduce watering as the plant matures. Mulch around the plants to help protect the roots from winter’s cold and prevents spring weeds.
The flower spire will produce seed in late summer to early fall and the petals fall away from the seeds. In my opinion, the remaining seed head has interest and appeal and I leave them until the rain smashes them down or cut them in late winter to make way for new growth.
Penstemon beard tongue makes an excellent cut flower, which will last for at least a week. Go native and plant some Penstemon plants in your sunny perennial garden.
Penstemons: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
Penstemon is a western United States native that has colorful tubular flowers on tall spikes. This prairie plant thrives in hot, sunny conditions and is a stunning addition to wildflower plantings. Another common name is beardtongue.
Penstemon forms dense spikes of tubular flowers in early to mid summer. Flower colors include pink, blue, red, purple, and white. The plants grow 1′ to 3′ tall, depending on the variety, and look best planted in groups. Smaller varieties are good for rock gardens and the front of the border, while taller types are best in the wildflower plantings or in the back of the border.
Special features of penstemons
Easy care/low maintenance
Good for cut flowers
Tolerates dry soil
Choosing a site to grow penstemons
Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. Choose a site where the plants will have plenty of room; penstemons don’t like to be crowded.
Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Don’t crowd plants. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line.
Penstemon, Penstemon: “Beardtongue”
Whenever I teach schoolchildren about the symbiotic relationship between plants and pollinators, I show penstemons as the perfect example of a flower hummingbirds frantically search for because it has deep, nectar-rich tubes. Similarly, when I am searching for a hardy, long blooming perennial for a planting design, I reach for penstemons.
Please keep reading to learn why the hummingbirds and I use Penstemon.
Photography by Britt Willoughby Dyer for Gardenista.
Above: Penstemon ‘Raven’ is a good choice for floral arrangements with its dramatic purple flowers and long-lasting habit as a cut flower.
I’d like to begin by thanking the plantain family for giving us some pretty amazing flowers including foxgloves, snapdragons, and penstemon. With more than 300 species, there is a variety of Penstemon every garden theme, design, location, and size.
Penstemon is a herbaceous perennial that characteristically has slender leaves and showy spikes of tubular flowers, in a range of mostly saturated colors including pink, white, purple, red, and occasionally yellow.
In North America, penstemons are used frequently in xeriscape or rock garden designs because many are native to desert areas and can handle the harsh, dry conditions while also providing a colorful impact. But Penstemon also looks right at home in a cottage garden when mixed with perennials such as cosmos, hydrangeas, and roses.
Above: Penstemon’s tubular flowers are a rich source of nectar for pollinators
A few favorites include Penstemon ‘Midnight’, with dark purple flowers and deep green leaves (an evergreen variety) and Penstemon ‘Apple Blossom’, with large, trumpet-shaped, pink flowers with a white throat. It is very showy but short lived and needs to be replanted every three to five years.
Above: Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’.
- Bloom time for Penstemon typically begins in late spring through early summer, so try combining with plants that start blooming in mid summer, such as coneflower and black-eyed Susan, to fill the gap.
- In addition to hummingbirds, bees also adore the pollen and nectar; Penstemon is a smart addition to a pollinator or meadow garden.
- Try planting penstemons in groups of three or five plants for a massed appeal (but avoid crowding them).
Above: Penstemon ‘Sour Grapes’ is a reliable repeat bloomer if deadheaded throughout the summer season.
Keep It Alive
- Being prairie natives, penstemons like fast-draining soil. Sandy or rocky (not clay) is best, and they like to be watered deeply but infrequently once established.
- Situate penstemons in full sun for a more upright and less saggy appearance.
- While sounding fussy, penstemons prefer to be mulched with gravel (not bark) so their crowns don’t rot over the winter.
- Penstemon ranges in height from 1 to 3 feet, depending on the species, and will perform best if the spent flowers are pruned to promote re-blooming and tidiness. Cut the entire plant to the ground in the spring.
Read more growing tips in Penstemon: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated guides to Perennials 101. See more of our favorite hardy perennials:
- Perennials: A Field Guide to Planting, Design, and Care.
- 10 Easy Pieces: Tough Perennials for City Gardens.
- Native Perennials for a Shade Garden: 9 Favorites for Cold Climates.
- 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Superstar Dutch Designer Piet Oudolf.
The Possibilities Of Penstemon
By Suzanne Falkenstein and Harvey Long
By Suzanne Falkenstein and Harvey Long
Penstemon offer a colorful show that should not be underrated. Typically thought of as perennials, they have received a lot of attention from breeders lately. Recent developments include larger and showier blooms, a longer flowering season and behavior that resembles annual color.
Most of the newer penstemon have bushy, upright growth habits with eye-catching spikes of color, bringing height (up to 2 ft.) to gardens and containers. Although penstemon flowers don’t generally have a significant fragrance, the plants do attract hummingbirds and are deer resistant.
Commonly called the summer snapdragon, penstemon are being bred for exceptional heat tolerance, suiting them for hot, sunny locations. Gardeners can enjoy this unique flower all summer in landscape beds and large, upright containers. Newer annual-type penstemon, while not hardy, can tolerate temperatures close to freezing and get through early, cold spring nights.
One of the biggest improvements for penstemon is the capability to flower the first year. This means that many of the new penstemon not only look like annuals but behave like them as well. Many of these new varieties will fit neatly into production schedules designed for annuals, making them a must-try genus with lots of potential.
Varieties are now available in both seed and vegetative forms, and each form has advantages and disadvantages. Since seed has been around longer and is more familiar, we will focus on vegetative culture. There may still be unique requirements for some of the new seed types, so check with your supplier before starting production of a new crop.
Receiving/Rooting CuttingsOpen penstemon shipments immediately upon arrival to provide good air circulation. It is ideal to stick the cuttings upon arrival; however, if this is not possible and you need to store them overnight, keep the temperature at about 40-42¡ F and the boxes open. Cuttings that are left in closed boxes, especially under warm conditions, can develop yellow leaves and Botrytis shortly after sticking.
With good, warm bottom heating (70-72¼ F), roots will emerge in approximately two weeks. Penstemon, generally, do not need rooting hormones if warm rooting temperatures are provided. Preservation of cutting quality is dependent on how quickly cuttings are stuck into the propagation media and the proper mist cycles are started. Performing a little extra work in the beginning will prove well worth it when your crop grows uniformly with little surprises.
The main diseases to watch for in propagation are Botrytis leaf mold and Pythium fungal root rot (after roots form). To reduce Botrytis infections, watch your mist cycles and don’t flood the cuttings. Pulling more shade (less than 2,500 foot-candles) and reducing the amount of mist on the cuttings helps reduce disease. Spraying appropriate fungicides a few days after sticking also helps control Botrytis. Adding a spray adjuvant to the fungicide spray can improve the effectiveness of the chemical and allow better water uptake into the foliage. After about four weeks, cuttings should be fully rooted and ready for transplant. They can be pinched now or after transplant.
Finishing The CropThere are several types of potting media on the market that are appropriate for penstemon, but make sure you select a porous blend that drains well. Transplant liners directly into the finish container with the rooting cube placed slightly below the level of the container. Planting too shallow (plug above soil line) will promote excessive drying and wilting despite a moist environment. Penstemon are upright plants, and planting too shallow can also cause some problems with plant stability. Dibbling the container media before transplanting makes the job go quicker and can help reduce damaging of the fragile roots during transplanting.
Although penstemon can be grown in a range of upright containers, they can get rather tall and are better managed in 5-inch or larger pots. If plants haven’t been pinched in propagation, then most varieties should be given a light pinch about 7-10 days after transplanting to encourage branching and make a bushier, fuller plant.
Most penstemon are moderate feeders and generally require about 200 ppm nitrogen at every irrigation. Maintaining an electrical conductivity (EC) reading in the media of approximately 2.0 is usually sufficient for healthy growth. Maintain the pH at about 5.8-6.2. We have noticed that some penstemon are prone to high pH and iron deficiency. To correct the deficiency, keep media pH levels under control and drench periodically with iron sulfate or iron chelate at a rate of 4 oz. per 100 gal.
Penstemon require high light intensities and moderately warm temperatures (65-70¼ F daily average) for healthy growth and abundant flowering. Avoid overly wet and cold conditions immediately after transplant or you could lose some plants to fungal root rot.
Some of the newer annual types do not appear to be day-length sensitive, rather they are light accumulators. That is, the more light and higher the light intensity, the better the flowering and growth. This is not true of all penstemon, however, so pay careful attention to day-length requirements.
Many penstemon varieties are vigorous growers and will need chemical growth regulation throughout the production cycle. They appear to be responsive to a range of plant growth regulators. Sprays of Sumagic (Valent USA) at 5-10 ppm or B-9 (Chemtura Corp.) plus Cycocel (OHP, Inc.) combinations (2,500 ppm + 1,000 ppm, respectively) work well. Under the warm temperatures often experienced during late spring or early summer, several applications of PGRs may be needed.
With everything done right, most first-year-flowering penstemon produced as annuals in 5- to 6-inch pots will finish in about 11-12 weeks. Expect slightly longer times for 1-gal. and larger containers. After the plants get planted into the landscape, they should flourish and continue to flower throughout the season.
Suzanne Falkenstein and Harvey Long
Suzanne Falkenstein is marketing and communications manager and Harvey Lang is director of technical support with Fischer USA. Falkenstein can be reached by phone at (303) 415-1466 ext. 215 or E-mail at
Penstemons are one of the most useful and long-flowering of our garden plants: they hold no fascination for slugs, they shrug off the depredations of both drought and rain, and they are pretty happy in both sun and a bit of shade. Little wonder, then, that no fewer than 33 of them have been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Breeders have been happily hybridising these flowers for more than 100 years – one nursery in Scotland offered more than 500 varieties in 1900, though sadly most have now disappeared. The good news is there are still a lot of cultivars available in many colours, from pure white through to candy pink and all stops in between. There are plants that reach only 15cm, others that are a robust 90cm. Penstemons labour under the common name of Beardtongue. This may sound like an overly hairy dwarf in The Lord Of The Rings, but it refers to the slightly hairy inside of the tubular flowers, which vary in size from narrow cannulas to great blowsy bells. Most are at least semi-evergreen.
Be they in borders or containers, penstemons will give excitement and colour for up to six months of the year. The first variety I ever came across was Penstemon ‘Garnet’ (also known as P. ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’, which is a bit more of a mouthful) and I have known it to be still valiantly flowering even when dusted with hoarfrost in December. Since then, a new variety has captured my heart every few years: P. ‘Burgundy’, whose plum-coloured flowers have sparkling white throats, the lilac-blue P. ‘Stapleford Gem’ or the pure white P. ‘White Bedder’. I prefer more forthright colours (like those of the sultry P. ‘Raven’) to the more wishy-washy pinks, although P. ‘Apple Blossom’ is a strong-growing baby pink variety that should not be dismissed. The most unusual is probably P. pinifolius ‘Mersea Yellow’, which is unique in colouring and has elegant, skinny leaves.
Every year, more choices appear on the market, most recently the Ice Cream series which are bred for container growing and get no taller than about 50cm, but do not ignore their parents: there are 250 different species of penstemon. I am always struck by P. barbatus, whose narrow, tubular flowers are as red as the blood of stricken princesses, but my all-time favourite is P. digitalis ‘Husker Red’ , which is not at all like most members of its extended family: it is much more subtly flowered (a sort of greyish white), a bit taller at 1m and has evergreen leaves that are flushed with a sort of beetroot red. It works beautifully as a foil and contrast to many grasses (especially Stipa tenuissima), and combines perfectly with many other herbaceous plants, notably hardy geraniums and the finer leaved kniphofias. There are also some much shorter varieties such as P. rupicola and P. newberryi, both of which are evergreen, pink-flowered and about 15cm high. They are commonly called “rock garden varieties”, but work equally well at the front of a border.
One of the most important bits of practical advice about penstemons regards pruning. It is tempting to give them a bit of a haircut at this time of year because they can get a bit sprawly, but this would be a mistake – those older stems are needed to protect them from hard frosts. Much better to be patient and wait until around April. And even if you’re so unfortunate as to lose a plant, the good news is that penstemons are easy to propagate from cuttings. If pushed into some good compost, a 10cm piece of non-flowering shoot, cut to just below a leaf node, will soon send out roots and be up and flowering by the following season.
Hayloft Plants, 01386 562999. Foxgrove Plants, 01635 40554. Westcountry Nurseries, 01237 431111.
Penstemons are one of those plants that root easily and don’t need any special attention when you’re propagating them. If only all plants were as easy-going!
The reason many people take cuttings of penstemons in late summer and autumn is mainly as an insurance policy – they’re borderline hardy, but in particularly harsh winters they can succumb to frost, or worse, lots of winter rain clogging up their roots.
So if you want to carry on growing these splendid, long-flowering blooms it pays to increase your collection now, for free, instead of replacing plants in spring.
Plus, if you’re tempted by some lovely penstemon plants that may still be on offer in garden centres – perhaps in the bargain bin at this stage in the year – keep them indoors in a frost-free place instead of planting them out now. This will save them being unnecessarily exposed to dodgy weather over the next few months.
As for taking cuttings, choose the freshest non-flowering shoots, cut from their tips at about 15-20cm (6-8in) long, and once potted up simply let them grow on in frost-free conditions in a cold frame or greenhouse.
I have several penstemons that are doing well, but I’m not sure how to prune them. I trim off the flowers as they finish over summer, and then prune them by half their growth in spring. My cousin cuts them down nearly to the ground in autumn and new growth appears in spring. I’d appreciate your advice.
You are both doing it wrong. The summer deadheading is fine: you must do that to encourage a second flush later on. The problem with your cousin’s approach is that penstemons can sometimes struggle to cope with hard frosts, and leaving the stems on over the winter gives them that little extra protection (some people mulch over the base, too, and those of a really nervous disposition even take autumn cuttings, just to be sure). If you’re after a ruling, then you win, because your timing is right, but you should be a little bolder and cut right back in spring to get a full flush of new growth and prevent the plant getting too woody. Those who’ve failed to prune penstemons so far this year have missed the boat and are best advised to leave them be until next spring.
We have a tarmac games court. While we are happy that it is shaded in summer, it is unfortunately prone to moss. This makes our geriatric tennis games more like ice hockey. Any suggestions to prevent or remove this menace?
As you suspect, those cooling, shady conditions are causing the problem. You may find that a spanking new covering of tarmac would be less prone to moss, at least for the first few years, and there are moss-killing treatments based on ferrous sulphate available from garden centres. But the trouble with moss is that, if conditions are right, it will always grow back. If the shade is caused by trees, prune them slightly to allow a little light and more air movement, while still retaining some shade. Otherwise, it is down to pressure washing whenever it gets bad. Twice a year should do it.
This section provides material for gardeners who are interested in learning the basics of growing penstemons.
Before you begin to grow your penstemons, here are a few things to think about:
- Plan where you want to display your penstemons.
- Consider what soil and sites you have and whether you will have to amend the soil or build up the area with better soil or sand and gravel to give penstemons the good aeration and drainage most require.
- Think about how much care you want to give them. One of the best things about penstemons is their low care requirement.
- Generally it is best to start with plants that are widely available in nurseries or from the list offered on this website: Some Penstemons Suggested for Beginners by Region (more).
- Begin thinking about how much fun it would be to raise plants from seed. (more)
Don’t be afraid to experiment, since penstemons are frequently more adaptable than would be expected based on native habitat! The cultural limits of most species and varieties have not been determined and you may have micro-climates or soil conditions that will make it possible for you to grow many more than you would expect. Use this drop down menu to select a ‘growing’ topic
Little pruning is needed on penstemons but removing stems after flowering is completed helps to encourage the formation of new basal shoots and prolong the life of plants. Some species and many hybrids will have a second flush of bloom if cut back, particularly in long-summer areas. Many large-flowered hybrids and bedding types need only dead-heading rather than cutting back to bloom continuously. It is a good idea to leave a few of the lower seed capsules on a couple of stems to dry if you would like more plants of the same appearance. You can allow seeds to fall in place or capture them before the capsules open for growing more plants or sharing with other gardeners. Often birds will find fallen seed and plant it for you in surprising locations! Large species, such as P. palmeri and P. clutei form thick, woody stems in their second and third years from which new shoots sprout at many closely spaced nodes. These should be thinned out to maintain the plant for four or more years. Bushy plants such as P. ambiguus, P. triphyllus and P. diphyllus should be cut back to a few inches in fall or early spring and they will grow new herbaceous blooming stems. The northwestern Dasanthera species, cultivars and hybrids frequently have leaves turn brown or lose most of their leaves when exposed to winter sun and dry conditions. They need to be cut back, but not until late spring to be sure you are not removing live wood. Sometimes old plants do not produce new growth in the center. This can be remedied by piling a loose, very gritty soil mix on top of the decumbent stems in the open area to encourage new growth. Continue this top-dressing throughout the year to mimic the scree conditions in which they are at home.
If you have chosen species from your area, they usually will not need winter protection unless you have placed them in a location unlike that in which they naturally existed. In this case you may want to apply protection such as evergreen boughs for shade from strong sun or wind. Make use of micro-climates around your property when you select locations for plants.
Selecting, Growing and Caring for Penstemons From Chapter 41 Lindgren, Dale and Wilde, Ellen. 2003. Growing Penstemons: Species, Cultivars and Hybrids: American Penstemon Society. 519 West Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA 19041-1413 : pp. 105-110
Love Apple Farms
Not sure what to do in your garden this time of year? Late Winter is the perfect time of year in Northern and Central California to prune your perennials–when the plants are dormant, before the new growth of spring. Pruning maintains the health of the plant, regulates its size, keeps it from becoming etiolated (streched out), and will increase new growth and blossom production. We just finished pruning the perennials at Love Apple, which was about a week-long process.
Tools you’ll need for pruning include: a good pair of loppers, garden clippers, a garden cart or wheelbarrow, and a few pairs of helping hands.
Here, our farm apprentice, Ellen, is using loppers to cut back one of our perennial grasses to a mound at the base of the plant.
And here is the result:
With woody perennials, you start by identifying and removing the dead branches. Those are the ones that break when you try to bend them, and they can be cut off at the base. Next you usually want to cut back the perennial to a third of its original size, cutting above the node.
This method can be used for salvias, hydrangeas, lavender, and many other woody perennials. Rosemary left alone will grow out of control, and its branches will become very thick.
Although it looks now like you are hurting the plant, come spring you will find yourself with a healthy, well-growing perennial garden.
Here are “before” and “after” shots of pruning one of our Penstemon plants.
Not only do the plants benefit, but our goats are really enjoying this project!
Here is a longshot of our driveway at completion. Although it looks bare now, we will soon be rewarded for performing this important garden task with healthy growth and beautifully blooming plants.
Attend a gardening or cooking class this spring at our new location in Santa Cruz and see the results for yourself!