Pineleaf Penstemon: How To Grow Pineleaf Beardtongue

Pineleaf penstemon is a perennial that can handle dry, hot climates! Our in-depth growing guide shares everything you need to grow them.

Bright Orange pineleaf penstemon growing in the garden

Contents

Pineleaf penstemon, Penstemon pinifolius, is an evergreen perennial native to New Mexico and Arizona. It differs from other cultivars of penstemon as it has needle-like leaves but flowers similar in appearance to other varieties. 

In their native habitat, they are known to thrive in hot, dry climates in areas with rocky soils. They are low-maintenance and drought-tolerant once established. This makes them a wonderful addition to your rock garden, especially along garden borders. 

Brightly colored flowers that are tubular in shape are said to be the best flowers for attracting hummingbirds. For this reason, the Pineleaf penstemon and its nectar-rich tubular-shaped flowers are known to be a magnet to hummingbirds and other pollinators like butterflies. 

Given the ideal growing conditions (like that of their native New Mexico and Arizona), they will flower profusely throughout the growing season beginning in early spring. Not only can they be added directly to the landscape, but they are also suitable for containers and small space gardens. 

If you’re looking to add a low-maintenance, pollinator-supporting, low-water-use plant to your xeriscape landscape, then look no further than Pineleaf penstemon!

Its unique foliage and bright orange flowers will bloom and add interest to your garden all summer long. On a sunny day, the flowers will be visited by bees and butterflies often, and your local habitat will thank you! 

Quick Care Guide

Common NamePineleaf penstemon, Pineleaf beardtongue, pine needle beardtongue
Scientific NamePenstemon pinifolius
FamilyPlantinagaceae, the plantain family
Height & Spread10-12” tall and 12-18” wide
LightFull sun
SoilLean, well-drained soil
WaterLow water needs, drought tolerant once established
Pests & DiseasesNo serious insect or disease issues, deer resistant

About Pineleaf Penstemon

Side view, close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon plant in a sunny garden. The plant has thin and upright stems covered with narrow lanceolate green leaves. The flowers are tubular, elongated, bright red-orange hue.
The Pineleaf penstemon has needle-like leaves and Foxglove-like flowers.

Pineleaf penstemon, known botanically as Penstemon pinifolius, is also sometimes referred to as Pineleaf pinifolius, Pineleaf beardtongue, pine needle beardtongue, or beardtongues.

The flowers are similar in appearance to those of Foxgloves and are sometimes mistakenly identified as such and sometimes share some common names like Beardtongue. 

This evergreen perennial showcases dark green foliage with needle-like leaves along the stems. It is native to areas of southern New Mexico and Arizona and has adapted to hot, dry climates. The flowers bloom from early spring through summer and into late fall (May through October) in most areas.

Penstemon pinifolius has a native habitat in Arizona and western New Mexico, where it grows on rocky outcrops and forested mountains. Because it grows in rocky soil, it’s a perfect plant for rock gardens and xeriscape gardens with a rocky soil type.

This plant looks awesome alongside English lavender and native grasses, for instance. It’s hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, which extends far beyond its native range of New Mexico and Arizona.  

Types of Pineleaf Beardtongue

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon ‘Luminous’ plant in the garden. The plant produces thin, erect stems with narrow, needle-like, waxy, green leaves. The flowers are tubular, elongated, orange-red in color.
The Penstemon pinifolius ‘Luminous’ is a dwarf variety with bushy growth habit and bright orange-yellow flowers.

There are many different types of Pineleaf penstemon plants, but there are a few popular types that are worth mentioning. They are all native to the same areas the main cultivar is from and thrive in USDA zones 4 through 9.

There is a dwarf variety called Penstemon pinifolius ‘Luminous’ that has a more compact and bushy growth habit and bright orange-yellow flowers. 

The cultivar Penstemon pinifolius ‘Wisely Flame’ has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit and has bright orange-red flowers that sit atop the needle-like foliage resembling small flames. 

Penstemon pinifolius ‘Mersea Yellow’ is one of the few truly yellow penstemon cultivars with lemon-yellow flowers. 

Penstemon Pinifolius Care

The beautiful flowers and attraction of pollinators to your garden is reason enough to plant Pineleaf penstemon. Adding to that the fact that it is an equally low-maintenance and drought-tolerant plant, what’s not to love? 

Sun and Temperature

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon plant in a sunny garden. This evergreen perennial has narrow lanceolate green leaves and tubular red flowers growing on tall racemes.
Pineleaf penstemon plants require full sun and can be grown successfully in hot and dry locations.

Pineleaf penstemon plants do best in full sun and need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. The fact that the plants originated in places like New Mexico and Arizona means that they can successfully be grown in hot and dry locations with plenty of full sun. 

Choose a sunny spot in your garden and keep in mind that this plant grows stems that reach 12 inches tall, so be mindful of not shading out smaller plants. Pineleaf penstemon can survive winter and late spring frosts as well as the heat of early summer, which means they thrive in USDA zones 4-9. 

They do not require any additional protection or cover over winter, especially in the USDA zones where they are hardy. Although some of the evergreen foliage may die back, the slender stems of these plants will come back to the garden in the early or late spring, so long as their roots are able to survive.

Water and Humidity

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon plant covered in water drops. This perennial plant has thin, needle-like green leaves with a slightly waxy texture. Pineleaf Penstemon produces tubular-shaped spikes of bright red flowers.
Pineleaf penstemon plants require regular watering during the establishment phase.

While your Pineleaf penstemon plant is getting established in your garden, you’ll want to water it regularly. After a few weeks, it will have adapted to its new climate, and you can begin to back off on watering.

Additionally, as the years pass, your Pineleaf penstemon will need less and less water as well. These are, after all, drought tolerant plants that love hot and dry weather. 

During their first season, water your Penstemon pinifolius plants at least two times per week. In their second year of growth, cut watering in half. By their third year, they can be watered once every 1-2 weeks or not at all if your garden receives enough rainfall to meet this requirement in your area. 

If you’re unsure as to whether or not your Pineleaf penstemon needs to be watered, then just stick your finger into the soil near the base of the plant. If you can feel some moisture, then it’s not time to water again yet! However, if the soil feels dry, then it’s probably time to give it a drink. 

Monitor your soil moisture by doing a simple finger test.

During the winter, you can back off of watering altogether, as any snowfall will provide the plants with all the moisture they require.

You can, however, water your Penstemon pinifolius in the winter if there is no snow on the ground currently, no snow in the forecast, and air temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Otherwise, watering will not be necessary.

Soil

Close-up of a blooming bushy Pineleaf Penstemon plant in a mulched flowerbed. The plant has erect, slender stems covered with many narrow, lanceolate, needle-like leaves and spikes of bright red tubular flowers.
This plant can adapt to various soil types but requires well-draining soil and does well in rock gardens.

Pineleaf penstemon is an adaptable native plant that does not necessarily have a preferred soil type. It can survive a wide range of soils, from clay to loamy and even salty soil.

Its main requirement when it comes to soil is that the soil has excellent drainage. This plant does not like to be in standing water or excess moisture. Rock gardens are a great place for this plant.

Penstemon grows best when the soil is able to dry out between waterings. If you need to increase the drainage of your soil, you can amend the planting site with perlite or even some sand.

Or if you’d like to bypass amending the garden soil altogether, then you can also easily grow Pineleaf penstemon in containers utilizing a cactus potting mix (which has been made to have excellent drainage!).  

Fertilization

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon Plant in the garden, against a blurry background. Pineleaf Penstemon is an evergreen native plant that produces upright stems covered with needle-like narrow leaves and clusters of tubular red-orange flowers.
Pineleaf penstemon is a low-maintenance plant that prefers lean soil and doesn’t require fertilization.

Adding to the list of reasons why Pineleaf penstemon is a wonderful low-maintenance addition to rock gardens is the fact that fertilizing is not necessary.

Pineleaf penstemon actually prefers lean soil in USDA zones 4 through 9. The addition of fertilizers or even top dressing with compost can do more harm than good. 

Over fertilized penstemon can grow stems that are too tall too quickly and can become lanky and flop over under their own weight. For this reason, there is no need to amend the planting site with compost or fertilizers at transplant time.

Pruning

Close-up of a lush Pineleaf Penstemon plant in bloom in the garden. The plant grows in the form of a large dense bush. It has vertical thin stems covered with long narrow needle-like leaves and spikes of tubular elongated bright red flowers.
To encourage a second bloom, Pineleaf penstemon should be pruned throughout the growing season.

Pineleaf penstemon benefits from pruning throughout the growing season to encourage another bloom period. The best time for deadheading spent flowers is generally beginning in late spring and into midsummer (June to August). 

Remove spent flowers a few inches below the blooms. This will encourage your penstemon to continue blooming into late fall and up until the first frost.

As the growing season comes to an end, it is prudent to prune back the plants to a height of about 6 inches. This will help prepare the plant for the winter months and ensure bushier growth come late spring. 

Pineleaf penstemon does not spread aggressively or become invasive even in its native range and USDA zones where it’s hardy. It can spread via self-seeding. If you’d like it to spread in this way, then leave the last blooms of the season standing on their stems in order to go to seed. 

Once the flowers have died back and the seed pods have dried, then you can collect them for planting in the spring or you can break them open and let the seeds fall where they may. The second approach mimics what the plants would do naturally in their native range without human intervention. 

Propagation

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon plant against a blurred blue sky background. This perennial has evergreen, needle-like, elongated and dark green foliage. Pineleaf Penstemon produces tall spikes with tubular red flowers.
Pineleaf penstemon can be propagated by seeds or softwood cuttings taken in early summer.

As mentioned above, the evergreen native Pineleaf penstemon can be propagated most readily by seeds. However, if you’d like to give your penstemon propagation a head start, then they can also be propagated by softwood cuttings taken from stems in the early summer. 

Be sure to take the young and flexible softwood stems and not the old wood at the base of the plant. Remove the evergreen foliage from the bottom few inches of the cutting, dip it in rooting hormone, and then place it into a pot with well-drained soil.

In a few weeks, the cutting will begin to grow roots and become established. Then it will be ready to transplant into its permanent home. 

You can also divide your penstemon in either the spring or fall. Fall division provides the plant a chance to establish over winter rather than competing with the harsh heat of the summer during this delicate phase.

Dig up your penstemon and cut through the root mass, splitting one plant into two. Replant both in a sunny spot allowing for appropriate spacing between plants.  

Repotting

Side view, close-up of the flowering inflorescence of the Pineleaf Penstemon plant, against a blurred garden background. The plant has a long erect spike with many tubular red-orange flowers.
To avoid repotting, plant Pineleaf penstemon in a container that is the size of the fully grown plant.

When grown in a container, Pineleaf penstemon can benefit from being repotted. Since this penstemon is a short-lived perennial, repotting can be avoided by planting it in a container that is the size of the fully grown penstemon in the first place.

There are some challenges with this method, however, since a bigger pot means you’ll need to water it more often (more soil means more space for water to run off and away from the roots). 

If you’ve found that your penstemon is outgrowing its current container, then you may need to choose a suitable pot that is a few inches larger than its current vessel. Choose a pot that will be as wide as you expect your penstemon to have grown by the end of the season. 

This can be repeated each year, with pots increasing in width until your plant is fully grown. After you dig it up and re-pot it, then it will need to be watered regularly for the next few weeks until it has settled into its new home. 

Troubleshooting

Pineleaf penstemon is as trouble-free as it gets when it comes to low-maintenance native plants. There are, however, some problems to be aware of. 

Growing Problems

Close-up of a flowering Pineleaf Penstemon Plant in a garden, against a blurred sky background. The plant has slender and upright stems, covered with narrow, lanceolate, green evergreen leaves with a slightly waxy texture. Pineleaf Penstemon flowers grow on tall spikes and are tubular in shape and bright red in color.
Overwatering and adding too much organic matter can cause Pineleaf penstemon to grow lanky and flop over.

Too much water and organic matter in the soil can have adverse effects causing your Pineleaf penstemon to grow tall, lanky, and begin to flop over. If this occurs they might need additional support like a stake. 

To avoid this and keep your plants sturdy and upright, make sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and plant in an area with excellent drainage, like rock gardens.

Avoid low-lying areas in your garden or areas close to a downspout. Adding organic matter to the soil also helps with moisture retention, but this is one plant that prefers the soil to be able to dry out. 

Pests

Another benefit of growing Pineleaf penstemon is that they have no serious pest issues and are even deer and rabbit resistant!

Diseases

In addition to being pest resistant, there are also no serious disease issues that affect Pineleaf penstemon!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does Pineleaf penstemon spread?

A: It doesn’t spread aggressively, but there will be some spreading due to self-seeding. 

Q: Is Pineleaf penstemon a perennial?

A: Yes, it is an evergreen perennial with lovely dark green needle-like leaves and red flowers. 

Q: Does penstemon like sun or shade?

A: Penstemon likes full sun. In its native habitat, it receives full sun to dapple sun. 

Q: Where is the best place to plant penstemon?

A: It’s best to plant penstemon in an area that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day in well-draining soil. It does not like to be cramped in closely with other plants and prefers some elbow room. Try to mimic its native habitat and ideally plant in USDA zones 4-9 to adequately support it. 

Q: Do penstemons come back every year?

A: Yes! They are a short-lived perennial that will come back for at least 3-5 years. 

Q: How do you winterize a penstemon?

A: In the fall prune back the top growth and any remaining spent flowers, leaving 6 inches of bushy growth at the base. They generally don’t need cover from snow and the cold and as long as the roots survive it will put out new growth in the spring. 

Q: Do hummingbirds like penstemon?

A: Yes! Their tubular/bell-shaped flowers are perfect for hummingbird beaks and they love to drink their nectar in early summer. 

Q: What month do penstemons flower?

A: They bloom in early summer through early fall, from May to October.

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