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Penstemon canescens (Eastern Gray Beardtongue)

Eastern Gray Penstemon, Eastern Gray Beardtongue, Appalachian Beardtongue, Penstemon brittoniorum, Penstemon canescens var. brittoniorum, Penstemon canescens var. typicus

Penstemon canescens, Eastern gray beardtongue

Penstemon canescens, commonly referred to as the Eastern Gray Beardtongue, is a perennial plant admired for its captivating, tubular-shaped flowers. With a delicate beauty, this species of Penstemon adds charm to landscapes and attracts various pollinators.

Penstemon canescens: An In-depth Look

Native: Indigenous to the southeastern United States, Penstemon canescens is a true native to the dry slopes and woods, thriving particularly in the Appalachian regions.

Plant Type and Habit: Penstemon canescens is a herbaceous perennial with an upright growth habit. This native beauty showcases a clumping nature, presenting multiple stems that proudly bear its elegant flower spires. The leaves, stems and flowers have short gray hairs.

Size: This plant typically reaches heights of 12-30 inches (30-75 cm) with a spread of around 12-18 inches (30-45 cm). Its moderate stature makes it a fitting candidate for middle or front garden layers.

Flowers: Its standout feature, the two-lipped, tubular flowers, usually exhibit a soft lavender to pink hue, and occasionally a pale purple. They are held in loose airy racemes atop erect, rigid, hairy, gray stems.

Bloom Time: The flowers come alive from mid-spring to early fall, offering a season of vibrant color and lively pollinator activity.

Foliage: The lanceolate to ovate leaves are grayish-green, lending to its “gray” common name. These leaves cluster around the base and also alternate along the stem, creating a dense, bushy appearance.

Uses: Perfect for native plant gardens, borders, and rock gardens.

Hardiness: Hardy in USDA zones 5-8, Penstemon canescens exhibits resistance to a variety of climatic challenges, from frosty winters to humid summers.

Pollinators: Penstemon is attractive to various pollinators, especially bees, and hummingbirds, drawn to their nectar-rich flowers. It is a larval host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly.

Toxicity: There’s no significant toxicity associated with Penstemon canescens. Still, like many plants, it’s not edible and should be kept away from ingestion by pets or children.

Deer and Rabbit: This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer.

Drought: Once established, this species showcases commendable drought tolerance, reflecting its adaptation to the sometimes unpredictable weather of its native habitat.

Invasiveness: Being a native plant, it grows harmoniously within its environment, and there’s no notable invasive potential linked to this species.

Penstemon Growing Tips

Light: Full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun per day). Tolerates light shade.

Soil: Well-drained soil is crucial. Penstemons prefer rocky or sandy lean soils rather than rich garden loam. Avoid overly moist, poorly drained soils.

Water: Water well until plants are established. Once established, Penstemons tolerate some drought. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Over-watering or wet soils can lead to root rot.

Fertilizer: Penstemon plants generally do not require heavy fertilization and can thrive in relatively lean soil conditions. However, providing them with a light application of an organic fertilizer in the fall can help boost their growth and flowering potential.

Pruning: Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming. Cut back plants in late autumn or early spring to promote vigorous growth.

Mulching: Mulching Penstemon can help regulate ground temperature and suppress weed growth. Choose a mulch that does not hold water. Use organic materials like shredded bark, compost, or pine straw. Avoiding direct contact with the stems to prevent rot and pest issues.

Propagation: Division is the easiest method of propagation. Separate crowns in fall or early spring. Prune back the foliage of each new division. Propagate also by seed. Germination is best with cold-moist stratification.

Pests and Diseases: No serious pest or disease issues, but watch for slugs, snails, and nematodes. Fungal diseases can occur in overly wet conditions; ensure good air circulation and avoid overhead watering to prevent issues like powdery mildew, leaf spot, and root rot. Rust can cause small, rust-colored pustules on leaves and stems, leading to defoliation and stunted growth.

Penstemon: How to Grow and Care with Success


Properly growing Penstemon ensures robust, vibrant blooms and foliage, enhances garden biodiversity by attracting pollinators, prevents disease, and maintains plant health. Thriving plants provide longer-lasting beauty and environmental benefits, contributing positively to local ecosystems and the aesthetic value of your landscape.

Requirements

Hardiness 5 - 8
Climate Zones 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Plantaginaceae
Genus Penstemon
Common names Beardtongue, Penstemon
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 1' - 3'
(30cm - 90cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 12" - 18"
(30cm - 50cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low
Soil Type Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, Midwest, Ohio, Southeast, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky
Tolerance Drought, Deer
Attracts Bees, Hummingbirds
Garden Uses Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Gravel and Rock Garden
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Do I Need?
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Alternative Plants to Consider

Penstemon pallidus (Pale Beardtongue)
Penstemon pseudospectabilis (Desert Beardtongue)
Penstemon parryi (Parry’s Beardtongue)
Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’ (Foothill Beardtongue)
Penstemon ‘Evelyn’ (Beardtongue)
Penstemon ovatus (Eggleaf Beardtongue)

Recommended Companion Plants

Solidago nemoralis (Gray Goldenrod)
Symphyotrichum cordifolium (Blue Wood Aster)
Blephilia ciliata (Pagoda Horsemint)

Find In One of Our Guides or Gardens

35 Flowering Shrubs That Thrive in Full Sun
Penstemon and Pollinators: A Harmonious Dance in the Garden
Thriving in Thirst: Colorful Penstemons for Water-Wise Landscapes
Penstemon: How to Grow and Care with Success
Penstemon (Beardtongue)
For the Love of Bees: Best Flowers to Attract them to Your Garden
How to Cultivate a Thriving Bee-Friendly Garden
Best Flowers to Attract Hummingbirds
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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Requirements

Hardiness 5 - 8
Climate Zones 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
Plant Type Perennials
Plant Family Plantaginaceae
Genus Penstemon
Common names Beardtongue, Penstemon
Exposure Full Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Height 1' - 3'
(30cm - 90cm)
Spread 1' - 2'
(30cm - 60cm)
Spacing 12" - 18"
(30cm - 50cm)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Low
Soil Type Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, Midwest, Ohio, Southeast, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky
Tolerance Drought, Deer
Attracts Bees, Hummingbirds
Garden Uses Beds And Borders
Garden Styles Informal and Cottage, Gravel and Rock Garden
How Many Plants
Do I Need?
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Penstemon (Beardtongue)
Not sure which Penstemon (Beardtongue) to pick?
Compare Now

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