Can this Penstemon superbus be saved?

psuperb1(9 Tucson)July 18, 2010

I'm almost sure I killed the star of my spring garden. The Penstemon superbus or Coral Penstemon had 9 spikes, the tallest ones almost 6 feet tall and laden with blooms. This was first year I had penstemon in bloom. I must have gotten too enthusiastic when I pruned spikes back to the "rosette." I took seven spikes away and left two to turn to seed.

Part of the problem is I'm not experienced with letting plant set seed. How long does this take? Some of the seed pods were starting to split and show tip of black seed. Not all of the pods had reached this stage but I figured they were far enough along that they would dry and split after the two remaining spikes were removed from plant.

Well, I started to notice the rosette showing signs of stress after that. In Tucson's string of 100 & 100+ days, I gave the plant 2 gallons water every 10 days. The rosette continued to dry/die. The leaves are all crispy, browning and brittle.

Have I lost the plant? Should I pull the remains out now or hope for a miraculous regeneration from some remnant of roots in the spring? Some of the seeds may germinate but I want to be assured I have one ready to bloom next spring. Would it be wise to buy another superbus to plant in the fall?

It deserved better. I probably should have taken maybe two spikes down at a time at two-week intervals?

Please advise. Many thanks.

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Leave it alone ... some penstemons will die back completely and come up from roots next year. Stop watering it - it's native to AZ and can handle the climate.

When the rains start, scatter the seeds where you want more penstemons and rake them in lightly. Ignore them. they usually do well.

I let the spikes go until the pods are starting to split open and them clip them and put them into a paper bag to dry and collect the seeds.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 7:43PM
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psuperb1(9 Tucson)


Leave it alone ... some penstemons will die back completely and come up from roots next year.

That's a prognosis I like! Thank you very much for answering my questions. It's hard to resist watering in weather like this. We had scant 0.1" precip yesterday. I tend to overwater. Thanks for reminding me to hold back. Take care.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 1:52AM
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Summer dormancy is common in hot areas. Clip the stalks down to about 6 inches and ignore it.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 12:48PM
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psuperb1(9 Tucson)

What had me so worried was the fact that Penstemon pseudospectabilis and P. parryi didn't go into extreme dormancy (i.e., play dead with brittle leaves and stems)...just the superbus. I'll chalk it up to fact that superbus expended at least twice as much dwarfed the other two plants. I'll report back in the spring.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 1:53PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

I love desert penstemons too and always grow a ton (P. eatonii and P. palmeri are my best performers). Like Lazy said, sometimes they just up and die, and if I had to guess, that's what I'd guess happened to yours, but I'd just have trimmed it back like you both mentioned and then wait it out and see what happens.

I don't save the seed of my penstemons, I just let scatter where it wants in spring and let it bake all summer to sprout in autumn. Saving it absolutely does not hurt of course, but I just shake the stalks when most of the pods are open, or pinch some seeds into my hand and toss them--it's all very casual, LOL. Either way works of course.

The funny thing to me is that the self-sown ones always do better than purchased ones and always seem more drought resistant since they've grown in exact proportion to their roots. In summer I water my P. eatonii twice a month and the palmeri maybe once a month if that, and only during the blast furnace months.

In any case, fun post and great replies as usual from Lazy. Keep us posted and either way, you'll have tons of babies from your seed, guaranteed, LOL.

Take care,

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 8:01PM
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psuperb1(9 Tucson)

Thanks for reassurance on the reseeding prospects. I've noticed pigeons and doves gleaning the ground a couple of times. I hope they leave some seeds to germinate. Grant, this is yada-yada stuff but those Cosmos sulphureus planted back in March...about eight of them are still hanging in there!! They keep leafily growing in width but only about 8 inches tall. They are a mere curiosity now. I'll try some P. eatonii seeds in the fall! LazyGardens and your counsel on penstemons is much appreciated.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2010 at 2:33PM
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I had a couple of volunteers show up, so I clipped the ripening seed heads and shook them into some other areas and a few more survived.

I'll keep doing this until I have a good population in places they like.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2010 at 3:45PM
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psuperb1(9 Tucson)

That sounds like an excellent strategy, LazyGardens. I'm going to try the same. Let's hope the monsoons assist with some Mother Nature-enriched irrigation. Good luck.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2010 at 12:58PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

By the way, if you like scented flowers, think about giving P. palmeri a try. The pink blooms with red stripes are crazy looking and they have a lovely sweet scent. They are very easy to grow as long as you don't over water them in summer. Super easy from seed planted in late summer through mid-autumn or as transplants in autumn.

Good luck and keep us posted. A lot of people envy us our desert penstemons so let's celebrate them by planting a lot of them, LOL.

Take care,

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 7:18PM
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psuperb1(9 Tucson)

P. palmeri is one cute penstemon. And it smells good too? Thanks for the link. Speaking of fragrant plants, please see post I'm about to type as soon as I'm done here...concerning Queen of the Night cactus. Thanks for help.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2010 at 10:21PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

Yes! Palmer's penstemon smells nice. I believe it is the only scented penstemon. The foliage is nice and silvery too, with a toothed edge. Once you have a plant that happily goes to seed, you'll always have some. They are one of those plants that pops up here and there and you don't even have to think about them when you go on a ten day vacation, even in summer. What's not to love? The individual plants only last a year or three, but there are always new seedlings popping up. Plants are available at a lot of local nurseries and seeds are easy to find from SW focused seed companies.

I'm off to go see the QOTN thread now. :)
Take care all,

    Bookmark   July 30, 2010 at 6:19PM
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