Adding Native Plants to Your Landscape

Sherry Fuller, Curator, The Gardens on Spring Creek

Native plants won’t solve all the world’s problems right now, but there are many benefits to adding native plants to your landscape.  For example, using more natives can help your yard maintenance be easier and less expensive.  Because plants native to our area have adapted to the environment, they tolerate the extreme temperature fluctuations, high-intensity sunlight, low humidity, high winds, unpredictable precipitation, and poor soil we struggle with in Northern Colorado.  

Native plants also provide pollen and nectar for pollinators as well as seeds and shelter for birds in a way plants from outside our area often just cannot do.  They require little or no soil amendment or fertilizer and generally need less water.  And by planting a wide range of natives, you increase our region’s biodiversity over the typical palette.

One of my current favorite natives is meadow arnica, A. chamissonis.  While not our most common arnica, it has been surprisingly floriferous at The Gardens.  Hardy to zone 4, growing 18 – 24 inches tall and wide and spreading by rhizomes, it prefers moist to average soil, but tolerates a lot of drought.  Ours blooms with yellow daisies from early summer into fall, despite growing on a bone-dry slope.  

Many native penstemons add a pop of color to your yard, attract pollinators, and are deer and rabbit resistant.  Try the easy-to-grow, blue Rocky Mountain penstemon, P. strictus, or red Bridge’s penstemon or scarlet bugler.  I especially love Palmer’s penstemon – a very tall, pink-flowered species with attractive, blue-green foliage.  This one needs good drainage to thrive and all require full sun.

If you’ve got a somewhat shady location that isn’t too dry, try Blue Whirl Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium viscosum ‘Blue Whirl’.  The species is native to our high meadows, but this variety is better suited to garden living.  It grows 20 – 24 inches tall and 12 – 18 inches wide, is hardy to zone 4, and has showy clusters of blue flowers in spring.  

Pussytoes Seedlings

Pussytoes are an attractive and easy native groundcover with silvery foliage topped by little fuzzy flowers that inspire the common name.  It will grow in full sun or part shade.

Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany Leaves

Curl leaf mountain mahogany is a handsome shrub common on the west slope.  It can grow 12 to 24 feet tall and most remain six to 15 feet wide.  It is hardy to zone 4 with dark green, almost needle-like foliage.  

American plum can be grown as a small tree or large shrub, growing 15 – 20 feet tall and wide.  Easy to grow and hardy to zone 3, it has fragrant white flowers in late spring, followed by inch-wide reddish fruits that make great jelly or can be left for birds. Occasionally, they sweeten up enough to enjoy eating them off the tree.

And if you love aspen but have been frustrated trying to grow them at lower elevations than they prefer, ‘Prairie Gold’ is a variety out of Nebraska that is more adapted to our heat and drought and is more disease tolerant.  We’re currently trialing it at the Gardens, and it sounds very promising.

The perennials listed in this article are all available at The Gardens on Spring Creek’s online spring plant sale.  The shrubs can be found at Fort Collins Nursery’s online store as well as other local sources.    

Other native shrubs to consider:

  • New Mexico privet
  • Golden currant
  • Fernbush
  • Native ninebark
  • Manzanita
  • Desert holly
  • Dwarf rabbitbrush

Other native perennials to consider:

  • Milkweeds
  • Chocolate flower
  • Engelman’s daisy
  • Gaillardias
  • Mexican hat coneflower
  • Harebell
  • Purple prairie clover
  • Fleabane daisy
  • Western wallflower
  • Goldenaster
  • Native liatris
  • Blue flax


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