Growing in high altitude certainly has its challenges and everyone who has made an effort to enhance the beauty of their property has experienced them! Some years I’ve been so thankful anything grew that I didn’t really envision a comprehensive plan. If it grew, yahoo and if no critters ate it, woohooo and if it came up the next year, OMG!
As a reminder, or for new residents, there are some great resources for help in picking plants more suitable for our environment. Your best resource website is www.ext.colostate.edu. Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics can be found within Fact Sheet 7.244. For perennial flower choices, see Fact Sheet 7.406 called Flowers for Mountain Communities. These will give you the basics on selecting the right plant for the right spot, taking into consideration sunlight, microclimates, year round moisture, soil quality and amendments.
Once you determine plants that work in your environment, make notes. Keep track of what worked and what didn’t in a diary. It’s also helpful to make a wish list of what you would like to try for next season. Our summers are brief but spectacular and most plants are geared toward late spring and early summer. But what about the other seasons?
With a little planning, we can create visual interest in our landscape throughout the year. There are several ways to do that. One of my favorite choices is bulbs. Those planted in the fall, bring the first hope of spring. It’s so satisfying to find lovely little flowers coming out while there’s still snow coming in late spring. They are such an encouragement! There are many varieties that suit our alpine environment. Alliums do well, the Allium giganteum and Allium azureum as well as Muscari or grape hyacinth. There are many varieties of crocus and iris.
Bulbs can also be chosen for summer blooms. Containers can be useful for these bulbs because they can be moved and protected more easily than planting in the ground. The Asiatic lilies are nice for color, butterflies and cut flowers but tend to be also attractive to deer and elk. This way you can enjoy them anyway! Crocus can also be planted for bloom in the fall. Look for Crocus speciosus and as well as other unique choices at your garden center or online. For planting and selection details, look at Fact Sheet 7.410.
|Summer color in Vail|
Another way to add to year round color is with non-native trees and shrubs. Fact Sheet 7.423 will give you details on several ideas depending on terrain, elevation and moisture requirements. Many have beautiful color in the fall giving interest after the summer blooms have faded. Crataegus ambigua or Russian Hawthorn and, Amelanchier alnifolia or Common Serviceberry both have flowers in the summer and turn orange-red in the fall.
Barberry turns a beautiful shade in the fall; try Berberis thunbergii or Japanese barberry if you’re at a lower altitude. Cotonoeaster lucidius varieties will do better at higher altitude and provide flowers, fruit to attract birds and orange-red color in the fall.
With a little thought, you can also plant for winter interest. We have our beautiful evergreens but for an addition of texture, try ground covers like Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or kinnickinnick or their cousins the manzanitas. If you have an area for ornamental grass, there are a couple of PlantSelect versions that will grow in zones 3 and 4. Look at Calamagrostis brachytricha or Korean feather reed grass and Schizachyrium scoparium or Standing Ovation little bluestem. The grasses can be cleaned up in the spring so will give some winter interest.
For continuous blooming and landscaping interest, choose appropriate plants; combine perennials and annuals; utilize containers for multi season interest; and try those bulbs. Just as you rotate your vegetables, do the same in your flower garden. Plants can get pricey in a hurry so hold back your enthusiasm until you have thought out how you can maximize your enjoyment throughout the year. Make a plan; you’ll be happy you did!
|Kinnickinnick looks good even in the middle of winter|