I often get asked to recommend Xeriscape plants for Colorado landscapes. This is a difficult task because there are so many to chose from, and I would hate to limit anyone’s pallette to a limited number. After all, it is the variety in color, textures, and form that makes Xeriscaping so attractive.
That being said, I do think a small list can be helpful to people who are new to the area, or are not familiar with the available plant choices and may be overwhelmed by a catalog of thousands of plants. Although this is a Colorado list, most of these plants can be used in many places throughout the world depending on the local climate.
- Fernbush – Chamaebatiaria millefolium Fernbush is a medium sized shrub with interesting fern-like leaves that persist throughout the winter. This shrub requires little water or maintenance, and produces clusters of small white flowers in the late spring through early summer.
- Agastache – Agastache ssp. Agastache, or hummingbird mint, is a fragrant group of colorful perennial herbs that is available in many colors mostly ranging from orange to pink. The plants are covered with beautiful tubular flowers from mid-summer to fall. Hummingbirds absolutely love these plants.
- Panchito Manzanita – Arctostaphylos x coloradoensis ‘Panchito’ Panchito Manzanita is a low growing woody shrub with shiny, oval, dark green leaves that persist throughout the winter. It gets small, pale pink flowers followed by small red berries- but it’s best characteristics are the evergreen foliage and the fact that it requires little care or water. For more info read my previous post dedicated to this plant.
- Yarrow – Achillea ssp. Yarrow is a group of Rocky Mountain native perennials that are available in many colors, ranging from yellow, to white, to red. The plants are very drought tolerant, requiring almost no watering once established. Fern-like, finely dissected leaves form clumps at the base of the plant, often naturalizing and spreading. Flowers are produced on stiff, tall stalks throughout the summer.
- Spanish Gold Broom – Cytisus purgans ‘Spanish Gold’ Spanish Gold Broom is a medium sized deciduous shrub that is native to the Mediterranean. In late spring it is covered with small yellow pea-like blossoms. This shrub grows in a mounding, cascading form of bright green stems that remain green throughout the winter. The small leaves drop by mid-summer.
- Catmint – Nepeta ssp. Catmint is a widely used mint that produces an abundance of blue flowers. The reasons that I like this plant are first, that it is one of the earlier Xeriscape perennials to emerge in the spring to form an attractive clump of blue-green foliage, and second, that it flowers all summer long and requires zero maintenance.
- Iceplant – Delosperma ssp. The Iceplant that we use in Colorado is a perennial that is native to the higher elevations of South Africa. Note that this is not the invasive Iceplant that is a problem in Southern California. Delospermas form a ground-hugging mat of succulent leaves that range from grey to green. The plants are coated with shiny, delicate flowers in colors from red, to purple, to pink, often with different colored centers. One of my favorite plants.
- Blue Avena Grass – Helictotrichon sempervirens Blue Avena Grass is a striking addition to any landscape. Large clumps of blue-gray leaves give this grass a unique texture and contrast among other plants. In mid-summer a large group of tan seedheads gracefully arch from the plant and stand out from the blue foliage. Like most grasses, Blue Avena requires little maintenance or supplemental watering.
- Penstemon – Penstemon ssp. Penstemon is another group of Rocky Mountain native perennials that requires little watering once established, preferring well drained soils. Penstemons are available in just about every color. These plants are small in size which makes them ideal for filling in between other Xeriscape plants. They provide an abundance of colorful blooms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
- Mojave Sage – Salvia pachyphylla Mojave Sage is a large shrubby perennial that produces an abundance of striking purplish-blue flowers throughout the summer. The silver-green foliage really stands out too, growing up to 3 feet tall, and persisting as a semi-evergreen throughout the winter.
- Prairie Winecups – Callirhoe involucrata Prairie Winecups is a Colorado native perennial that grows in a low mound of trailing stems covered in round dark-green leaves. The plant produces a large number of cup shaped wine-red colored flowers from late spring through summer. Because this is a native plant it is well adapted to our local climate and requires little maintenance.
- Mexican Feather Grass – Nassella tenuissima Mexican Feather Grass has a fine, hair-like form that gives this grass a texture like none other. Early in the summer the fine tufts of grass are bright green, then they fade to a striking golden yellow in the mid summer through the fall and winter. The way that this grass moves in the breeze brings a graceful movement to the landscape.
- Torch Lilly – Kniphofia ssp. Torch Lillies are interesting because of their unique foliage and flowers. The foliage is grass-like, and grows in thick clumps ranging in color from blue-green to dark green. The flowers are produced in a tight bunch on tall spikes, and the flowers open from the bottom of the spike upwards.
- Crimson Pygmy Barberry – Berberis thunbergii ‘Crimson Pygmy’ Crimson Pygmy Barberry is a compact deciduous shrub with small red leaves and stems. The red color makes an excellent contrast with the tan and blue hues of the late summer Xeriscape. This shrub is easy to care for, and maintains a very compact and dense form.
- Agave – Agave ssp. Agave is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico, and it thrives in hot, dry locations. Most of the Agave’s have beautiful thick blue foliagewith spines on the tips of the leaves. A very low maintenance plant for dry southern and western exposures.
- Prairie Coneflower – Ratibida ssp. Prairie Coneflower is a tall, vigorously growing perennial that requires little maintenance and produces flowers throughout the summer. The foliage is bright green, and available flower colors include yellow with dark brown centers, and burgundy red with dark brown centers. The seeds are easy to harvest and sow the following spring.
- Creeping Western Sand Cherry – Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’ Creeping Western Sand Cherry is the low growing form of Western Sand Cherry that is native to the Rocky Mountains. The plant has bright green leaves, and produces fragrant white flowers in the spring, followed by small black fruit that attract birds and wildlife. In the fall, the leaves turn to beautiful shades of burgundy and red.
- Coral Bells – Heuchera ssp. Coral Bells are a widely used favorite because they are easy to grow and care for. The large leaves are available in a variety of hues from light green, to burgundy, to silvery green. Coral Bells does very well in shade to partial sun. Available flower colors range from white to red, and are produced on slender stalks in late spring to early summer.
- Yucca – Yucca ssp. Yuccas are native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. There are many different varieties to choose from with various forms of stiff sword-like leaves ranging from dark green to blue-green. Yuccas are a true evergreen that brings form and structure to the landscape year-round. Most Yuccas produce large showy spikes of white bell shaped flowers in mid summer.
- Apache Plume – Fallugia paradoxa Apache Plume is large native deciduous shrub with whitish stems and branches covered with small light green leaves. Some of the leaves persist throughout the winter. The shrub produces single white flowers in mid summer, followed by the very unique and attractive rose and pink colored plumes that give this plant it’s name. A very unique and versatile shrub that grows vigorously in it’s native habitat of Colorado.
The Criteria for this List:
– This list is for the Front Range of Colorado. We are somewhere in the middle of zone 4 to 5 on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. I will plan to follow up with a separate post for the mountain areas located above about 7,000 feet in elevation.
– I have only included plants that are very easy to care for, and have excluded plants that require a lot of water since that is a key component of Xeriscape. The “best” plants, in my opinion, are those that are well adapted to the local climate and do not require much additional water and maintenance. Of course there are occasions where the use of higher water-use plants is desirable, such as in drainage areas, however I have left them off of this particular list. And if this were a list of my personal “favorite” plants then I would probably include some that require a little extra care.
– I am not a botanist- I am a landscape architect. This means that I am far from an expert on the science and anatomy of plants. Instead, I am influenced by characteristics such as: how the plant works in an overall design, its adaptability to a variety of sites, the colors and form of the foliage, the availability and cost of the plants, etc.
– This list includes a good mixture of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses that will provide a variety of color, texture, and interest throughout each of the seasons. I have excluded trees, bulbs, and annuals for the purpose of this list. There are so many of each to chose from that I will provide future lists for each category.
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