The Best Plants for High Altitude Landscaping

After getting great feedback on my 20 Best Xeriscape Plants for Colorado post, which included a few follow-up requests, I have decided to publish a list of the best high altitude plants for landscaping.

Photo of Blue Globe SpruceThe Challenges of High Elevations

When landscaping at higher elevations, there are many challenges to consider.  The plants themselves are often limited in how cold of winter temperature they can withstand.  And there are also the challenging microclimates, wind, and levels of moisture that can occur at high altitudes.

Grazing deer and elk are also a common problem at higher elevations.  All of these factors should be carefully considered in the design of the landscape.  Consult the USDA Plant Hardiness zones for your local area, and consider working with an experienced landscape architect or garden designer.

It would be a great idea to do some nature walks in your local area to observe the native plants that are thriving naturally, and are well adapted to the various microclimates that can be found in your area.

I have decided to limit the list to plants that I feel will do well above 8,000 ft.   There are several plants that are advertised to do well above 7,500 ft, but I am not comfortable recommending all of them, so lets go with 8,000.

Deciduous Trees

  • Quaking Aspen    Populus tremuloides
  • Canada Red Cherry    Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’
  • Russian Hawthorne    Crataegus ambigua
  • Ginnala Maple    Acer ginnala
  • Apple and Crabbaple    Malus (several types)
  • Alder    Alnus tenuifolia
  • Tartarian Maple    Acer tartaricum
  • Birch    Betula (several types)
  • Mountain Ash    Sorbus aucuparia
  • English Oak    Quercus robur

Evergreen Trees

  • Southwestern White Pine    Pinus strobiformis
  • Ponderosa Pine    Pinus ponderosa
  • Colorado Blue Spruce    Picea pungens
  • Douglas Fir    Pseudotsuga menziesii glauca
  • White Fir    Abies concolor
  • Limber Pine    Pinus flexilis
  • Bristlecone Pine    Pinus aristata

Deciduous Shrubs

  • Burning Bush    Euonymus ‘Turkstanica Nana’
  • Peking Cotoneaster    Cotoneaster lucidus
  • American Cranberry    Viburnum trilobum
  • Currant    Ribes (several types)
  • Lilac    Syringa (several types)
  • Potentilla    Potentilla (several types)
  • Siberean Peashrub    Caragana arborescens
  • Snowball Viburnum    Viburnum opulus
  • Rock Spirea    Holodiscus dumosus
  • Sumac    Rhus (several types)
  • Willow    Salix (several types)
  • Sand Sage    Artemesia filifolia
  • Serviceberry    Amelanchier (several types)
  • Barberry    Berberis (several types)

Evergreen Shrubs

  • Juniper    Juniperus (several types)
  • Mugo Pine    Pinus mugo
  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce    Picea glauca
  • Blue Globe Spruce    Picea pungen ‘Globosa’
  • Weeping Norway Spruce    Picea abies ‘Pendula’
  • Yucca    Yucca (several types)
  • Euonymus    Euonymus (several types)

Ornamental Grasses

  • Blue Oat Grass    Helictotrichon sempervirens
  • Blue Fescue    Festuca glauca
  • Ravenna Grass    Erianthus ravennae

Perennials

  • Aster    Aster (several types)
  • Columbine     Aqueiegia
  • Blue Flax    Linum perenne
  • Snow in Summer    Cerastium tomentosum
  • Wild Strawberry    Waldsteninia ternata
  • Kinnikinnick    Actostaphylos uva-ursi
  • Painted Daisy    Tanacetum coccineum
  • Delphinium    Delphinium (several types)
  • Bleeding Heart    Dicentra spectabilis
  • Oregon Grape Holly    Mahonia repens
  • Yarrow    Achillea (several types)
  • Lupine    Lupinus (several types)
  • Sedum    Sedum (several types)
  • Black Eyed Susan    Rudbeckia fulgida
  • Windflower    Anemone canadensis
  • Serbia Iris    Iris sibirica

So, what do you think of this list?  I am sure that others reading this blog (myself included) would love to hear about your own experiences gardening at high altitude with any of these plants.

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  1. Erica says:

    Thanks for the help! I’m going to definitely come back to this page as soon as spring arrives! Got to do landscape 13 acres and had no idea where to start. Now I have a good idea what kind of plants are best for this area.

  2. Matt Corrion says:

    Thanks for the comment Erica. For that many acres, you may want to look at some mountain seed mixes too.

  3. Pam says:

    Hi, can’t seem to keep a tree growing in Black forest except pines. Mt Ash and regular Ash are alive but no growth. Husband says not enough warm time to grow at over 7800ft. Any suggestions ?

  4. Matt Corrion says:

    Hi Pam,
    That elevation is tough- You might try some large shrubs such as Utah Serviceberry or Mountain Mahogany which you can sometimes find at a tall size at planting. Have you tried any Oaks? You might also check out this CSU extension resource: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/PUBS/Garden/07421.html I hope this was helpful- good luck and let us know how whatever you plant does!

  5. Margy Silver says:

    I just found this site so this may have been covered at some time but do you have a list for over 10,000 feet?

  6. Matt Corrion says:

    Hi Margy,
    Some of these will be OK at that elevation, but you are going to be pretty limited in your choices. I don’t know where you are writing from, but a good route is to always check local. By local I mean 1) are there any small garden centers or garden clubs in your area with first-hand knowledge of what grows well in your area?, and 2) take a hike (or drive) around your local area and observe what plants are growing native- those will always be your safest bet! Good luck, and please let us know what you find out!

  7. Diane Drake says:

    Great site! I plan to move to Colorado soon. Since my gardening background is in the Southeast — azaleas, crepe myrtles, etc. — this info will be invaluable.

  8. Matt Corrion says:

    Yes, it will be quite different gardening in Colorado. You will need a good understanding of the local climate, rainfall, and elevation. And then you will discover that there are micro-climates here where the growing conditions can vary considerably even within 1 individual yard! But that’s what makes gardening fun. Best of luck on your move!

  9. Jeanne says:

    I live at 7500 feet and more plants to add are: helebore, hostas, astilbe, dianthus, pansies, St. Johnswort. Some roses are OK and I’m working on others – trial and error. I’m anxious to see how my foxglove survives, as well as the salvia, and whether or not my sunflowers come back. Daffodils and tulips do well, too. I’m going to give a hydrangea a try, but it must be grandiflora. Thanks for the confirmation! :)

  10. sean says:

    I was wondering what plants have little to no maintenance, and thrive in arid dry climate, im here on the east side of the sandia mountains in NM and we get on average 10 inches of rain each year with temperatures that go up to 110* at time and below 0 at other times

  11. Sean: Some great choices for your area would be yuccas, agaves, and cacti. All three of these types of plants are low maintenance, and there are many species and varieties to choose from. You could also consider some ornamental grasses such as Mexican Feather grass or Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ grass. As far as flowering perennials, you have a huge array of possible options such as Hyssops (genus Agastache), Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata), Penstemons (many varieties), and Salvias (also many varieties) just to name a few. For evergreens, you might consider Manzanitas, Junipers or Pines such as Pinyon Pine.

  12. Teresa Cole says:

    I live in Durango area, but at 8000 ft. Thank you for the lists, and I might add Nepeta, common Bearded iris, Russian Sage, Rabbit Brush, Lavendar Augustofolia, daylily, Dessert Four OClock and Ajuga do well and require no particular maintenance. I also grow Oregano in a raised bed next to the house and never have to pamper it. From seed just cast about, I have had luck with Gazania, Hollyhock, Mexican Hat, blue Flax and California Poppy.
    My question: I have a sandy bare hillside that blows dust into the house in summer. I want to cover it with anything maintenance free and low growing. Any ideas?

  13. […] deciding what you want to grow or plant. Are you unsure about the best plants for high altitudes? Lot Lines has a lot of good information for growing things at high altitudes in […]

  14. Teresa- Is this hillside in full sun or some shade? If it is in full sun, have you considered planting native grasses in that area? You could also include some wildflower seeds in the mix, and try to create a drought tolerant meadow. You might want to consider amending the soil first if it is very sandy. Low shrubs such as spreading junipers, yuccas or cold hardy cacti could also be interspersed throughout to add structural and visual interest. There are a couple seed companies we recommend for native seeding mixes. One is Pawnee Buttes Seed Company in Greeley, CO, and the other is Arkansas Valley Seed Company in Denver and Rocky Ford. Visiting their websites would be a good starting point.
    If you don’t want to do native grasses, you could try various ground covers such as Veronica, Snow-In-Summer, Silvery Horehound, Ice Plant, Pussytoes, Wine Cup, Plumbago, Creeping Grapeholly, Creeping Phlox, Sedums, Hens & Chicks, and Partridge Feather. Most of these ground covers also require full sun, except for Plumbago and Grapeholly.

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