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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Leave a Comment to “The Best Plants for High Altitude Landscaping”

  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!

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