Plant selection might be the most challenging task for a gardener. Finding a plant that works well and doesn’t cause problems is a joy.
When selecting plants, consider your soil, sun exposure, lowest winter temperature, irrigation availability and maintenance requirements. If you don’t know what kind of soil you have, consider a soil test. The Colorado State University Extension has mail-in kits to send to the CSU soil lab in Fort Collins for analysis.
Beyond that, consider whether you want rapid or slow growth. If you need a lot of coverage quickly, then rapidly spreading, vigorously reseeding plants might be your choice for the short term. Understand that as your garden matures, these early garden heroes may become your nemesis, looking a lot like weeds. It’s OK if you decide you are done with them in favor of better behaved plants.
Here are a few of my favorite plants:
• Allium “Millenium.” It’s name might lack an “n,” but this 2018 Perennial Plant of the Year is a great one. It’s a clump-forming plant in the onion genus attractive throughout the growing season, and it’s a pollinator magnet attracting butterflies and bees. Unlike other ornamental onions, it blooms late in summer with spherical purple flowers borne on umbels. The blossoms last about four weeks.
The foliage emerges in early spring, in glossy, grass-like clumps. It persists and is attractive until frost. Plants are hardy to minus 40 degrees, and the “Millenium” are deer- and rabbit-resistant. They like full sun, are drought tolerant and don’t reseed. They can be divided every three to four years as the clumps enlarge. Divide them after the foliage dies back in the fall.
• Greek yarrow (Achillea ageratifolia). This sun-loving, drought-tolerant ground cover is a great addition to your garden. Gray-green foliage hugs the ground, and small white flowers bloom from June through August. This is not an aggressive spreader, so it’s quite appropriate for smaller spaces or as a rock garden plant. It tolerates a wide range of soils but must be well drained. Greek yarrow is hardy to minus 20 degrees, and it’s deer- and rabbit-resistant too.
• Dwarf globe Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens “Glauca Globosa”). This is an intensely blue specimen of Colorado blue spruce. It is a slow grower with a maximum height of 4 to 6 feet. It is easily pruned to shape and limit height. It is a great garden accent, hardy to minus 40 degrees, deer- and rabbit-resistant and provides good winter interest. It likes full sun and well-drained soil. This shrub comes in two versions of a grafted plant. One is grafted high on the root stock, giving it a whimsical lollipop effect. The other option is a low graft, where the plant hugs the ground. Both will add year-round interest to your garden.
When you have horticulture questions, visit ask.extension.org or call a Colorado master gardener volunteer at 520-7684 from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday.