Best Colorado Plants, According to the Pros

40 landscape design experts pick their favorite low-maintenance plant

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KINNIKINNICK, because I like to say it.” — Annie Huston of Birdsall & Co.

GRO-LOW SUMAC. It has beautiful, dark-green foliage during the summer and turns a rich red in the fall. It hardly ever needs trimmed, frost doesn’t hurt it, and it doesn’t attract pests. It’s a real landscape gem!” — Phil Steinhauer of Designscapes Colorado

 “A DWARF BURNING BUSH has thick, dark-green leaves and a gorgeous fiery-red color in the fall. My landscape-architect father put this all over my childhood backyard; it’s a nostalgic favorite and a hardy, full-sun perennial that’s perfect for Colorado.” — Morgan Huston of Birdsall & Co.

“My first intuitive thrust is FRINGED SAGE. It has beautiful, soft, gray foliage that smells delightful. Native bees flock to it. Deer and rabbits loathe it. It doesn’t care about fancy soils or water. Even though everyone will tell you that it needs full sun, I grow it in partial shade. Plus, it has medicinal uses.” — Karla Dakin of K. Dakin Design

“The year-round interest of the sprawling evergreen ALBYN PROSTRATA SCOTCH PINE adds texture and context to its more colorful but short-term-blooming perennial buddies.” — Georgia Perry of Lindgren Landscape

BLUEBEARD is a super-hardy, heat- and drought-loving, small shrub that is smothered by fragrant, powder-blue flowers in late summer. It’s a nearly no-maintenance plant that has a long blooming period and is a favorite of bees and hummingbirds.” — Randy Ortega Sr. of Nick’s Garden Center 

“I like plants that attract hummingbirds, and my favorite is AGASTACHE RUPESTRIS. It smells like a cross between licorice and mint. It has grayish-green foliage that’s fuzzy, which means it’s more drought-tolerant.” — Teresa Wright of Wright’s Nursery Inc. 

TULIPS. They’re happy flowers. The snow doesn’t kill them; the freeze doesn’t kill them; they just keep coming up year after year. And they’re the first flower to come up in the spring, so they start the season off right.” — Jennifer Smith of Les Belles Fleurs

RUSSIAN HAWTHORN. It’s interesting during all four seasons, it’s xeric, it attracts birds, and it’s available in single-stem or clump form.” — Geno Finamore of Denver Landscapes

“The best bang for your buck for low-maintenance and color are ICE PLANTS—Granita Raspberry, Alan’s Apricot, Fire Spinner and more. These are ground covers that do not need deadheading. They are habitat friendly and water-smart, and they look fantastic planted next to any full-sun patio or cascading over rocks down a slope.” — Ross Shrigley of Plant Select

 “The BLONDE AMBITION BLUE GRAMA GRASS. It’s a hybrid of the state grass of Colorado. Its gold color and seed head on the top gives it a sculptural look. It likes sun and heat and grows quickly. Mix it in a gravel or mulch bed, and juxtapose it with a darker backdrop like a mugo pine so that the light-golden colors really pop.” — Dan DeGrush of Lifescape Colorado

“The POTENTILLA. It’s native, it comes in a shrub or perennial form that blooms all summer long in a variety of colors, it’s great for pollinators, and it’s extremely hardy when planted and established in the landscape.” — Chris Ibsen of O’Toole’s Garden Centers 

“Anything in the SEDUM FAMILY (autumn joy, dragon’s blood, Angelina and blue spruce sedums are my go-to choices). They’re hardy succulents for our climate. They come in multiple colors, shapes, textures and sizes and lend visual interest to the garden throughout the entire growing season, including great color deep into the fall.” — Troy Shimp of Lifescape Colorado

GEUM. The foliage comes out early in the spring, and its nice yellow flowers last all through the summer. It does well in really bright, sunny locations or in part-sun, so it’s versatile.” — Douglas Long of Country Fair Garden Center

The RED TWIG DOGWOOD. This shrub creates the perfect full silhouette in the warmer months and has outstanding winter appeal when its leaves drop. In the Colorado landscape, it easily blends from a residential garden into adjacent natural conditions. A hardy variety I use often in the mountains is the Bailey red twig dogwood.” — Ashley Hejtmanek of Design Workshop

“My favorite low-water plant is PAWNEE BUTTES SAND CHERRY, a ground-covering form of Western native sand cherry. Its green leaves turn coppery in fall, and white flowers produce black cherries in summer.” — Jim Klett of the CSU Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture

MEXICAN FEATHER GRASS. It has a fine, hair-like texture, and the way it waves in the breeze brings a graceful movement to the landscape. Early in the summer, the fine tufts of grass are bright green; then they fade to a striking golden-yellow in the midsummer through the fall and winter. Unlike most ornamental grasses, it doesn’t need to be cut back in early spring. Plus, it doesn’t need much water. It really creates a strong feel in the landscape—soft in texture, but strong in presence!” — Chris Turner of Elevate By Design

“I love SEDUMS, which are succulent perennial ground covers (although there are some varieties that are a little taller). They work great as a living “mulch” and look lovely creeping through the garden among other drought-tolerant plants. They do need some additional water each week, so they do take a little maintenance.” — Beth Zwinak of Tagawa Gardens

FALSE INDIGO. This rugged, native prairie plant is long-lived and easy to grow, and it sports tall spires of colorful blooms, as well as attractive blue-green foliage. It has been gracing my garden for 25-plus years with little care and has lots to offer to the pollinators and wildlife.” — Colette Haskell of Nick’s Garden Center 

LAMIUM (although it has just a terrible common name: dead nettle). There are quite a few varieties, and their salient feature is that they’re good in dry shade, but in reality they grow in wet shade, wet sunny spots—really any condition. They have a silvery leaf and two to three heavy blooming periods—often they’re the last plant blooming in the summer. The blooms tend to be various pinks or sometimes white.” — Wayne Fisher of Good Earth Garden Center

“I prefer a variety of SEDUMSSPIREA for sunny areas and SWEET WOODRUFF, FORGET-ME-NOTS AND HOSTAS in partly shade areas. All of these flower and have interesting, attractive characteristics.” — Shane Meyer of Denver Landscapes

ROSE OF SHARON. It has tropical-looking flowers, which makes it interesting in this dry, semi-arid climate. It can be grown as a tree or shrub.” — Jim Balazs of the City of Greenwood Village

ICE PLANT—a succulent, evergreen ground cover—is a sun-loving showstopper. It’s tough and fast-spreading. It forms a dense carpet of sparkling, succulent foliage and a rainbow of brilliant bloom options, with very little attention needed.” — Jake Wolf of Nick’s Garden Center

 “DWARF BURNING BUSH. It’s a bulletproof plant that has great fall color, and its size works in a lot of applications.” — David Kostic of JBK Landscape 

 “I prefer varieties of BOXWOOD, because they are evergreen and have a tidy nature.” — Justus Lacewell of Denver Landscapes

CATMINT. It’s very xeric. It blooms purple most of the summer and into the fall, and it comes in a few different sizes—starting at about a foot and a half.” — Mendy Anderson of Fossil Creek Nursery

DAYLILIES. They’re no longer a one-time bloomer—now they’re super-hardy, all-color ever-bloomers through spring and summer. Plus, they’re entirely edible! The blossoms can be batter-dipped and fried like squash blossoms. The flower buds taste like sugar snap peas with a light garlic aftertaste when stir-fried. The new foliage is tender and has a nutty flavor, as do the roots.” — Tony Wiles of Nick’s Garden Center

POTENTILLA. It’s a flowering shrub that’s native to Colorado. It’s drought-tolerant once it’s established. So it usually needs water the first year, and then after that, it doesn’t need much attention at all.” — Debbie Roberts of Country Fair Garden Center

The AGASTACHE CANA SONORAN SUNSET is my favorite plant for the Colorado landscape. It requires low water, attracts all pollinators and has a rich bubble-gum scent!” — Chris Schroeder of 1st Green Colorado

PANSIES, because they have a happy face and they can take a snow.” — Sue Wilson of Jensen’s Flower and Garden

EAST FRIESLAND SALVIA. It has pretty color and is hardy and drought-tolerant.” — Shon Floyd of Wright’s Nursery, Inc.

I have three favorites—one each of a tree, shrub and perennial. Tree: the multi-stem WASHINGTON HAWTHORN. It has four-season interest and is also very hardy and rarely dies in the newly planted landscape. Shrub: DWARF KOREAN LILAC. It blooms consistently after the danger of late-season frosts are gone. Perennial: COREOPSIS MOONBEAM. It blooms from June to August and is full of small yellow flowers, giving the landscape a nice color accent after the spring bloomers are done.” — Dave Graham of Phase One Landscapes

AMUR MAPLE. It is relatively easy to grow, has several periods of “show” each year and is hardy for our climate.” — Paul Fredell of Fredell Enterprises, Inc.

“For color in the high country, JULIA ROSE PEONY. This intersectional hybrid is fragrant, long-lasting and, best of all, requires no staking. As a hybrid though, I learned the bloom could revert to root stock color.” — Kim Ballard of Soiled Gloves

SPIREA. There are so many variations of both height and color—you can get in your pinks, fuchsias, blues, whites, and it can range from 18 inches to 3 feet. And all the varieties have really pronounced fall colors as well.” — Kenny Smith of Colorado Nature Design

BLONDE AMBITION. It is graceful, versatile for transitions or with other xeric perennials, and hardy. It does not like to be babied—that’s my kind of plant.” — Kathy Aalto of Ceres+ Landscape Architecture

“My favorite flower is IRISH EYES RUDBECKIA. It’s showy and lasts from July through October. It’s not really a perennial, here but occasionally it will come back. Also, the Goldsturm Rudbeckia is the little black-eyed Susan used all over Denver. It’s hardy and will come back!” — Holly Strandes of South Suburban Golf Course

BLUE MIST SPIREA. It’s very, very xeric, and it’s covered in blue flowers from late spring through the summer. It has a lovely mounded shape, so it doesn’t need to be pruned.” — Carl Vogt of Bella Giardino Landscape & Garden Design

SILVERHEELS HOREHOUND. It’s a very pretty, very soft-textured plant with grayish-blue leaves.” — Matt Corrion of Outdoor Design Group

MANZANITA COLORADO. It’s a native evergreen shrub that grows to 3 to 5 feet wide and 8 to 24 inches high. It requires very little water once established, and it doesn’t need any pruning or maintenance. Rabbits and deer seldom eat it. I use it as a front border in planting beds or to cascade over retaining walls to soften the hardscape.” — Dan Lee of Black Forest Landscape Design Studio

Categories: Stylemakers