CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Native plants that serve as “gateway drugs” for the newbie

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

I frequently give talks on native plants to a wide variety of audiences.  Some people eagerly embrace native plants for the habitat they provide, for the reduction in water bills, and for the color and sense of place.  Others are a little more skeptical, worrying either about the rangy appearance of some natives, or wanting them to fit into an already amended and irrigated yard.

So, I have selected some native plants that are of a refined appearance that can be planted even in the strictest of HOAs. You may be so pleased with these gateway natives that you’ll soon be planting more!

Sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus) blooms heavily from late spring to late summer – this is rare for any perennial, much less a native plant.  It has bright yellow, four-petaled flowers that provide as much color as most annuals. It excels in the hotter, drier areas of your yard, where many standard perennials may suffer. While it prefers a lean soil such as dry clay or sand, it will perform well in a light loam if no new amendments are added. It is hardy to zone 5. There is a selection from Plant Select called ‘Prairie lode’ with a more compact growth habit than the straight species.
Calylophus serrulatus 'Prairie lode'  - courtesy Plant Select

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) is a plant no garden should be without. It has small beautiful purple bell-shaped flowers on delicate stems that bloom for a long period of time. The color mixes nicely with almost any other color in the garden (except perhaps electric blue).  It would look beautiful with other natives, but also with roses, lilies, and other perennials.  It usually grows between 1 and 2 feet tall, spreads only by seed, and is hardy to zone 2.  It will grow in most soils, and at lower elevations would prefer afternoon shade and regular irrigation.
Campanula rotundifolia - harebells

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) is a beautiful mid-summer bloomer with dusky pink flowers. The flowers attract hummingbirds and other pollinators, and the foliage is fragrant (can be used as an oregano substitute) and thus is critter resistant. It grows well in sunny conditions in most soils, including clay, and better yet, it is not as prone to the powdery mildew that afflict many of the more cultivated species.  It gets to be about 2-3 feet tall, and is hardy to zone 4.
Monarda fistulosa, bee balm

Scott’s sugarbowls (Clematis scottii) is a charming plant that would do great at the front of a border or in a rock garden. It has nodding purple flowers and mounding, lacy foliage. Bumblebees love the flowers, and when they crawl inside, their buzz is amplified in a delightful way. They will grow in a wide range of soils, and are drought-tolerant but will not flop if given a little extra water.
Scotts sugarbowls - Clematis scottii courtesy Plant Select

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a refined native shrub that I am starting to see planted more in public spaces. It has small white flowers in the early season, and blue, edible fruit in the summer.  It is great for attracting birds (which is code for you better net the plants if you want to eat the fruit). The beautiful orange-red of the fall foliage provides another season of interest.  This should be used way more frequently!
Serviceberry - Amelanchier alnifolia

Boulder raspberry (Rubus deliciosus) has gorgeous, large white flowers that look like roses.  This shrub grows happily in shady to sunny conditions at lower elevations (prefers full sun in the high country).  It attracts pollinators in flower and birds in fruit (although the fruit is dry and mealy, and not delicious, in my opinion). In the winter, the bronzy branches with peeling bark provide another season of interest.
Boulder raspberry Rubus deliciosus

Finally, columnar junipers (Juniperus scopulorum cultivars such as ‘Woodward’, ‘Skyrocket’ or ‘Medora’) can provide a little taste of Italy while still providing drought tolerance and winter hardiness.

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