Wild Ones   Wild Ones Archive 2002, Nov 08:  
  QUES #21: SW Plants  

Wild Ones 2002 Archive

    QUESTION #21: SW Plants

    We would be interested in knowing what plants might be most appropriate for the Denver, CO area that don't require water. There presently is a moratorium on using water for plants and cars. Water must be saved for people.

    Hans of Denver, CO



    I would start with looking for information at the Library or local Nurseries about Xeric Gardening or Xeric Native Planting. The other thought is to look through your local nursery guides that may have information on soil and water suitability. Look for dry plantings or dry soil condition plants.

    -- Rusty of Minneapolis, MN


    Go out and walk in your woods or prairie and see what is growing there wild. Surely, the universities there have books about the native flowers and trees. Anything that is native to the environment that you have (subalpine woods, ponderosa pine foothills, short grass prairie, river bank, wet mountain meadow, subalpine park) will not require extra water. Ask if there is a Colorado native plant society.

    -- Pat of Naperville, IL


    Lauren Springer has written several books covering this topic. She lives outside of Denver, outside of Boulder I think, sort of in the flatirons. You should be able to find her books in the library or else go to the Denver Botanical Garden bookstore. While there, check out their plants.

    -- Hetty (now in Iowa City, IA; used to live in Wyoming)

    I don't live out there any more, but I can tell you that Denver has always had water restrictions of some kind, compared to the eastern half of the US. For just that reason there are tons of places in the metro area that will have natives. What you are looking for is xeriscaping, using natives that are adapted to the local dry climate. The soil tends to be very sandy, so it can't hold the moisture even in those years when there is above average rain.

    If you are used to a "toe-grass" yard, the hardest part will be adapting yourself to enjoy the sparser look of xeriscape. There are several "looks" to chose from depending on how flat your place is. Blue spruce and aspen for hilly areas or cholla, grama grass and sages with landscape rock for flatter areas. You might even have an "oasis" area with columbine, penstemons and shooting star around a waterfall/pool. Make sure it is all nursery grown, Colorado is rightly very sticky about people helping themselves to what little is still growing wild.

    You will have to water new plantings often, but not large amounts, to get them established, but if you use drip irrigation, or a bucket at a time to localize the watering, the city won't have a problem with it. It is so much less thirsty than a lawn.

    -- Susan of Columbia,MO

    The Denver Botanic Gardens has done extensive research in this area. Here is a link to a press release about dealing with the drought: http://www.botanicgardens.org/pressreleases/061402b.cfm.

    Although I am in northern Illinois, I had a chance to tour the Denver Botanic Gardens and would encourage Hans and others in that area to use their resources. They are strong proponents of native plants.

    Marlene of Woodstock, IL


    Check with your county co-operative extension agent.

    -- Chris of West Chester, OH

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