Choosing the Right Plants for Our High Country Climate

Evan Doukas

Many gardeners are bringing new plants and fruit trees into their yards. If you are doing so, I want to share some important advice on plant selection. 

Experienced gardeners in Colorado know that our high, dry, intense and inconsistent climate presents unique challenges. Here in our area, we are classified as a newly updated USDA hardiness zone 6a. (I contend that we are still 5b, due to our extreme temperature swings and recent cold, 5b temperatures.) However, it is not only about checking for plant hardiness to match your zone. 

Many plants that are classified as 5b (or even much colder) may still not survive in our climate due to other factors. For instance, they may be able to take our cold temperatures, but can they take our intense sun and summer heat? Are they moisture and humidity-loving plants? If so, they will not thrive here, at least not without extreme effort. Are you mindful that our soils are very alkaline, making acid-loving plants like blueberries exceptionally difficult to grow here? I often see many local stores selling plants and trees that are out of touch with our climate. 

Before purchasing plants for your garden, I highly recommend researching what will grow well in our high country climate. It’s hard to overemphasize how helpful this can be. With all that we have to contend with, we should at least start with plants that will handle our climate better than others.

Below, I have included a few examples by general category, but you can also feel free to contact me with specific questions: I enjoy connecting and giving advice when I can.

Fruit trees: 

Select varieties that are hardy to zone 5 or below and whose blooms are hardy and/or late, to maximize chances of pushing through potential late Spring freezes. Some Spring seasons may still nip buds and hinder fruit production, but this will at least help your odds. For apple varieties, I recommend Liberty, Enterprise, Freedom and Sweet 16, as these are hardy and most importantly, fire blight resistant. Fire blight has run rampant in our area, killing many apple trees. For peach trees: Contender and Redhaven. For apricot, Montrose and Harcot. For cherry trees: Evans Bali and Nanking (shrub form). For plums, stick with European and American varieties.

Vegetable seeds: 

Look for varieties and cultivars that perform extra well in our climate. For example, Little Gem lettuce (more heat resistant) or Dark Star zucchini (more drought resistant). 

Ornamentals and botanicals: 

Look up xeriscaping, and plants recommended by or those offered by High Country Gardens. Just don’t forget to support your local nurseries by purchasing from them whenever possible.

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