Ever wonder why your dahlias die, or why your mimosa plants disappear at the first sign of winter? The answer is simple: they’re warm weather plants that aren’t native to Colorado. Native Colorado plants existed here before the first European settlement in 1851. They can survive and thrive in our cold, dry climate. These plants also provide sustenance for native insects, birds, and other wildlife.
These plants are also key to sustaining our environment and giving us a decorative element in our landscape design. They need less watering and fertilizing because they’re acclimated to our weather, soils, and microclimates. Here are five native plants that will withstand the cold in Colorado Springs.
1. Red Twig Dogwood
The red branches against the pure white snow is a stunning sight for sure, but the red twig dogwood brings a new look to your landscape during every season. In spring, white flowers blossom in clusters amid lush, oval leaves. In summer, birds feed on the plentiful white berries. In the fall, the leaves turn a vibrant red. In addition to adding drama to what was previously a drab winter landscape, a few red twig dogwoods planted in a row will act as a privacy screen. When older branches begin to fade, prune them to encourage new growth and maintain the brilliant red of the bark.
Rabbitbrush is one of the most ornamental and stylish additions to Colorado landscapes. It tolerates clay, loam and sandy soils and all weather conditions and needs little to no watering once established. The plant has narrow stems and bluish-green to silvery-green leaves that grow in clusters.
In late summer and autumn, glorious yellow flowers blossom and provide a gathering place for beautifully colored butterflies. In the winter, the fluffy seedheads draw in the birds and create a soft, textured element to the landscape as they bask in the subdued winter light. As an extra-added attraction, the rabbitbrush has a lovely fragrance, particularly after a storm.
3. Creeping Mahonia
Also known as Colorado grape holly, this native Colorado plant is filled with fragrant, bright yellow flowers in the spring. It produces blue-colored berries that are edible, but apparently an acquired taste for humans. Birds love them and will flock to your yard to get a taste. The spiny-toothed, blue-green leaves turn a glowing burnished red in the winter. The leaves make great holiday decorations since Colorado isn’t particularly hospitable to “ordinary” holly. The stems of the plant spread underground, so it makes an excellent, eye-catching groundcover that will grow in the sun or shade.
4. Prickly Pear Cactus
Certainly the prickly pear cactus is not going to win “Most Beautiful Plant,” but it makes up for its off-putting (if not downright scary) “paddles,” threatening spines and hairlike prickles with a magnificent display of yellow, orange or magenta flowers in the spring-summer and sweet, succulent purple-red fruits in late summer. The fruit is heavenly, just be careful that you don’t get the prickles stuck in your skin or tongue. Beware the large spines that can pierce through the soles of running shoes. The cactus remains a gray-green all year, even when, in the winter, it lies down on the ground. If these native Colorado plants look like they’re dead, be aware that it’s not. It’s fascinating to see it rise again in the spring.
It is a highly decorative and butterfly attracting fruit that makes the hardy smooth sumac popular. The stout stems, exotic plumes of tropical-looking leaves and abundant spikes of red-purple fruit provide drama from fall through late winter. Spikes of green-yellow flowers adorn the tree in the summer but go mostly unnoticed. In the fall, the large pinnate leaves, a vibrant green, turn into a royal scarlet. The smooth sumac is very versatile. It grows in rain, drought, and any kind of soil. Its resistance to pollution makes it a great addition to an urban landscape.
These are just five native plants that will withstand the cold in Colorado Springs. They’ll also hold up in our dry summers, meaning you won’t be spending a fortune watering your lawn this June.
Need help choosing the right plants and grass types for your yard? Visit our Colorado Springs lawn care page for more information.