When our unpredictable, unforgiving winter storms turn our landscapes into stark piles of brush, Colorado gardeners rethink our planting strategies!
Here’s a list of winter-hardy perennials that can stand a polar vortex or two – along with helpful survival care tips. Part 1 of 2.
Coneflower, often called by its scientific name, Echinacea, is an American native that naturally withstands harsh winters. The plants develop beautiful, daisylike heads of purple blooms through the summer and fall. Newer varieties offer a wide variety of colors, such as yellow, orange, and white, and variant flower forms. However, some of the modern hybrids are not as winter hardy as the native form, so read the plant label before you buy to check for cold tolerance. Most varieties are hardy to Zone 3 or 4.
Survival Tip: Help newly-planted coneflowers survive their first winters by clipping back their dead stems and covering them with a 1–2 inch layer of mulch after they go dormant in the fall. Uncover them in the early spring after the soil thaws.
If you love to make dried floral arrangements, wreaths, or crafts projects, be sure to include some Artemisia in your garden plan. This almost indestructible perennial is prized for its silvery gray, aromatic foliage that retains its color even after drying. Common names for this plant include: wormwood, mugwort, and southernwood. Varieties differ in shape and form, but grow up to 5 feet tall and develop loose sprays of small white flowers in the summer. It’s a super-easy sun-lover that tolerates heat, drought, and deep cold – and has few insect or disease problems. Hardiness ranges from Zone 4 to Zone 5, depending on variety.
Survival Tip: Cold, persistently soaked soil can cause problems for perennials like Artemisia that have Mediterranean roots. Plant them in a sandy spot where snow and ice will drain quickly during thaws.
Much hardier than its modern cousins, wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), is a reliable spring bloomer that will eventually form large colonies in partially shady locations. The nodding, pink and yellow flowers are produced on wiry stems that seem to dance on every spring breeze. Wild columbine prefers a rich, moist soil, growing 2-3 feet tall. Each plant might only live a few years, but the plants spread easily so it’s hard to tell new plants from old. Many varieties are hardy to Zone 4.
Need a hardy creeper? Or, how about a colorful tall plant for back of the border? Look no further than the sedum family. These rough-and-tumble plants survive both hot summers and cold winters. Sedums are also drought tolerant, so they’re ideal if you live where rainfall is scarce — or if you just hate watering. One of the toughest members of the family is ‘Dragon’s Blood’. This hardy groundcover is smothered in rich green leaves with red edges. It has deep red blooms in late summer and when fall rolls around the entire plant turns fiery red. Many varieties are hardy to Zone 4.
Tip: Leave the faded flower stalks of sedums in place over the winter. They provide winter interest through the snow, as well as nutritious seeds for visiting birds.
Baptisia (false indigo)
Once established, Baptisia can live for decades. This hardy prairie native has gray-green foliage topped with sprays of blue, purple, white, or yellow flowers in the spring. Due to its prairie heritage, Baptisia can tolerate both summer heat and below-zero winters. Also known as false indigo, Baptisiais so hardy it can often be found thriving around long-abandoned farmsteads and ranches. Baptisia grows slowly, so buy the largest plants you can find to get a faster flower show. Baptisia is hardy to Zone 3.
Survival Tip: Baptisia can be a bit fussy when transplanted, so place it in your garden in the early spring. That way the plant will have plenty of time to develop a strong root system before fall.
More? Go on to Part 2 >>
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perennials for colorado