no. 7.406

Flowers for Mountain Communities

by L. Potts and I. Shonle* (9/13)

Quick Facts...

  • Consider the length of the growing season, soil characteristics and exposure before selecting flowers for mountain gardens.
  • Be cautious with lateblooming flowers, as they may not have a chance to bloom in short-season climates.
  • Choose plants that are hardy to USDA zones 2-4. The lower the zone, the hardier the plant.
  • Amend your soil for best results.

This fact sheet discusses biennial and perennial non-native flowers for mountain areas above 7,500 feet as well as highlighting some native plants not covered in fact sheet 7.242, Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado Landscapes. Ground Covers and Rock Garden Plants for Mountain Communities are covered in fact sheet 7.413.

For more information on gardening in the mountains, refer to fact sheet 7.244, Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics.

Selection

The flowers listed in Table 1 have been selected to thrive in mountain gardens. When selecting plants from this list, match the cultural needs of the plants to the garden site in which you intend to plant. Cultural factors to consider include soil texture and organic matter content, moisture and drainage, light exposure, and microclimate. ‘Warm’ or ‘hot’ microclimates are usually found on the protected south sides of buildings, against stone walls, or on south-facing slopes. Plants listed as easy to grow are most suitable for new gardeners.Plants listed as ‘aggressive’ can spread widely in the landscape, especially under conditions of higher soil fertility and moisture. Where information was available, we included whether the plant is resistant to deer and rabbits. Please be aware that no plant is entirely resistant if an animal is very hungry; also be aware that there may be geographical differences in what animals will eat.

When purchasing plants from a nursery, garden center, or greenhouse find out where the stock was grown. Stock originating from southern and Pacific Coast sources may be less hardy. Where possible, select nursery stock originating from northern areas especially for marginally hardy plants. Look for healthy plants with a strong but not rootbound root system.

Establishment

In mountain areas, the best time to plant flowers is either immediately after the last frost (particularly for borderline hardy plants) or during the rainy season. Avoid the temptation to buy plants too early because most nursery stock is grown below 6000' and the new growth may not be hardened enough to withstand the conditions at higher elevations. You may have to maintain plants for several weeks if you buy too early, which can cause the plant to decline. Before planting, acclimate plants by gradually exposing them to longer times outdoors in mountain conditions over a period of several days or weeks. This process is also known as ‘hardening off.’ If plants are grown outside and are from local nurseries, this is not necessary.

Soil preparation is often the key to growing healthy plants in the mountains, particularly for non-native plants. Native plants are often adapted to leaner soils (lower in organic matter), and may ‘flop’ or have a shorter life span in well-amended soils.

For optimum growth, most mountain soils benefit by amending with organic material such as compost, alfalfa pellets, aged manure, or a combination. If the original soil is decomposed granite, extensive amending will be necessary to achieve an organic soil, or even a moderately organic soil as is required by some plants. If the original soil is clay, amending with organic matter or creating and planting on a berm can help to create the well-drained soils required by many garden plants (although in poorly drained soils it is best to add some organic matter each year, rather than all at once, in order to avoid salt buildup). For more information on amending soils, see fact sheet 7.235, Choosing a Soil Amendment, or 7.244, Colorado Mountain Gardening Basics.

Snow cover is an excellent mulch, allowing root growth to occur even during some periods of the winter. Encourage snow to drift over the root zone of plants by using temporary snow fences a few feet from more tender plants on the upwind side of the plant.

Use the following key in Table 1 below.

Bloom time: E = early season; M = mid season; L = late season
Exposure: FS = full sun; PS = part sun; SH = full shade
Moisture: L = low water needs; M = moderate water needs; H = high water needs (including saturated soils).

Table 1. Flowers for the mountains.
Scientific Name
Common Name
Bloom Time Exp. Moist. Color H x W Comments
Achillea spp.
Yarrow
M FS L White, pink, red, yellow, orange 1-4’ x varies Easy to grow. Aromatic fern-like foliage. Best choices: A. lanulosa is native and A. millefolium can be aggressive. A. filipendulina and A. x ‘Moonshine' do not spread aggressively. Long blooming. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most well-drained soils.
Aconitum spp.
Monkshood
M FS-PS M-H Purple, pink 3-4’ x
18-24”
Blossoms are hood-shaped. Best choices: A. napellus and A. colombianum (native). Cut and dried flowers. Resistant to pests and diseases. Toxic. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.
Allium spp.
Ornamental onion
Varies FS L-M Purple, white, blue, pink, yellow 6”-4’ x varies Easy to grow. Smaller species are good in rock gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils
Anthemis tinctoria
Golden marguerite
M-L FS L-M Yellow, white, cream 3’ x 3’ Easy to grow. Clump forming plants with dark-green, finely divided, fern-like leaves. Large single daisy-like flowers on sturdy stems. Vigorous and long blooming. Biennial or short-lived perennial. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Artemisia spp.
Sage
NA FS L White, yellow 8”-2’ x
1-2’
Easy to grow. Aromatic gray-green silvery plants grown for foliage. Best choices: A. versicolor ‘Sea Foam’ (Plant Select®), A. schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’, A. ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’ and ‘Silver King’. A. absinthum is a noxious weed. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Aquilegia spp.
Columbine
E-M FS-PS M Varies 1-2’ x
1-2’
Short-lived perennials. Best choices: A. flabellata, A. formosa, Songbird Series and McKana Hybrids. Attracts hummingbirds. Cut flowers. Organic soils.
Brunnera spp.
Siberian bugloss
E-M FS-PS M Blue 1-2’ x
1-2
Easy to grow. Heart-shaped leaves with forget-me-not-like flowers. Variegated cultivars available. Reseeds readily. Subject to early spring frost damage. Deer resistant. Moderately organic soils.
Caltha palustris
Marsh marigold
E FS-PS M-H Yellow 1-2’ x 18” Large kidney-shaped, dark, glossy green leaves. Waxy cup-shaped flowers. Best choices: ‘Flore Pleno’ with double flowers. Best in marshy areas. Organic soils.
Campanula spp.
Bellflower
M FS-PS M Purple, white Varies Bell-shaped flowers. More than 250 species, including biennials and perennials, varying widely in height and growth habits. Best choices: C. glomerata (Clustered bellflower) can be aggressive, C. lactiflora (Milky bellflower) over 3’ tall, C. persicifolia (Peach-leaved bellflower) 2 to 3’. Borders. Cut flowers. Organic well-drained soils.
Centaurea spp.
Cornflower
E-M FS-PS L-M Blue, white, rose, yellow Varies Easy to grow. Clump-forming plants with gray-green foliage. Best choices: C. montana (Mountain bluet), C. dealbata (Persian cornflower) has lobed leaves. Both species reseed readily, can be aggressive and may need support. C. macrocephala (Globe centaurea) is taller with coarser foliage and large thistle-like flower heads and is good for cut and dried flowers. Deer resistant. Most soils.
Centranthus ruber
Jupiter’s beard,
Red valerian
E-M FS L-M Rose-pink, white 18-36” x
18-24”
Fleshy, blue-green foliage. Fragrant clusters of tiny trumpets. Long blooming. Short-lived perennial. Reseeds readily. Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer and rabbit resistant. Prefers lean (low organic matter) soils.
Delphinium spp.
Delphinium
M FS M Blue, white, purple, pink, bicolor 2-5’ x 3’ Tall spikes of flowers. Best choices: D. elatum needs protection from wind and benefits from staking. D. grandiflorum, a short-lived perennial, is 18” tall. D. belladonna is 2-3’ tall and has wiry stems with open heads. Shorter cultivars are more wind resistant and may not need staking. Toxic. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic to organic well-drained soils.
Dicentra spp.
Bleeding heart
E PS-SH M Pink, white 12”-3’ x 1-4’ Heart-shaped flowers. Best choices: D. spectabilis, D. eximia (Fringed bleeding heart) a smaller species with gray-green fern-like foliage, long-blooming. Organic soils.
Doronicum caucasicum
(D. cordatum)
Leopard’s bane
E PS M Yellow 12-30” x 1-2’ Bright green heart-shaped leaves. Small daisy-like flowers on slender branching stems. Best choices: ‘Magnificum’ and ‘Finesse’ are taller than the species. May go dormant in summer. Cut flowers. Organic well-drained soils.
Dracocephalum grandiflorum
Dragon’s head
M-L FS-PS L Blue, purple 18-24” x 1-2’ Easy to grow. Small plants with spikes of flowers. Readily reseeds. Most soils.
Echinacea purpurea
Purple coneflower
L FS M Purplish pink, white 18”-3’ x 1-2’ Large flowers with drooping ray flowers (petals) and prominent orange-brown cones. New hybrids, colors available. Long-blooming. Needs warm microclimate to bloom before frost. Cut and dried flowers. Deer resistant. Most soils.
Echinops ritro
Globe thistle
M-L FS-PS L-M Blue, white 2-4’ x
2-4’
Easy to grow. Sharply divided spiny leaves. Round, spiky flower heads. Not an actual thistle. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most soils.
Eryngium alpinum
Sea holly
M-L FS L-M Blue, white 30-36” x 2’ Deeply cut leaves with spiny margins. Thistle-like flowers (not an actual thistle). Cut and dried flowers. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Erysimum capitatum
Wallflower
E FS-PS L-M Orange, bronze 8-20” x 3-5” Easy to grow native. Fragrant flowers borne in dense, terminal clusters. Biennial or short-lived perennial. Rabbit resistant. Prefers lean (low organic matter) soils.
Gaillardia x grandiflora
Blanketflower
M FS L Yellow, red, burgundy 1-3’ x
1-2’
Easy to grow. Short-lived perennial. Best choices: ‘Goblin’ is dwarf selection with red and gold bicolor flowers and ‘Burgundy’ has solid burgundy flowers. Remove spent blossoms to promote longer blooming. Cut flowers. Reseeds readily. Deer and rabbit resistant. Prefers lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Gentiana spp.
Gentian
Varies FS-PS M Blue, white 5”-2’ x
5-12”
Gentians need somewhat specialized culture. They are chiefly plants of cool, moist mountain meadows or alpine summits. Best choice: G. septemfida. Rock gardens, borders, meadows. Moderately organic to organic well-drained soils.
Geranium spp.
Hardy geranium, Cranesbill
E-M FS-PS M Blue, pink 6”-2’ x
1-4’
Easy to grow. Hardiness zones vary. Do not confuse with bedding annuals (Pelargoniums) often referred to as geraniums. Best choices: G. x ‘Johnson’s Blue’, G. sanguineum, G. macrorrhizum and G. cantabrigiense. Some species have leaves which turn red or bronze in fall. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic soils.
Goniolimon tataricum (Limonium tatarica)
German statice
M FS-PS L-M Purplish pink 18” x 18” Dark green clumping foliage with tall slender multi-branched stalks of tiny flowers. Borders and rock gardens. Cut and dried flowers. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Heliopsis helianthoides
False sunflower
M FS L-M Yellow 3-4’ x 2’ Large coarse dark green leaves contrast with golden yellow daisy-like flowers. Cut flowers. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Hemerocallis spp.
Daylily
M FS L-M Varies 1-3’ x
2-3’
Strap-like leaves and trumpet-shaped flowers. Best choices: ‘Hyperion’, ‘Mary Todd’, ‘Catherine Woodbury’, ‘Bonanza’ and dwarf variety ‘Stella de Oro’. Choose cultivars that flower early to mid-season. Long-lived perennial. Excellent cut flowers. May benefit from warm microclimate to bloom. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Heuchera spp.
Coral bells,
Alum root
M FS-PS L-M Red, white, pink, salmon 6-30” x 10-30” Mounds of scalloped leaves with tiny bell-shaped flowers borne on slender stalks. Best choices: H. sanguinea; H. micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ and many recent introductions have colorful foliage. Red flowered varieties attract hummingbirds. Deer and rabbit resistant plants, but not flower stalks. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Iris spp.
Iris
E FS L-M Varies 8-36” x 8-18” Easy to grow. Sword-like to narrow lance-like leaves depending on species. Most species arise from underground rhizomes. Best choices: I. germanica, (Bearded iris); I. pumila (Dwarf bearded iris); I. sibirica (Siberian iris) has smaller delicate flowers than Bearded iris and perform best with more moisture. Cut flowers and seed pods for dried arrangements. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Liatris spicata
Gayfeather
M-L FS M Pink, white 18-48” x
12-18”
Basal tufts of grass-like leaves arise from tuberous roots. Spikes of small fringed flowers on stout stalks. Cut flowers. Attracts butterflies. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Ligularia spp.
Ligularia
M PS-SH M Yellow, orange 3-5’ x
2-3’
Clumps of very large coarsely toothed leaves add bold texture. Best choices: L. dentata ‘Desdemona’ (Bigleaf ligularia) has large orange daisy-like flowers; L. stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ (Narrow-spiked ligularia) has black-stemmed spikes of small yellow flowers. Woodland gardens or stream sides. Organic soils.
Limonium latifolium (L. platyphyllum)
Sea lavender
M-L FS L-M Lavender 18-24” x
12-18”
Basal rosettes of leathery leaves with slender branched stems of tiny baby’s breath-like flowers. Cut and dry flowers. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.
Lupinus spp.
Lupine
E-M FS-PS M Varies 18”-3’ x 18-24" Mounding clumps of palmately compound leaves with spikes of pea-like flowers. Best choices: ‘Russell Hybrids’ wide variety of solid and bicolors available, ‘Gallery Series’ are dwarf compact, L. perennis (Wild or Sundial lupine). Borders and meadow plantings. Cut flowers. Some species toxic. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Lychnis spp.
Campion, Lychnis
M-L FS-PS L-M Scarlet, fuchsia, pink, white 12-36” x
12-18”
Easy to grow. Star-shaped flowers. Best choices: L. chalcedonica (Maltese cross) has scarlet flowers in dense rounded clusters, attracts hummingbirds; L. coronaria (Rose campion) has silvery gray woolly foliage and fuchsia or white blossoms, treat as annual or biennial, reseeds readily; L. viscaria (German catchfly) is a small tufted plant with grass-like leaves and sticky stems. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Lysimachia spp.
Loosestrife
E FS M White, yellow 2-3’ x varies Best choices: L. clethroides (Gooseneck loosestrife) has tiny star-shaped flowers on dense slender spikes that nod when in bud. Cut flowers. Deer and rabbit resistant. L. punctata (Yellow loosestrife) has whorled leaves and yellow flowers clustered in leaf axils, best for damp wild gardens and along streams. L. ciliata ‘Atropurpurea’ (Hairy loosestrife) has chocolate-purple foliage and nodding yellow star-like flowers in the leaf axils. Species mentioned have rhizomatous root systems and can be aggressive in moist soils. Moderately organic to organic well-drained soils.
Monarda didyma
Bee balm, Bergamot, Oswego tea
M-L FS-PS M Red, pink, purple 1-3’ x
2-4’
Spreading plant with aromatic foliage. Terminal flowers with colorful bracts. Best choices: Many cultivars available. Select for powdery mildew resistance. ‘Jacob Kline’ (red) and ‘Marshall’s Delight’ (pink) have good resistance. Remove spent flower heads. Borders and meadow plantings. Attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Needs warm microclimate. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.
Nepeta spp.
Catmint
E-M FS L Lavender, blue 18-24” x 2-3’ Easy to grow. Spreading aromatic plants with gray-green leaves. Abundant lavender blooms, long-blooming. Best choices: N. x faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’ is a large showy sterile hybrid, “Walkers Low”, a 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year, and N. siberica (aggressive in organic soils). Many species reseed readily—sterile cultivars are recommended. Attracts bees and hummingbirds. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most well-drained soils.
Oxytropis spp.
Locoweed
E FS L White, pink 8-12” x 8-12” Spreading clumps of silver-green foliage. Best choices: O. sericea and O. lambertii are native species. Toxic to livestock. Deer and rabbit resistant. Prefers lean (low organic matter) soils.
Paeonia spp.
Peony
E FS-PS M White, red, pink 3-4’ x
3-4’
Glossy green mounding compound leaves. Large flowers in late spring to early summer. Long-lived perennial. Best choices: P. officinalis and P. lactiflora. May need staking. Cut flowers. Deer resistant. Moderately organic to organic well-drained soils.
Papaver spp.
Poppy
E-M FS M Yellow, orange, pink, maroon, salmon 1-3’ x
1-2’
Best choices: P. nudicale (Iceland poppy) a short-lived perennial with flowers borne on leafless stems. P. orientale (Oriental poppy) has coarse hairy leaves and large showy blossoms, does not transplant well, goes dormant after flowering. P. triniifolium (Armenian poppy) a drought tolerant biennial with dissected gray-green foliage and long-blooming apricot flowers. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Penstemon spp.
Beardtongue
Varies FS L Red, blue, pink, wine 4”-3’ x varies Growth habits vary, most with basal rosettes of leaves. Showy spikes of tubular flowers. Best choices: P. digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ has deep burgundy foliage with white flowers, P. grandiflorus ‘Prairie Jewel’ (Plant Select®). Over 200 species are native to Colorado. Note: Many introduced hybrids are not cold hardy. Red and bright pink varieties attract hummingbirds. Do not over water. Cut flowers (tall varieties). Borders and meadow plantings. Rabbit resistant. Prefers lean (low organic matter) well-drained soils.
Phlox paniculata
Garden phlox
M FS-PS M Pink, white, red, blue, lavender, orange 2-4’ x 18” Large, fragrant flower clusters on sturdy stems. An old-fashioned favorite. Select powdery mildew resistant cultivars such as ‘David’. Cut flowers. Benefits from warm microclimate. Moderately organic to organic soils.
Physostegia virginiana
Obedient plant
L FS-PS M White,
rose-pink
24-36” x
12-24”
Lance-like opposite leaves and spikes of small snapdragon-like flowers. Spreads by runners, can be aggressive. Begins to flower in late summer which may be too late for cooler sites. Cut flowers. Deer resistant. Moderately organic soils.
Platycodon grandiflorus
Balloon flower
M FS-PS L-M Blue, purple, white, pale pink 18-24” x
12-18”
Solitary upward facing bell flowers open from large balloon-like buds. Slow to emerge in the spring. Purchase larger container sizes for best results. Borders. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Polemonium caeruleum
Jacob’s ladder
E FS-PS M Blue, white 18” x
18”
Leaves with many opposite leaflets giving the appearance of a ladder. Small bell-shaped flowers in dense terminal clusters. ‘Brise d’Anjou’ has variegated foliage. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Pulsatilla vulgaris
Pasque flower
E PS-SH L-M Purple, violet white,
wine-red
6-12” x 8-12” Finely divided basal leaves which appear after single urn-shaped flowers. Showy feathery seed heads. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Rudbeckia spp.
Coneflower
M FS L Yellow 18-30” x 2’ Best choices: R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (Orange coneflower) compact free-flowering perennial cultivar with dark green foliage and 2-3” wide deep yellow flowers with black cone. R. ampla (also called R. laciniata) (Golden glow) is a native species which grows 3-5’ tall with light green lobed leaves and double yellow flowers; vigorous grower which may require staking. Cut flowers. Borders and meadow plantings. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Salvia spp.
Sage
Varies FS L-M Blue 18-24” x
18-24”
Easy to grow. Aromatic grey-green foliage. Crowded spikes of small flowers. Best choices: S. x sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ and ‘May Night’ (a.k.a., S. nemerosa and S. x superba). Attracts bees. Deer and rabbit resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Scabiosa spp.
Pincushion flower
E-L FS L-M Blue, purple, pink, white 12-30” x 1-2’ Basal rosettes of leaves. Flowers with domed, pincushion-like centers borne on long stems. Best choices: S. caucasica and S. columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ and ‘Pink Mist’ are good for borders. S. lucida is 8-12” tall with lilac-blue flowers and is good for rock gardens and front of borders. Long blooming. Cut flowers. Attracts butterflies. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Sedum spp.
Stonecrop
L FS-PS L-M Pinks 15-24” x
12-18”
Easy to grow. Mid-size upright succulent plants with gray-green or purplish foliage and long-lasting clusters of tiny flowers. Best choices: S. spectabile (and hybrids) ‘Autumn Joy’, ‘Brilliant’, ‘Neon’, ‘Autumn Fire’, ‘Matrona’; S. sieboldii 6-10” with blue-green foliage; S. x ‘Vera Jameson’ 10-12” with purplish bronze foliage and S. x ‘Rosy Glow’ 6-8” with blue-gray foliage. Flower heads can be used in dried arrangements or left in the garden for winter interest. Attracts butterflies and bees. Well-drained soils.
Tanacetum coccineum (Chrysanthemum coccineum, Pyrethrum roseum)
Painted daisy, Pyrethrum
M FS M Pink, red, white 18-24” x
12-18”
Fern-like foliage and large daisy-like flowers. Susceptible to aphids and spider mites. Cut flowers. Borders. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Thalictrum aquilegifolium
Columbine
meadow rue
E-M PS-SH M Pink, white, lavender 2-3’ x
12-18”
Columbine-like leaves and small, airy clusters of flowers. Woodland gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.
Trollius europaeus
Globeflower
E FS-PS M-H Lemon, yellow-orange 2-3’ x
18-24”
Deeply cut, shiny, dark-green foliage topped by large buttercup-like flowers on long stems. Woodland and bog gardens. Organic soils.
Veronica spp.
Speedwell
M-L FS L-M Blue, white, rose-pink 12-24” x
12-18”
Opposite leaves and terminal racemes of flowers. Best choices: V. spicata ‘Red Fox ‘ and ‘Blue Charm,’ V. x ‘Goodness Grows,’ and V. x ‘Sunny Border Blue.’ Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s root M FS M White 2-6’ x 2-4’ Lance-shaped whorled leaves. Tiny tubular flowers borne on slender spires. Woodland gardens and borders. Moderately organic well-drained soils.
Bloom time: E = early season, M = mid season, L = late season.
Exposure: FS = full sun, PS = part sun, SH = full shade.
Moisture: L = low water needs, M = moderate water needs, H = high water needs (including saturated soils).

*L. Potts, Colorado State University Extension agent, Eagle County; and I. Shonle Extension agent, Gilpin County. Special acknowledgement to Sharon Balius, Colorado Master Gardener in Eagle County. 4/08. Revised 9/13.

Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.

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Updated Wednesday, January 08, 2014

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