Flowers for Mountain Communitiesby L. Potts and I. Shonle1 (4/08)
- Consider the length of the growing season, soil characteristics and exposure before selecting flowers for mountain gardens.
- Be cautious with late-blooming flowers, as they may not have a chance to bloom in short-season climates.
- Choose plants that are hardy to USDA zones 2 to 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
Mountain Gardening Basics.
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 root-bound root system.
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 7.325,
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.
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.|
|Bloom Time||Exp.||Moist.||Color||H x W||Comments|
|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.|
|M||FS-PS||M-H||Purple, pink||3-4 x
|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.|
|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|
|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.|
|NA||FS||L||White, yellow||8-2 x
|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.|
|Short-lived perennials. Best choices: A. flabellata, A. formosa, Songbird Series and McKana Hybrids. Attracts hummingbirds. Cut flowers. Organic soils.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|E-M||FS||L-M||Rose-pink, white||18-36 x
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|M-L||FS-PS||L-M||Blue, white||2-4 x
|Easy to grow. Sharply divided spiny leaves. Round, spiky flower heads. Not an actual thistle. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most soils.|
|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.|
|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
|M||FS||L||Yellow, red, burgundy||1-3 x
|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.|
|Varies||FS-PS||M||Blue, white||5-2 x
|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.|
Hardy geranium, Cranesbill
|E-M||FS-PS||M||Blue, pink||6-2 x
|Easy to grow. Hardiness zones vary. Do not confuse with bedding annuals (Pelargoniums) often referred to as geraniums. Best choices: G. x Johnsons 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)
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|M-L||FS||M||Pink, white||18-48 x
|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.|
|M||PS-SH||M||Yellow, orange||3-5 x
|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)
|Basal rosettes of leathery leaves with slender branched stems of tiny babys breath-like flowers. Cut and dry flowers. Deer and rabbit resistant. Well-drained soils.|
|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.|
|M-L||FS-PS||L-M||Scarlet, fuchsia, pink, white||12-36 x
|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.|
|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.|
Bee balm, Bergamot, Oswego tea
|M-L||FS-PS||M||Red, pink, purple||1-3 x
|Spreading plant with aromatic foliage. Terminal flowers with colorful bracts. Best choices: Many cultivars available. Select for powdery mildew resistance. Jacob Kline (red) and Marshalls 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.|
|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 readilysterile cultivars are recommended. Attracts bees and hummingbirds. Deer and rabbit resistant. Most well-drained soils.|
|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.|
|E||FS-PS||M||White, red, pink||3-4 x
|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.|
|E-M||FS||M||Yellow, orange, pink, maroon, salmon||1-3 x
|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.|
|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 Huskers 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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|M||FS-PS||L-M||Blue, purple, white, pale pink||18-24 x
|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.|
|E||FS-PS||M||Blue, white||18 x
|Leaves with many opposite leaflets giving the appearance of a ladder. Small bell-shaped flowers in dense terminal clusters. Brise dAnjou has variegated foliage. Moderately organic well-drained soils.|
|E||PS-SH||L-M||Purple, violet white,
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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,
Painted daisy, Pyrethrum
|M||FS||M||Pink, red, white||18-24 x
|Fern-like foliage and large daisy-like flowers. Susceptible to aphids and spider mites. Cut flowers. Borders. Deer resistant. Moderately organic well-drained soils.|
|E-M||PS-SH||M||Pink, white, lavender||2-3 x
|Columbine-like leaves and small, airy clusters of flowers. Woodland gardens. Deer and rabbit resistant. Organic soils.|
|E||FS-PS||M-H||Lemon, yellow-orange||2-3 x
|Deeply cut, shiny, dark-green foliage topped by large buttercup-like flowers on long stems. Woodland and bog gardens. Organic soils.|
|M-L||FS||L-M||Blue, white, rose-pink||12-24 x
|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 Culvers 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
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).
1 L. Potts, Colorado State University Extension agent Eagle County; I. Shonle, Colorado State University Extension agent Gilpin County. Special acknowledgement to Sharon Balius, Colorado Master Gardener in Eagle County. 4/08.
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 Friday, April 19, 2013