Deb Babcock: Plant Select tested plants for altitude

Demonstration garden at Yampa River Botanic Park

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Each year, a few plants are chosen as the best of the best for gardens in the high mountains of Colorado through a cooperative program of the Denver Botanic Park and Colorado State University in conjunction with greenhouses and nurseries throughout the Rocky Mountain region and beyond. There are 90 demonstration gardens in the state growing and monitoring the health of test plants for our low-rainfall, strong-sunshine environment. And one of those demonstration gardens is here in Steamboat Springs at the Yampa River Botanic Park.

Park supervisor Gayle Lehman states that the plants actually are found in many gardens at the park and most have Plant Select signs. A few of the best plants in the park test gardens are the Zauschneria garrettii, orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, which is growing well in the Orange Garden, and the Arcstostaphylos x coloradoensis, panchito manzanita growing on the slope of the Waterwise Garden. Also, the Tanacetum densum var. amani, partridge feather in the Member’s Rock Garden has been there for 10 years or so. All three are ground covers with very low water requirements.

“Being a demo garden nets us free plants every year, Lehman said.

Among some of the plants recommended through the Plant Select program, which are new for 2011, are:

■ Grand Mesa beardtongue has stunning cobalt blue spikes in early spring that last for nearly two months. Its dense mats of evergreen rosettes turn a lovely orange-red in winter. Grand Mesa beardtongue is found only in Western Colorado in the wild but grows well in sunny, moderate-to-dry gardens and landscapes in U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 3 to 9 (as high as 9,000 feet). Grand Mesa beardtongue grows 24 to 30 inches tall and 10 to 15 inches wide. It blooms from April to June and is adaptable to loamy, sandy or clay soils.

■ Baby bluerabbitbrush is a dwarf form of rabbitbrush, which occur everywhere in the West. This compact, dome-like strain found along the Front Range is especially dense and silvery-blue with bright golden flowers in late summer and fall. This indispensable and indestructible native offers multi-season interest, growing 16 to 28 inches tall, 20 to 30 inches wide and blooming September through November. Baby blue rabbitbrush prefers full sun to part shade in sandy, clay or loam soils. Once established, it will need no additional moisture but can tolerate moderate water conditions, as well. It is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9 (as high as 8,000 feet).

■ Colorado desert blue star is a widely adaptable Western native that thrives in ordinary gardens or unwatered xeriscapes. Sapphire blue star flowers appear from April to early summer, and the autumn foliage is a beautiful, clear yellow. This perennial plant grows 10 to 14 inches tall and 12 to 15 inches wide. It prefers full sun and well-drained soils and is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9 (as high as 8,000 feet).

■ Blonde ambition blue grama grass is a first-of-its-kind, highly ornamental selection of Western native grass with tall, upright stems. Showy chartreuse, aging-to-blonde seed heads hold their straight shape and are displayed high above the foliage through winter, providing many months of color and texture. Developed by David Salman, of High Country Gardens, this new grass is being co-introduced nationally with Plant Select. Blonde ambition grows 30 to 36 inches tall and wide. Blooming July to October, it prefers full sun to partial shade in moderate to dry soils and tolerates a wide range of soil types. This hardy native will grow in USDA Zones 4 to 9 (as high as 8,000 feet).

■ Golden storksbill is a long-lived, easy-to-grow, adaptable perennial with silvery mounds of evergreen, ferny foliage. Fragrant, soft yellow, geranium-like flowers appear from early spring through late summer. Golden storksbill grows 8 to 10 inches tall and 10 to 25 inches wide and tolerates a wide range of moisture conditions — from moderate to xeric — in USDA Zones 4 to 9 (as high as 8,000 feet). This adaptable plant grows well in full sun to part shade and in loamy, sandy or gravelly soils.

These plants are available at garden centers and nurseries throughout the state and Routt County, or you may find distributors online at www.plantselect.org.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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