Deb Babcock: Use tough native plants for tough conditions


Deb Babcock

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

Find more gardening columns here.


A more complete list of native plants to the Yampa Valley can be found on these websites.

■ Routt County Extension office:

■ Yampa River Botanic Park:

— When choosing plants for your garden here in Routt County, you’ll have the best luck if you choose plants that already are comfortable with our soil, climate and short growing season. These plants are called natives and need less help to flourish than those plants that were introduced to our mountain environment from another location. You don’t need to worry about whether they can withstand one of our harsher winters or a hot, dry summer like our current one might be. Natives won’t just tolerate these conditions, they thrive.

Generally, natives need less water, fertilizer and protection from insects and predators. They have adapted to the moisture and nutrient content of our mountain soil. They also are more attractive to our local birds, butterflies and beneficial insects and provide food and protection to our native fauna throughout the year.

Another benefit of natives is that they do not become invasive like some introduced plants have. You won’t have to worry about them escaping your garden and then taking over riparian areas and grazing meadows, causing harm to livestock and small animals.

When you use natives in your garden, try to place them in the same type of habitat in which they grow naturally in the wild. That means a sun-loving, drought-tolerant plant should be placed in a sunny area where you don’t water as much.

There are a surprising number of plants native to the Yampa Valley. The Yampa River Botanic Park makes every effort to find and plant natives in the various gardens throughout the Park. If you look closely at the signage next to the plants in the park, you’ll notice the letter “N” to indicate that the plant is a native to the area.

Among natives that you might consider for your garden are the beautiful deep blue Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) or plants from the Hyssop family (Agastache cana or A. urticifolia). I have the pretty purple wild onion (Allium brevistyllum) in one section of my garden at home. Wild blue flax (Andenolinum lewisii) is another hardy native with a beautiful blue flower and pretty foliage that lasts all through the summer.

Windflower (Anemone multifida) is another wonderfully colorful and hardy flowering perennial that makes a nice border plant or filler in a bare spot. Everyone’s favorite the Columbine (Aquilegia ssp.) is a gorgeous native that seems at home in sunny areas as well as shady spots in the garden.

Many native plants can be found in garden centers locally or through catalogs, but you also can obtain permits from the forest service and following the guidelines, dig some up and bring them home for your garden or collect seeds and plant them in your garden.

Finally, by planting natives in your garden, you are helping maintain the biodiversity of our area while making your garden visually distinct from the many gardens planted with introduced species.

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


Scott Ford 4 years, 11 months ago

Hi Deb - "Among natives that you might consider for your garden are the beautiful deep blue Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum)"

Without question, Monkshood is a native plant but it is also a deadly one. It can poison you by being absorbed through your skin or open wounds and there are reports of people being unwell after smelling the flowers.

Monkshood contains aconitine which is one of the most formidable natural occurring poisons which has ever been discovered. It was the poison of choice used to kill many a warlord and king in the middle ages. Fast acting and typically fatal. It was known as the assassin's plant. .

`I think the version naturally occurring in the western United States is not as toxic as the European version, but it is still a plant that is a known killer. Why put this plant in your garden?


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