by Emily Cross Reeves
From pickaxe-worthy soil and persistent droughts to harsh sun and hot summers, gardeners in Colorado face a lot of challenges. Luckily, you can make gardening (and paying the water bill) way easier simply by choosing drought-tolerant, water-wise plants that thrive in our climate. To make things even easier, we’ve put together a list of the best drought-tolerant plants to grow in Colorado.
These water-wise plants were chosen based on our own experiences gardening on the Front Range, as well as the feedback we get from people who have used our pre-planned Garden In A Box gardens. Without further ado, here’s our top 10 (in no particular order):
- Fringed Sage, Artemisia frigida
You’ll fall in love with this fuzzy, silver beauty when you see it shimmer in the Colorado sun. Fringed Sage is a Colorado native plant that wears many hats in the garden – it’s a soil stabilizer, hardy groundcover, year-round stunner and a lovely companion for the eye-catching flowers you want on display in your garden. Plus, it’s deer resistant and pollinator friendly.
You’ll find Fringed Sage in the Alpine Glow garden, among others.
- Apache Sunset Hyssop, Agastache rupestrisWith prolific tubular flowers that wow in late summer when other perennials are fading, Apache Sunset Hyssop is a big Garden In A Box favorite. Anyone who sees this plant in bloom has to have it in their own garden! Hummingbirds flock to the sunset-orange flowers, and deer and rabbits stay far away from it. This bright and beautiful hyssop thrives in hot, dry gardens.
Apache Sunset Hyssop can be found in the Bees ‘n’ Blooms garden.
- Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Penstemon strictus
Penstemons (a.k.a beardtongues) are a Colorado gardener’s delight thanks to their hardy nature, vivid colors and irresistibility to pollinators. Even when compared to the hundreds of varieties of penstemons, Rocky Mountain Penstemon stands out. First of all, this drought-tolerant perennial is native to Colorado, so it’s especially well suited for dry, hot and sunny Colorado gardens. Since it’s a native plant, it’s also beneficial to native bees and butterflies. Sphinx moths, Swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds are common visitors.
- Blue Avena Grass, Helictrichon sempervirens
A drought-tolerant grass that’s well known to xeric gardeners, Blue Avena grass has gray-blue leaves that form the foundation for huge flower spikes that are on full display by midsummer. Plant it with your other drought-resistant perennials to add unique texture and color to your garden.
You’ll find Blue Avena grass in the Summer Dreams garden, among others.
- Big Bluestem Grass, Andropogon gerardii
Big Bluestem grass grows up to 6’ tall and has a beautiful blue-green color that turns coppery in the fall, adding lovely color and stature to the perennial garden. This drought-tolerant grass is adaptable, native to Colorado, easy to grow and beautiful in the garden. Planting Big Bluestem grass in your perennial garden adds graceful height, year-round visual interest and makes local birds very happy.
Find Big Bluestem Grass in the Native Meadows garden.
- Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’
Every garden needs a dependable, low-growing groundcover, and Angelina Stonecrop fits the bill in a dry, full-sun garden. This groundcover is drought tolerant and extremely easy to grow. The needle-like, chartreuse foliage turns orange in fall, and will cascade over a boulder or retaining wall to create a waterfall of color. Give it room to spread, and cut it back if it’s starting to encroach on other plants.
It really does smell like chocolate! The very drought-tolerant Chocolate Flower has a distinct milk chocolate scent that is especially strong in the morning. It thrives in full sun and proves its adaptability in nearly all conditions across Colorado. These yellow daisy-like flowers attract butterflies, birds and bees while it deters deer. A Colorado native plant, Chocolate Flower is cold hardy and long blooming.
- Deep Red Oriental Poppy, Papaver orientale ‘Beauty of Livermere’
There are so many wonderful things about this beautiful deep-red poppy that it’s hard to know where to start. Of course it’s a favorite because it’s drought resistant and low maintenance, but there’s so much more! It’s a gorgeous cut flower that attracts pollinators; and resists disease, deer and rabbits. Plant these where they have some room to spread to create the biggest impact in the garden.
As the Colorado State Flower, Rocky Mountain Columbine is a beloved Colorado wildflower that lives happily in most dry gardens. But don’t forget about the gorgeous yellow columbine! While it’s not as drought-tolerant as other plants on this list, Yellow Columbine doesn’t need much water when it’s allowed to establish itself in part-shade. Hummingbirds love these delicate flowers, as do many Colorado gardeners.
Find Yellow Columbine in the Alpine Glow garden.
- Santa Fe Aster, Machaeranthera bigelovii
An often-overlooked Colorado wildflower, Santa Fe Aster (aka Bigelows’ tansyaster) feels right at home in a drought-tolerant garden. Garden In A Box gardeners are enamored with the Santa Fe Aster not only because it’s extremely low maintenance and drought tolerant, but also long-blooming. Colorado gardeners get to enjoy the purple blooms of the Santa Fe Aster nearly all summer long. It can be difficult to find a perennial that checks all of the boxes when it comes to being low maintenance, pollinator-friendly, native and long-blooming; but the Sante Fe Aster certainly does!
Want to bring these drought-tolerant plants to your yard? You can find these and other water-wise favorites in many of the Garden In A Box kits. Check out all of the pre-planned garden options in the Garden In A Box store here.