Springs-Specific Gardening

There is certainly no shortage of advice when it comes to gardening. Everyone has an opinion, and when that fails, there’s the Internet. When you garden in Colorado, however, you quickly learn that much of the advice available doesn’t apply. It’s aimed at gardeners on the coasts, or the Midwest, or even the south—but not a place with harsh winters, false springs, sudden freezes, minimal rainfall, hail, gale-force winds… the list goes on and on. No wonder so many people give up and plant rocks!

waterwise homepage

I’ve written in the past about the custom-tailored fact sheets available from Colorado State University (CSU). But even there, they have to cover the entire state. The conditions on the western slope differ markedly from those in the mountains, along the Front Range, or the high plains to the east. While the plant lists are helpful, my garden is up to two zones colder than those in other parts of the state. So I was thrilled when I discovered that Colorado Springs Utilities (the other CSU) has a website devoted entirely to what grows well here in my part of the state.

Unsurprising, since it is sponsored by the same folks who bring us our water, the site focuses on xeric plants, those plants that prefer their soil on the dry side, or that can withstand some dry spells. That’s good news, since water is a limited resource in good years, and currently most of southern Colorado is dealing with extreme drought.

One look at this website will dispel any notion that “water wise” means boring. (I call those rock-and-juniper yards “zeroscapes”!)

Since I’m still looking to add some plants to our yard, I find the “Find a Plant” database the most helpful. It’s searchable by a number of parameters: plant type (tree, shrub, flower, etc.), water use, height, light requirements (sun vs. shade), bloom period, flower color, wildlife & pollinators, and special features.

waterwise - find a plant

There are multiple photos of each plant, so you can see how it looks throughout the year, not just at its best. When you click on an entry, you can see those details, along with a description of the plant, what maintenance is needed, performance in the demonstration gardens, and pictures of it used in a landscape. I especially appreciate the upper elevation limit—vital hardiness information for high altitude gardeners that most databases lack.

In addition to the Find a Plant section, the CSU website has other gardening information, too. Check out the “Landscape Gallery” for inspiration for your own yard. Or click to “About Xeriscaping” to learn how to have a vibrant landscape with less water.

Waterwise - plant gallery

Throughout the growing season, April through August, you can register for an assortment of webinars on gardening in the Pikes Peak region. If you must miss the live event, you can still view recordings of past webinars. Plus, there are fact sheets on specific topics, landscape templates, and YouTube videos. This is a terrific place to improve your gardening skills, and everything you learn is specific for the Colorado Springs area.

I find myself returning to this website time and time again. Plants can be expensive; this site provides me with a species or cultivar’s potential for success before I buy. It’s no surprise that the information is so accurate—the person responsible for it used to be the El Paso County extension agent and my “boss” when I was a volunteer Colorado Master Gardener!

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