Yuccas are as much a part of the Colorado landscape as red rocks and towering peaks. I admit, I didn’t like them at all when we arrived 25 years ago. Yuccas? Yuck! But in the intervening years, they’ve grown on me. I now acknowledge that yuccas have their place—as long as it isn’t in my yard.
I think my initial antipathy came from driving by a yard in a Colorado Springs neighborhood. The homeowners clearly didn’t want to deal with landscape maintenance; their front yard was mostly rocks. A scraggly Ponderosa sat to one side. The only other plants were a few yuccas stuck between some ugly boulders. It was probably intended to be a xeriscape. I thought it was a “zeroscape”!
We had our first hard freeze over a month ago. Most of the deciduous plants and perennials in my yard are now dormant—some with dry brown leaves still attached, others with bare stems. But remarkably, not everything looks dead. In fact, a surprising number of plants still sport green foliage.
I’ve often chosen or rejected a plant for my garden based on when it leafs out in the spring. Too early and the tender new leaves are withered by a late snow. Too late, and half the season is gone before the yard looks complete. But I never considered the other end of the season—how long will the plant stay green before going to sleep for the winter?
When you have a smaller yard, you want every plant to earn its keep. With fragrant yellow flowers, blue berries, and green leaves that turn purple in winter, Creeping Mahonia (aka Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens) definitely deserves a spot!
These are low-growing plants, about 12” to 18” tall, with underground stems (stolons) that spread up to three feet in width. Spring brings an abundance of small, deep yellow flowers, attractively set off by the dark green leaves. By late summer, these mature into clusters of small, dusty-blue berries that are sour but edible. (A similar species, M. haematocarpa, has red berries). The holly-like foliage persists into winter, turning a lovely plum with the advent of cold weather.
Looking for year-round beauty and a plant that can handle a northern exposure, I planted six bearberries (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in our front yard this summer. Also known as kinnikinnick, bearberry is a good choice for Colorado, where it is native to the foothills and mountains. So far, I’m delighted to report that the plants are thriving. In fact, I can see a few green leaves poking up through the two feet of snow we got this week!
For our front yard, I wanted some plants that would stay green all year. Picking a few conifers was easy, even without resorting to junipers (which are not among my favorites!). Hoping for some variety, I wanted broadleafed evergreens too, and there aren’t many to choose from.
We’ve been enjoying some glorious autumn foliage these past few weeks, but there are plenty of plants that remain stubbornly green. In fact, their leaves stay green no matter what the season—that’s why we call them evergreens. With winter just around the corner, I began to wonder—how do evergreens survive our cold winters? Why don’t they lose their leaves?
I really don’t like junipers, but it’s not their fault. Rather, I blame the landscapers.
Think of the countless homeowners who plant Pfitzer junipers (Juniperus chinensis ‘Pfitzeraiana’) in front of their living room windows, then shear them to a fraction of their normal size. That’s not fair to the plant, it’s unattractive, and it makes a lot of work for the gardener.
Similarly, junipers are planted along sidewalks and in parking lots (where they tenaciously hang on despite compacting foot traffic and scorching summer heat). Quickly outgrowing the space allotted, they’re pruned at the edge of the pavement, resulting in a wall of dead, brown branches.
Finally, manzanitas for Colorado gardeners! When we first moved to Colorado, back in 1993, I wanted to add some manzanitas to our ponderosa forest landscape, but the cultivars available weren’t deemed hardy enough for our 7000 foot elevation. I gave up and settled for Mahonia—not at all the same thing, but about the only broad-leafed evergreen I could get to grow in my yard.