Pretty, Pretty Coralberry

Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii 'Kordes' Amethyst_Coralberry_DBG_LAH_3100fLots of plants have pretty flowers or showy berries, are drought tolerant, handle clay soil, take full sun or part shade, or tolerate deer browsing on them. But how many plants have all these qualities? Coralberries are clear winners when it comes to choosing plants for our gardens. In fact, the only drawback comes when we try to pronounce their scientific name: Symphoricarpos orbiculatus!

If you’re into plants, you might recognize the genus. Symphoricarpos also includes Snowberries, S. albus, and the plants are fairly similar.


Why Colorado Loves Japanese Barberry

Berberis thungergii_Japanese Barberry_DBG_LAH_6490Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is one of those plants that seems to show up in every Colorado landscape. From parking lots to office buildings, highway medians to front yards, it’s everywhere you look. When a shrub is used that much, we tend to become jaded to its finer qualities. But the fact that it thrives everywhere while managing to keep its attractive appearance is exactly why we see it in so many places. I admit to being a bit of a plant snob, ignoring barberry in favor of more glamorous shrubs. It was only as I was scrolling through my photos that I realized just how pretty Japanese barberry is.

Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea_Red Leaf Japanese Barberry_DBG_LAH_0620It’s a good thing that barberry keeps to a modest size—plants can grow up to six feet in diameter but usually only reach half that size here in Colorado. Pruning them can be a nightmare, as the arching branches are covered with nasty thorns. Chain mail and gauntlets are required. Leaves are small, as befits a drought-tolerant species, and come in red or green. Rather inconspicuous yellow spring flowers turn into pretty red berries in the fall. As the leaves turn crimson and orange and then fall, the berries take center stage, adding color and interest when most plants are fading away.

Berberis thunbergii - Japanese Barberry_DBG_10200118_LAH_7051.nefBarberry is one tough plant, a huge problem in the northeast where they’ve become invasive but a feature here in Colorado. They’re hardy in zones 4 through 8, and not fussy about soil or exposure. Cultivars with red leaves are more brilliant in full sun, but the plum red they turn in shade is just as pretty. Water regularly to get them established. After that, it’s all right to cut back a bit, although more water creates lusher growth and more berries. Shrubs will be much more attractive if allowed to develop their natural shape, pruned only to remove old, woody growth branches.

Berberis thunbergii - Japanese Barberry_DBG_10200118_LAH_7048Even the thorns can be a benefit. Deer tend to avoid them while small birds appreciate this well-defended roost, munching on the berries in safety. Planting these shrubs under a window forms a formidable deterrent to would-be burglars.

Barberries are subject to a number of pests and diseases, including scale insects, mites, Japanese weevils, canker, dieback, fungal leaf spots, powdery mildew, root rot, Verticillium wilt, and rusts. However, these are quite rare in our dry climate. Just don’t plant them where Verticillium wilt has been a problem in the past, as it persists in the soil.

Japanese Barberry might be a bit overplanted, but after considering its many assets it’s easy to see why.

Presenting Autumn, Starring Rabbitbrush!

Chrysothamnus nauseosus_Rabbitbrush_Cylindropuntia_Cholla_ChicoBasinRanch-CO_LAH_2989-001With intense sulfur-yellow flowers covering its gray-green foliage, blooming Rabbitbrush demands to be noticed. In fact, the prairies of eastern Colorado are almost blanketed with it—something we never notice until it blooms. Interspersed with prickly cholla cactus and some perennial range grasses, it forms the essence of western landscapes. But it’s not just for the wide open spaces. Rabbitbrush is an excellent performer in the garden as well.


Colorado’s “Holly”

Pyracantha berries@ColoSpgs LAH 131We’ve succumbed—an artificial tree, fake garlands, silk poinsettias. As I pull our Christmas bins out of storage, I wonder—how did a gardener stoop this low? Isn’t there something Christmas-y I can grow here in Colorado? It would be so nice to simply go outside and snip a few branches to grace our mantle.

While holly isn’t really adapted to our high and dry conditions, and the mistletoe growing in the Ponderosa pines differs from the pretty parasites of England, there is one plant that not only produces red berries in December, it’s one of the very few broad-leafed evergreens to survive in Zone 5!


Blood Geranium

Geranium sanguineum 'Lancastriense'_Bloody Cranesbill_HudsonGardens-CO_LAH_2751Its name may be suitable for Halloween, but the Blood Geranium, aka the Blood Red Cranesbill, Bloody Cranesbill, or Geranium sanguineum, is anything but gruesome. In fact, the name comes from the bright crimson color of the fall foliage, rather than from the flowers or any tendency of the plant to bleed! In fact, Blood Geraniums are excellent plants for Colorado gardens.

Cranesbills are a type of perennial geranium with deeply divided leaves rising from a central point, and colorful flowers ranging from white through baby’s blush to shocking pink. Some flowers have brightly veined petals, as shown in the photo. The plants grow approximately 12 to 18 inches high and spread as wide or wider.


The Other Geraniums

Geranium_XG-CoSpgsCO_LAH_9512We’re all familiar with the iconic red geranium in a window box or flowerpot. While they live on indefinitely in warmer climates, a hard freeze turns the succulent stems into mush. However, there is a whole group of other geraniums that are completely hardy here in Colorado. Not only are they perennials, they’re also well-behaved, drought tolerant, have neat, attractive, compact foliage, and beautiful flowers. Interested?


Hardy Ice Plant

delosperma_hardy-ice-plant_xg_lah_2583Covering the ground with a solid mass of eye-searing fuchsia-purple flowers, Hardy Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi) demands a second look. The succulent green leaves glimmer in the sun, giving the plant its common name, while the flowers have glistening thin petals surrounding a yellow center.

Waves of bloom carpet the foliage from late spring until late summer. The show even continues in winter, when plants turn a deep burgundy-red. Other species of Delosperma, with yellow or salmon-pink flowers, are also now available. Some have earned PlantSelect® honors.


Plant Some Spring Sunshine

Forsythia_DBG_20100417_LAH_2764Just when you don’t think you can stand another minute of bare branches or dead, brown-gray foliage, spring heralds its arrival in a burst of dazzling yellow. All over town, forsythias reassure us that the growing season really is at hand.

Originally from eastern Asia, where they have been cultivated for centuries, forsythias were collected for western gardens in the early 1800s. Most current garden varieties are hybrids of two species, Forsythia suspensa and F. viridissima. The problem is that the resulting cultivars aren’t reliably hardy in much of Colorado.


Virginia Creeper

parthenocissus-quinquefolia_virginia-creeper_fcnc-co_lah_3565When we think of fall color, we usually think of trees—ash trees are bright yellow, aspen is gold, and oaks and maples are turning crimson. Or we might notice the incredible purple-orange-scarlet leaves on aptly named Burning Bush (Euonymus alata).  Not many people expect impressive fall color from a vine.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is an import from the northeastern U.S., and grows well in Colorado; it’s hardy to zone 3. Three to seven-inch leaflets in sets of five turn a gorgeous red-orange in September and October, creating a pleasing backdrop for the small blue berries scattered throughout.


Do You Have a Bleeding Heart?

dicentra-spectabilis-bleeding-heart-dbg-lah-007Has the fat little cherub with the bow and arrow left you lonely this Valentine’s Day? If no one will be sending you roses, why not buy yourself a Bleeding Heart?

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an old-fashioned perennial aptly named for the row of heart-shaped flowers  that dangle along each wiry flower stalk. Airy leaves in sprays reminiscent of a coarse fern appear in early spring, rising on stems that form a clump that can reach two to three feet, given the right conditions.