by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Mountain landscapes offer diverse four seasons of tremendous plants. Because of the cool summers, you have far more choices the desert dwellers only dream of. It can be overwhelming with where to start. Start with this list of easy-to-grow plants for local landscapes.
We chose two for each type of plant as a starting point. Each loves blistering summer sun, is cold hardy, and takes the fiercest mountain wind.
If you’re new to mountain landscaping or don’t have a lot of time for plant care, you can have a great-looking yard by choosing versatile, easy-to-grow plants that require little maintenance. There are plenty of great plants, from ground-hugging to shade trees. And some are sun-loving, while others are suitable for shady spots. You can also choose from flowering standouts as well as foliage plants that are prized for their fall colors.
Top 2 Annual Flowers
Prescott Pansy, Viola x wittrockiana – Giant 3″ flowers thrive in extreme spring gardens. Large, velvety blooms radiate in colors of blue, violet, yellow, and variations of stripes resembling smiling faces. They love being planted when the gardens are their coldest. This repeat bloomer supplies your gardens with reliable spring flowers.
Ranunculus, Ranunculus asiaticus, is a “beauty from ugly” phenom because from its strange, claw-like tubers emerge some of the most densely ruffled blooms that resemble peony flowers! She is so tough it thrives through early spring frost in a continual wave of flowers.
Top 2 Perennial Flowers
Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii, it the longest blooming sage in crimson-red that signals spring with continual flowers that broadcast right through Autumn. Hummingbirds and gardeners alike fall for this knee-high bloomer that deserves a prominent location in the garden’s hotter spots. Keep lightly clipped for a low informal hedge or a single specimen in borders or courtyard containers. Javelina and deer-proof.
Columbine, Aquilegia – Never underestimate the value of native choices when seeking low-care plants. This local wildflower is native to your region and quite capable of blooming without much care. Lots of colors to choose from, this perennial bloomer has adapted to conditions in your neck of the woods over eons.
Top 2 Groundcovers
Coral Beauty Cotoneaster,Cotoneaster dammeri, is ideally suited to flow over embankments and raised beds. The six-foot spread is ideal on banks and covers large open rock spaces in hot locations. An outstanding groundcover with dense foot tall branches covered with shiny evergreen leaves. Dainty white flowers produce rich red berries the birds adore. Deer and Rabbit don’t like the taste either.
Huntington Carpet Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis. This tough little gem is the perfect plant for garden walls, pots, banks, or a dry, sunny patch of ground in the garden. Spreads vigorously to form a beautiful carpet of deep blue flowers backed by herbal green foliage for an attractive 12-inch groundcover. The aromatic leaves are often a flavorful culinary seasoning, impervious to Javelina and Rabbit.
Top 2 Blooming Shrub
Sensation Lilac, Syringa vulgaris – the intriguing two-tone flowers of this lilac make it a shrub you will want within reach. An outstanding lilac noted for its large trusses of purple-red florets edged in white. A mid-season bloomer typically flowers in mid-May with equally showy gold autumn colors. A lovely perfume only adds to its charm.
Panchito Manzanita, Arctostaphylos coloradensis, is an outstanding local native with broad, evergreen leaves on red barked branches. Little urn-shaped flowers form in spring, dangling from every branch. Small red berries often form through Autumn.
Top 2 Trees
Mountain Blaze Maple,Acer freemanii, offers extreme growth of 3′ feet or more each year. The branching pattern is dense and ascends to 35′ tall and 20′ wide. The fall color glows like embers in a blazing hot fire, thus the name. There is no better maple to plant in Arizona. It loves mountain soil in extreme conditions and takes wind better than other shade trees. Perfect for patios, hot sunny walls, street, and driveway trees, or anyplace shaded relief is needed.
Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides – Leaves dance with excitement in the slightest breeze, making this Aspen the most personal of all shade trees. Harvest gold leaves represent Autumn foliage 30′ feet tall and 15′ wide. The narrow form is ideal for small spaces to screen or define property lines and driveways. A native to surrounding hilltops.
Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens, stiff, regular, horizontal branches forming a broad Christmas tree pyramid. This native forest evergreen is best used on large properties. 50′ feet tall when fully grown and 20′ foot wide. Use it to separate tall multistory buildings or in shelterbelts and windbreaks. Tall enough to screen the view from second-story windows. It is gorgeous in estate-sized landscapes, where it stands out against deciduous trees.
Until next week, I’ll be helping gardeners plant east to grow plants in their landscape.