Creating a Climate-friendly Summer Garden

August 16, 2023 Horticulture Department

Summers in Colorado are typically filled with extremes: extreme heat and extreme drought. This has been the year of extreme moisture; an unusual but welcome addition to the tolerant Colorado garden. Typically, once summer approaches and the heat of the high desert kicks in, the snow melt and precipitation diminish leaving a thirsty landscape with no significant moisture until the following winter.

Unfortunately, the unusually wet year we’ve had so far is not something to get used to, only a symptom of the continuing climate crisis. As climate change worsens and water becomes scarcer, being wise about plant choices becomes more important than ever. Choosing plants that do not need excess water to survive the extreme Colorado summers makes gardening easier on us and saves us money on watering, while helping conserve water as a precious resource. 

There are a variety of plants that thrive in the Colorado climate, from regional natives to faraway exotics from a similar climate zone. These plants can tolerate hot, dry conditions and keep color and texture in your garden once the spring blooms have faded. The perennials listed below are great options to fill the garden with summer blooms that keep coming back year after year.

Some wonderful natives are wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), blazing star (Liatris spicata), bearded penstemon (Penstemon barbatus) and tufted evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa ssp. marginata). 

The following exotics are fantastic as well: TANAGER® gazania (Gazania krebsiana), upright sedum (Hylotelephium spectibile) and torch lilies (Kniphofia uvaria). 

All these plants provide an array of colors from July through September, while withstanding temps reaching the triple digits and needing little water. Not only does the summer garden bring us joy as we push through the peak heat of the year but helps keep pollinators fed as the seasons change by providing nectar and pollen. Being climate friendly doesn’t mean having to cut out color, lushness or plants. There are plenty of plants that thrive in the extreme Colorado climate, it’s just a matter of choosing wisely and being conscious as we plan our gardens.

For inspiration on climate friendly gardens, explore the Carol Gossard Colorado Native Plant Garden, the xeric gardens by the silo and “water-smart avenue” in front of Deer Creek Schoolhouse at Chatfield Farms.

This article was contributed by Horticulturist Ashley Strait.


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