Tag Archives: drought-tolerant plants

Cultivate Low-Water Lushness with Drought-Tolerant Groundcovers

Soapwort flows past a boulder where Steve, my tabby, acts as overseer. Directly behind Steve, you can see bonfire euphorbia just starting to bloom with bits of yellow bracts showing. To the left of the soapwort sits Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, and in the center of the background is orange carpet hummingbird, which will burst forth with neon orange flowers in the next week or two.

While traveling through Louisiana years ago, I was amazed by the sheer lushness of the trees, grass and flowers.

Here in Colorado, I rarely spot lush residential landscapes.  What can you expect in such an arid climate?  All the same, I love luxuriant gardens in which plants simply flow into each other.

Most trees and shrubs, by their very nature, offer a degree of lushness, which is why homeowners love them.  But groundcovers can add a whole new level of richness.

I’ve been experimenting with various low-water groundcovers to create a sense of lushness in my Fort Collins landscape.  It has taken about four years to get close to achieving the sumptuousness I’m looking for, but I’m making progress.  I’ve propagated new plants from existing ones to keep costs down.

My goal has been to provide successional bloom; in other words, have something new flowering throughout the season for aesthetics and for pollinators.

Here are plants I’ve used successfully.

Spring bloomers

Woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata).  One of my all-time favorites, woolly speedwell offers an evergreen carpet for flowering bulbs in early spring.  Then around April or May, small blue blossoms emerge on this ground hugger, creating a spectacle of color that lasts for three or four weeks.  Although drought tolerant, woolly speedwell performs best in part shade with regular watering.   To propagate it, dig up a chunk and move it where you need it.

Bloody cranesbill is one of the toughest groundcovers I’ve ever grown. It thrives in both sun and shade, offering a flush of bright fuchsia flowers in the spring.

Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides).  This sun-loving, evergreen beauty begins blooming in late spring and continues into early summer with a profusion of perky pink flowers.  There’s a white-flowered soapwort, as well.  Soapwort reseeds prolifically, covering a significant amount of real estate in a short time.  Many web sites claim that soapwort spreads 15 to 18 inches.  Don’t believe it.  Some of my pink bloomers routinely grow 40 inches wide and eight inches high.  If you want to discourage soapwort’s spread, simply pull off the seed heads.

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens).  Candytuft resembles a wedding bouquet with its profusion of white blooms.  The plant’s attractive deep green leaves keep their color year-round.  This underused plant begins flowering in late spring and extends well into June.  Candytuft will grow about two feet wide.  You can divide it for more plants.

Summer bloomers

Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum).  An early summer bloomer, bloody cranesbill produces bright fuchsia blooms in both sun and shade.  After its initial flush of flowers, this groundcover will continue to produce occasional blooms throughout the growing season.  It grows about 14 inches high and 36 inches wide, and is extremely drought-tolerant.  Propagate it by division.

Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne).  Rozanne is Bloody’s cousin with bigger, longer-lasting blooms.  In my garden, Rozanne grows about 20 inches high and 36 inches wide, and explodes with two-inch-wide purple blossoms from June till September.  Like bloody cranesbill, Rozanne will grow in both sun and shade, and can be propagated by division.  Although drought-tolerant, Rozanne prefers regular watering.

Sumptuous Rozanne cranesbill provides purple blooms from June till September.

Prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata).  This hardy groundcover sends out 30-inch runners loaded with rich magenta goblet-shaped blooms.  Winecups begins blossoming in late May and keeps on going till frost.  The easiest way to propagate prairie winecups is by seed.

Bonfire euphorbia (Euphorbia epithymoides ‘Bonfire’).  I’ve loved this mounding plant ever since spotting it at the Colorado State University perennial trial garden years ago.  Its showy red/orange/purple foliage makes this plant a show-stopper throughout the growing season.  But when it blooms, whoa Mama!  Bonfire’s brilliant yellow bracts grab the attention of passers-by, who often pause and ask questions about the plant.  Although often described as a groundcover that grows 18 inches wide, my four-year-old bonfire is 30 inches wide and 14 inches high.

Meidiland groundcover roses perform spectacularly in the garden, especially in hot, dry areas. This fire meidiland, with its double blooms, is a show-stopper.

Groundcover roses.  My favorite groundcover roses are the meidilands, which come in red, pink, yellow and white.  These ground-hugging, weed-squelching stalwarts thrive in the hottest, driest growing conditions and feature stunning, deeply colored blooms.  I favor fire meidiland, in particular, with its lush double blooms, but have also grown red meidiland successfully.  Another delightful groundcover rose is seafoam, a white variety that grows in the White House rose garden.  My only caveat with white roses is that they’ll turn brown if you grow them in sun that’s too intense.  The roses bloom from June till frost.  Groundcover roses are easy to propagate by simple layering.

Hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides).  This gorgeous plant will grow in sun or shade.  I like growing it under trees.  It’s drought tolerant, but grows best with regular watering.  In July, plumbago delivers striking gentian blue flowers, followed by lovely copper-colored seed heads.  Then in the fall, the foliage turns red.  Plumbago spreads readily by itself, but you can encourage it by digging up a chunk to plant where you need it.

Fall bloomers

Except for bloody cranesbill and bonfire euphorbia, all of the summer bloomers mentioned above continue flowering through the fall.  Another summer/fall bloomer is orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii).

Groundcovers act as organic mulches that save you time and money you might otherwise spend on wood and rock mulches.  If you haven’t used groundcovers on a large scale, I encourage you to try them.



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Kick-Ass Plants for Badass Territory

Kick-ass plants can provide color and interest even when they’re not in bloom. In this fall landscape, you’ll see (clockwise from lower left) Genista lydia, fiery Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, Sonoran sunset hyssop, sunset hyssop, blue avena grass, and orange carpet hummingbird.

Unless you’re one of those rare Colorado gardeners with a shady yard, you probably have spots that get blasted by the sun—in other words, badass areas.  And you likely have heavy clay soil, too.

The southwest corner of my front yard is badass.  Besides getting hammered by western and southern sun, the area sits next to a sidewalk, which radiates heat.

So when I designed this space, I selected kick-ass, drought-tolerant plants with fall color and winter interest in mind.  I also wanted most, if not all, of the plants to attract pollinators.  Here are the plants that made the cut.

Around July, these kick-ass plants burst with color, particularly the fuchsia-colored Sonoran sunset hyssop, salmon-and-lavender sunset hyssop, and neon orange carpet hummingbird. The Genista lydia in front erupts in electric yellow flowers in the spring. Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, behind the genista, produces white flowers in the spring. Because of their successional bloom, the plants (other than the blue avena grass) provide nectar to pollinators throughout the growing season.

Lydia broom (Genista lydia). This evergreen, groundcover shrub explodes with electric yellow flowers in the spring.  Its branches are somewhat scruffy, which is probably why you can’t find it in nurseries these days.  However, there’s a new smaller cultivar with more attractive branching:  Lydia bangle broom (Genista lydia ‘Select’).  Bangle grows 12-24 inches high and 18-24 inches wide, and produces the same showy yellow flowers that Genista lydia   I haven’t seen this plant in Fort Collins nurseries yet, but The Tree Farm in Longmont sells it.  So I’m guessing this cultivar will migrate north to local nurseries before long.

Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi). In April, this low-growing shrub pumps out fragrant white flowers, followed by black berries in the summer.  In the fall, this plant’s foliage is pure magic, when sunlight catches its fiery red leaves.  Then in winter, Pawnee Buttes’ perky little branches stand at attention.  This shrubby ground cover will reach 15-18 inches high and 4-6 feet wide.  Don’t let its width scare you, though.  Pawnee Buttes responds very well to pruning if you want to keep its width at four feet or so.

Sonoran Sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’). This herbaceous, woody-based perennial blooms prolifically with fuchsia flowers from early June through October.  Then in late fall, its blooms turn tan, providing winter interest.  Pollinators, especially hummingbirds, love it.  Sonoran Sunset grows 15-18 inches high and 12-15 inches wide.  If you have heavy clay soil, be sure to amend it with compost to improve drainage.  Once this plant is established, don’t overwater it.  I’ve killed a couple that way in a moister part of my yard.

Sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris). Sunset hyssop features salmon-and-lavender blooms.  It’s taller than Sonoran, reaching 2-4 feet high by 20-30 inches wide.  So I plant it as a backdrop to Sonoran.  Agastache has a reputation for being a short-loved perennial, but all of my sunset hyssops are going into their fourth season.

Orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii). As the common name suggests, this plant is beloved by hummingbirds for its tubular, neon-orange blooms from June to October.  Zauschneria spreads quickly and grows 3-4 inches high by 15-20 wide.  It’s one of those plants you’ll be able to share with neighbors.

Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). It’s not easy to find blue plants for a garden’s color scheme.  That’s one reason I like blue oat (avena) grass so much.  Unlike many ornamental grasses, blue oat grass, doesn’t reseed and take over your yard.  This well-behaved plant delivers arching stalks of airy plumes in early summer, and grows about 2-3 feet high and wide.  This is the only plant in my badass area that doesn’t provide nectar for pollinators.

Cut the hyssops and blue oat grass to the ground in March or April as new growth emerges.

All of these plants offer nearly year-round interest except for orange carpet hummingbird, which dies back in winter.  They also bloom at different times so that pollinators have food sources throughout the growing season.

On April 14, I’ll be offering two short programs on kick-ass plants at the Sustainable Lifestyle Expo at the FirstBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.  Colorado State University Extension agents, specialists and volunteers will provide research-based demonstrations and talks on more than 30 topics. Expo tickets are $10 for adults.  Admission is free for ages 17 and under.

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Hyssop—A Magnificent Must-Have for Your Garden

There are some perennials that simply scream, “Plant me in your garden!  You’ll love me!”

Hyssop (Agastache ssp.) is one of those plants.

Why is this drought-tolerant stalwart a must-have perennial?  For all kinds of reasons.

Brian, my resident hummingbird, visits my hyssop several times daily for his latest dose of nectar.

It attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators.  At 5:40 last evening, I spotted Brian, my resident hummingbird, chowing down on nectar from my sunset hyssop.  Brian visits several times a day.  A couple of days ago, Brian even brought a friend with him.  I have two clusters of three hyssops in my back yard.  If you add orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) ground cover to the mix, you may entice even more hummingbirds.

It adds vibrant color to your garden for at least two months.  Hyssop delivers not only purple, orange and pink blossoms, but blue ones, as well.  My favorites are sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris) and Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset).  They begin blooming around mid-July and keep supplying flowers until frost.

Hyssop adds a stunning backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden, such as dwarf broom (Genista lydia), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes) and blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). The fuchsia beauty in the back left is Sonoran sunset hyssop. To its right, you’ll see the orange-and-purple sunset hyssop.

It provides dramatic sprays that act as a backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden.  In my garden, both the sunset and Sonoran sunset hyssops grow about 42 inches tall.

It’s a long-lasting cut flower.  I never thought hyssop would be a viable cut flower because the blooms look so delicate.  But I tried it as a background for zinnias and coneflowers in a simple arrangement, and the hyssop lasted nicely for four or five days.  I typically add half a teaspoon of sugar to the vase water to help flowers stay fresh longer.

Hyssop offers a lively background to this informal arrangement of zinnias and coneflowers.

It provides fragrance.  As a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, hyssop imparts a pleasant, minty aroma.

It offers food and drink for people.  You can add sunset hyssop’s edible blooms to salads and fruit dishes, or mix it with cream cheese or butter to make a tasty spread, according to medical herbalist Tammi Hartung in her blog, Desert Canyon Farm Green Thoughts.  You can also use the blossoms to make herbal tea.

The only downside to hyssop is that it’s not a long-lived perennial.  I lost two of them after three years.  But the other seven that I planted at the same time are still blooming reliably.  So I’ll simply replace these lovelies as needed.


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11 Lively Lovelies Can Turn Sunny Sea of Rocks Into Show-Stopping Meadow

Magenta prairie winecups, with runners extending up to 30 inches, are ideal for covering rock. They're also one of the longest blooming plants you'll encounter. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Magenta prairie winecups, with runners extending up to 30 inches, are ideal for covering rock. They’re also one of the longest blooming plants you’ll encounter. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

“Water, water everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.”

You’ve probably read this verse from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s an apt description of the river rock mulch in my yard.

This year, I spent weeks digging rock out of the soil in my back yard so I can begin planting next year. I still have more to go. On top of that, I spent about 10 days last September expelling tons of rock mulch and landscaping fabric from my front yard.

There’s also a sea of rocks along the west side of my house and all the way to the back property line. It’s ugly. Am I going to remove that tonnage, as well? Not a chance. I may develop a small area for a vegetable garden, but the rest of the rock will stay. Life is too short.

Ralph's Creeper ground cover rose, nestled here in pink soapwort blooms and deep-cut prairie winecup leaves, is a drought-tolerant repeat bloomer that explodes with color. Use it to keep dogs from pooping in your beds.

Ralph’s Creeper ground cover rose, nestled here in pink soapwort blooms and deep-cut prairie winecup leaves, is a drought-tolerant repeat bloomer that explodes with color. Use it to keep dogs from pooping in your beds.

If you, too, find yourself drowning in a sea of rocks, what can you do?

You can create a meadow of spreading ground covers and other perennials. Just move some of the rock out of the way, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, amend the soil with a little compost, and install seeds or baby plants.

If your area has a western or southern exposure with lots of sun, you can use plants such as these 11 lively lovelies:

  • Prairie winecups (Callirhoe involucrata). This long-blooming ground cover, a Plant Select winner, sends out runners up to 30 inches long. Because it grows about five inches high, it’s tall enough to hide rocks. Plant this puppy, and it will reward you with stunning magenta blooms from early summer till frost. In the fall, prairie winecups will produce small wagon wheels of seeds. Spread the seeds around, and you’ll have lots of babies by the following spring.
  • Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides). When this evergreen ground cover is happy, it spreads far and wide. I have one exceptionally happy pink soapwort in my front yard that has grown into a plate that measures 40 inches wide and four inches high. After blooming in the spring, soapwort produces hundreds of seeds, which you can pull off and scatter to produce baby plants. Or you can simply wait for soapwort to self-sow and produce babies on its own for transplanting. Soapwort comes in both pink and white. I’ve found that the pink variety is more robust than the white.

    To install plants in a rock reservoir, simply move some rock aside, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, work compost into the soil, and transplant a small plant, such as this rugged little candytuft. It's still trying to bloom in December. Candytuft loves sun, but will tolerate some shade.

    To install plants in a rock reservoir, simply move some rock aside, cut a hole in the landscape fabric, work compost into the soil, and transplant a small plant, such as this rugged little candytuft. It’s still trying to bloom in December. Candytuft loves sun, but will tolerate some shade.

  • Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens). This tough, evergreen beauty erupts with masses of tiny white flowers in early to mid spring. It will spread 12 to 18 inches. If you sheer it after it blooms in the spring, it may rebloom in the fall.
  • Rozanne cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne). Another long bloomer, Rozanne grows about 18 inches wide and 24 inches tall. This ground cover’s purple blooms are simply stunning. You may have to cut it back in late summer if it becomes leggy, but it will rebloom till frost.
  • Sedums. Some of our beloved sedums, such as autumn joy, have been reclassified as the genus Hylotelephium for ease of pronunciation. Autumn joy (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’ Autumn Joy) produces pink blooms and grows 18 to 24 inches high. Low-growing Angelina sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) is one of my favorites, with its lime green summer color and orange/red fall/winter color. At three to six inches high, it’s tall enough to cover river rock.
  • Orange carpet hummingbird (Zauscheria garrettii). If you like neon orange, you’ll love orange carpet hummingbird. The plant explodes with tubular flowers in July and keeps pumping out blooms till frost. It grows four to six inches tall and 15 to 18 inches wide. Hummingbirds went gaga over this ground cover in my yard last year.
  • Ground cover roses. Some are hardier and more drought-tolerant than others. I’ve found that seafoam, a gorgeous white ground cover rose that grows about 30” tall, tolerates all kinds of abuse. One disadvantage is that white roses tend to turn brown in intense sun. So you might get away with a white rose in southern exposure, but I don’t recommend one in a western exposure unless it gets occasional shade, especially in the afternoon. Ralph’s creeper, on the other hand, produces vibrant red blooms throughout the summer. No brownout problems with this guy. I planted one in my west-facing tree lawn in Denver and rarely watered it, yet it bloomed like a banshee. If you have an area with lots of foot traffic nearby, ground cover roses will keep dogs from pooping in your yard.
  • Irises. With their strong upright form, irises provide a welcome contrast when you surround them with low spreading ground covers. The same goes for snapdragons. I’ve seen irises grow in the most godawful conditions, so a rock bed isn’t likely to intimidate them.
  • Snapdragons. These colorful biennials already populate my future rock-based meadow, thanks to the efforts of the previous homeowner. I just let their seeds drop in the fall and wait for new plants to emerge.
  • Mojave sage (Salvia pachyphilla). One of my newest favorites, Mojave sage is sometimes described as having silvery green foliage. Maybe my soil is different, but the Mojave sage in my garden has wonderful silvery foliage that happens to be blue. Although the plant displays showy mauve brachts surrounding violet-blue flowers, I actually prefer the foliage to the flowers and regard my Mojave sages more as small shrubs than as perennials. They grow 18 to 24 inches high and 24 to 30 inches wide.
  • Color Guard yucca. For drama and architectural form, it’s hard to beat evergreen Color Guard yucca. With its variegated, yellow-and-green leaves and masses of creamy white flowers on stalks, this plant is a showpiece. In Colorado, the plant grows in a clump two to four feet tall and two to three feet wide. However, its spikes can shoot up five feet or so. In late fall, the leaves take on a rosy hue.

There are, of course, many other worthy perennials, and even shrubs, that you can use to disguise a rocky area. If you see one that you like at the nursery next spring, give it a try, as long as the plant tag indicates that it’s full-sun and drought-tolerant. Because light-colored rock reflects sunlight, it creates a great deal of heat for plants, and dries out the soil. You can, of course, irrigate your rock bed, but where’s the fun in that?

Next month, I’ll tell you about perennials that you can use in shady rock beds.

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Hibiscus Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’: Definitely a Winner

My Summerific 'Perfect Storm' hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado's hot, dry summer.

My Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus produced spectacular blooms from late summer to frost, in spite of Colorado’s hot, dry summer.

Last May, Proven Winners sent me a collection of their Spring 2016 plants to try out.

I had just moved into my new home in Fort Collins. The shrub and perennial beds were covered with river rock mulch, except for two tiny beds on either side of the garage. Because of the rock mulch and landscape fabric, it was a horrible job trying to install additional plants. And frankly, I didn’t have time to mess with them.

But I don’t like to let babies die. So I installed several of the plants wherever they would fit. Some made it. Some didn’t. But the Summerific ‘Perfect Storm’ hibiscus surprised me with its ability to tolerate drought and neglect. A hibiscus, mind you. They reportedly need “average to consistent water.”

Perfect Storm is a beautiful, compact plant with red-veined, deep green leaves and, of course, a hisbiscus’ magnificent, show-stopping blooms. Flowers showed up on this baby in late summer and grew about five inches wide. The plant itself reached about 18 inches high and wide. At maturity, it should grow three feet high and about five feet wide with seven-inch-wide blooms. That means I’ll need to move it because I simply plunked this perennial into one of the tiny, concrete-surrounded beds in full sun by the garage.

So if you thought, like I did, that hibiscus need to be babied, think again. Perfect Storm will delight you with its showiness and impress you with its toughness. As a bonus, the plant is also rabbit-resistant.

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Rabbit Resistant or Not? The Poop on 10 Perennials

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don't like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Rabbits stayed away from Sonoran sunset hyssop in my garden. In general, they don’t like hyssops. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

When I re-landscaped my front yard last September, I carefully researched lists of rabbit-resistant plants. I already knew that the plants I selected would, for the most part, be hardy and drought-resistant because I had grown several of them successfully in my old garden in Denver.

However, I didn’t have problems with rabbits in Denver. So I didn’t know which plants would really hold up against rabbit munching in my new Fort Collins landscape.

Here’s what I’ve discovered after planting the 10 perennials mentioned below.

Rabbit Food

Narbonne Blue Flax (Linum narbonense). Plant Select introduced this lovely selection in 2013, and I was eager to try it out. Narbonne reportedly has larger blooms, a fuller growth habit and a longer life that its better-known cousin, Colorado native blue flax (Linum lewisii). Unfortunately, rabbits sheared this plant to the ground within 24 hours of installation. So I may have to substitute either Linum lewisii or blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) for a spot of blue in that part of the garden.

Orange Carpet Hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii). It’s difficult to miss orange carpet hummingbird in a garden because of its neon orange, tubular blooms. This long-blooming, creeping Plant Select groundcover grows about six inches high and 18 inches wide. Surprisingly, the rabbits nibbled on this plant some, but didn’t eat it all the way to the ground, except on one occasion. So I think it stands a decent chance in the garden, especially because it spreads fairly easily.

Veronica (V. prostrata and V. pectinata). These two low-growing groundcovers have graced my gardens for the past 10 years or so. Because they’re evergreen, they provide an attractive organic mulch under late winter- and early spring-blooming bulbs. Then they produce their own show by carpeting the ground with small blue flowers in late spring or early summer. Unfortunately, the rabbits have taken a liking to some of the plants. I’m not giving up on veronicas yet, though, especially because they spread rapidly and may be able to outdistance the rabbits’ appetites.

Rabbit Resistant

Hidcote Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’). I wouldn’t have a garden without lavender. It’s fragrant and evergreen, and on top of that, it produces delightful violet blue blooms. Hidcote grows about 16 inches tall and will spread as wide as two feet over time. After a few years, Hidcote will even begin producing babies that you can transplant around the garden. Munstead lavender is about the same size as Hidcote, but I prefer Hidcote because its leaves are softer-looking than Munstead’s are.  The rabbits haven’t touched my Hidcotes.

This mojave sage isn't rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

This mojave sage isn’t rabbit food. Although the foliage looks green in this photo, the leaves are actually a soft blue in my garden. (Photo courtesy of Plant Select)

Mojave Sage (Salvia pachyphylla). A friend of mine raved about this plant so enthusiastically that I decided to try it. I love it already, even though it hasn’t bloomed for me yet. Its leaves are a soft blue color that complement the fuchsias, oranges and purples in my garden. This Plant Select winner, which grows about three feet high and wide, has a shrubby growth habit. Mojave is a showy bloomer that produces violet-blue flowers surrounded by mauve bracts. Although my Mojaves sit close to hedge cotoneasters that provide cover for rabbits, the critters haven’t bothered these sages.

Rozanne Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Rozanne’). Five of these loose-growing groundcover plants went under my autumn brilliance serviceberry. The geranium’s purple blooms brighten the garden from early summer to frost. Rozanne grows about one foot high and three feet wide. The rabbits left these plants alone.

Sonoran Sunset Hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset). This compact show-stopper produces fuchsia blooms on upright stems from late summer to through fall. One of my plants was still trying to produce blooms well after frost, and all five were still producing basal foliage in early winter. A Plant Select winner, Sonoran Sunset grows about 15 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t go near it.

Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestre ‘Sunset’). This Southwestern native is another show-stopper with its smoky orange flowers emerging from lavender calyxes. Sunset can grow up to 42 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The rabbits didn’t like it.

Soapwort (Saponaria ocymoides). This humble workhorse is one of my favorite groundcovers. It’s evergreen, and it produces white or pink flowers that attract pollinators. I placed it along a path in front of my house to serve as a mulch between pavers. In bloom, soapwort reaches a height of about four inches. The rest of the time, this stalwart hugs the ground. Soapwort looks like a plant that rabbits would savor, but they didn’t.

Color Guard Yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’). As an experiment, I installed two of these bad boys near my front porch for drama. I’ll install a third as soon as one of my existing plants produces babies, which should be soon if these plants make it through the winter. During the growing season, the plant’s spiky yellow-and-green leaves provide excitement on their own. But when Color Guard sends up stems that are three to four feet tall and produces panicles of stunning white flowers, you really begin to appreciate its architectural grandeur. Color Guard is evergreen, but in Colorado, it’s a raggedy evergreen that makes you wish the plant would just dormant altogether. The rabbits have wanted nothing to do with Color Guard.

That’s the news so far on my new perennials and their relationships with rabbits.

In another experiment, I also installed three blue panda corydalis (Corydalis flexuosa ‘Blue Panda’) bulbs for their lacy leaves and early spring blooms. Rabbits have nibbled on them some, but it doesn’t look as though blue pandas are among their favorites.

Happy New Year. May your gardening efforts be wildly successful in 2016.


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Yes, You can Grow a Lush Border—Even in Sun-scorched Areas


Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart's dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart's dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear).  The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Tough, yet beautiful performers in this border include Turkish veronica (r. front), catmint (l. front), dart’s dash (behind veronica), sun daisy (between dart’s dashes), redleaf rose (r. rear) and Lydia Woadwaxen (l. rear). The agastaches are hidden behind the redleaf rose.

Do you have a spot in your yard that gets so hammered by sun and wind that nothing will grow there?

For me, it’s the south side of my front yard. Every summer, the lawn in that area turned to straw because of intense sun from the south and west. So three years ago, I converted that wasteland into a shrub and perennials border.

Some of my initial plants didn’t survive that tough microclimate even though I amended the clay soil. So I had to get serious and plant some of the most bullet-proof plants I could find. Once I did that, I was able to grow a lush-looking, low-maintenance border.

The backbone of the border is shrubs—three evergreen Lydia Woadwaxens (Genista lydia), one redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) and two dart’s dash crimson roses. I lost a third dart’s dash rose, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the dart’s dashes to make sure they can take the heat.

The woadwaxens bloom in late spring, the redleaf rose blooms in early summer, and the dart’s dashes bloom throughout the summer, providing successional bloom.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

Although this area gets shade in the morning, by early afternoon, the sun starts blasting.

As for the perennials, they include Turkish veronica (V. liwanensis) and Little Gem dwarf candytuft (Iberis sempervirens ‘Little Gem’), which are both mid/late spring bloomers; Purple Mountain® sun daisy (Osteospermum barbariae var. compactum), a late spring to mid-summer bloomer; Little Trudy® catmint (Nepeta x ‘Psfike’ P.P. 18904), a spring to fall bloomer; and apricot sunrise hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca ‘Apricot Sunrise’), a mid-summer to fall bloomer.

Since planting these hardy specimens, I get along with Mother Nature much better, and she rewards me with vibrant color throughout the growing season.

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Filed under Garden Maintenance, Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness