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Beauty in a Dry Climate

By Jessica Asimus, Colorado Master Gardener

With the summers in Colorado feeling dryer and hotter than ever, our gardens can use some drought friendly pops of color to get us through the dry spells. While we tend to think of natives as our only drought-friendly option in the landscape, there are several cultivars that save water and complement any planting design. 

One of the most striking waterwise plants seen in gardens in the Denver metro area are the red hot poker plants. Kniphofia hirsute ‘Fire Dance’ is an often-planted variety. This perennial is native to South Africa, grows to about 18” tall, and has become popular worldwide for its hardiness. The grass-like leaves at the base give way to a stalk with a vibrant bloom that explodes in colors that resemble a flame. 

Left, Red hot poker. Right, Ice plant. Photos: High Country Gardens

If you are looking for a ground cover, Ice Plants, Delosperma, are a colorful waterwise option. They come in several colors and spread from 18” to 24” wide. This allows for coverage in large areas with beautiful, eye-catching blooms. They prefer full sun and bloom in late spring to late summer, giving a full season of color.

Redbirds in a Tree, Photo: High Country Gardens

Redbirds in a Tree, Scrophularia macrantha, is a rare relative of penstemon that is native to the mountains of New Mexico. This plant attracts hummingbirds. At maturity, it can grow to 36-48” tall and 18” wide, making it a great attention getter. 

Bearded iris, Photo: Jessie Asimus

A waterwise plant genus that may be overlooked is the bearded iris, Iris germanica. While it does need some water, it is drought tolerant and grows well at our elevation. There is a wide range of colors to choose from, and they are perennials, so you can enjoy them year after year. With their sword-shaped leaves, they add some visual interest even after their blooming season. While not native to Colorado, irises are a wonderful option for local gardens and landscapes.

When looking for waterwise plants for your garden, remember you don’t have to limit yourself to native plants or succulents. There are many plants that will grow well in our climate. When searching for other options, make sure to check the zones and elevation recommendations for the plants to have the best chance of gardening success. Happy planting!

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