Just about every gardener I know lost a favorite plant or two over the winter. Most of my hardy roses died to the ground, but eventually returned. Sadly, the tall and lovely redleaf rose (Rosa rubifolia) is gone for good. Whether a rose, shrub or fruit tree, losing a prized plant is like losing an old garden pal.
The only way to get over the loss is to replant with something that will survive the challenges of living in our climate. Here are five bulletproof plants that seem to thrive in spite of the vagaries of weather:
If you’re looking for a dependable woody plant, Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle is it. I planted this Plant Select recommendation years ago and it continues to surprise me every year. The vine does well with only the precipitation it receives. When there’s wet weather through the winter and spring, it grows a bit taller with more foliage. During drier years it still shows up and looks good. In addition to its low-water, low-maintenance needs, I appreciate the eucalyptus-like foliage on vines that crawl up and over the picket fence.
In 2001 I planted three of these tidy shrubs and they’re still going strong. Even after the shock of the sudden freeze last November, all three returned with only a few dead branches. A quick trim was all they needed. This spirea is a compact deciduous shrub that grows to about 3 feet tall and just as wide. Drought-tolerant once established, it can brighten any spot with crimson-red leaves in spring that turn to vibrant green by summer. Reddish-bronze fall color is an added bonus. Small pink flowers can bloom twice over the season if dead-headed.
This Plant Select winner is a beautiful shrub with graceful arching branches. In spring there are tons of light-purple flower clusters that attract butterflies like crazy. If you plant one, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow to more than 10 feet tall and wide. I’ve found the only downside is the long branches are surprisingly brittle during winter and some may break under heavy loads of snow — nature’s way of pruning so you don’t have to. This butterfly bush prefers well-drained soil and is adaptable to low-water conditions.
Some gardeners think yarrow is the least sophisticated of the xeric plants, but I appreciate it because it loves my landscape. Its tall, shrub-like habit makes a nice backdrop in a xeriscape garden and the silvery-gray foliage and bright yellow flowers really shine in summer. I started with two plants but yarrow needs to be divided every few years, so I’ve transplanted more around the yard. I leave some flowers on the plant through winter, but I also clip some to use in dry table arrangements and crafts projects.
Brown-eyed Susan is smaller than its black-eyed cousin, and that’s fine with me. This biennial coneflower behaves more like a perennial because of its generous seed-sowing nature. My large collection started as two small starts and have spread throughout the garden on their own. The sunny yellow, daisy-like flowers have beautiful brown “eyes” and stand tall from mid-summer through fall. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the long-lasting blooms, but they make nice cutting flowers, too.
By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener