Tag Archives: native plants

Native Plants in a Suburban Setting, Part 2

Side yard before new garden

Last month, I shared my process for designing a simple pollinator garden in my yard using native plants.  In this post, I describe selecting and installing the 50+ plants in the new garden.

The criteria I used to choose the plants included:

  • Attractive to native pollinators
  • Tolerant of clay soil 
  • Thrive in hot, dry, southern exposure
  • Provide waves of color from spring to fall
  • Minimally aggressive
  • Varying height and width

From a design perspective, I wanted taller plants at the back near the house with shorter plants toward the front of the bed.  I focused on perennials and grasses.  Color is important to me; so despite online design advice to create large swaths of a few colors, I decided on a mixed rainbow effect using 3-5 plants each of about 12 species.  I used several websites for plant information – CoNPS, CSU Extension, and City of Boulder primarily.  Two of these sites also had a list of native plant retailers.

With my criteria and the garden dimensions (41’ x 13’), I created a plant spreadsheet and used it as my buying guide.  I ordered most of the plants online from garden centers during the shelter-in-place order and picked them up curbside the following month.  Also, I verified with the garden centers that the plants had been grown without the use of neonicotinoids.

Here are species I bought and their color families.  

Yellows: Berlandiera lyrata, Zinnia grandiflora, Rudbeckia hirta, Solidago rigida  

Reds:  Salvia gregii, Callirhoe involucrata, Mirabilis multiflora, Penstemon pseudospectabilis, Agastache rupestris, Ratibida columnifera 

Blues:  Linum lewisii, Liatris punctata, Machaeranthea tanacetifolia  

The two grasses, Bouteloua gracilis and Schizachyrium scoparium, added green/yellow and blue/green to the palette.

To be honest, not all the plants were strictly Colorado natives.  For example, I included a couple of Hesperaloe parvifloras which could be considered regional natives.  I like the texture they add; and hummingbirds love the red flowers.  

Before putting in the plants, my husband and I removed the arborvitae, existing foundation shrubs, dug out turf, edged the bed and placed stepping stones.

June prep/planting – looking west

Since native plants here generally don’t do well in rich soil, I didn’t amend the soil other than to mix a small amount of expanded shale with the planting dirt.  And that was only for a couple of species like Hesperaloe that prefer somewhat rocky soil or good drainage.  I mulched with 3” of pea gravel and lined the bed with river rock.

June growth – looking east

From June to mid-July, I hand watered the plants almost daily.  Many have grown by at least a third, and some have doubled in size.  I’ve now cut back the watering to twice a week and will gradually decrease it heading into autumn.   By next year, they shouldn’t need any additional water except during a drought period.

July growth – looking east
July growth – looking west

A couple of lessons I learned:  1) design-wise, a garden needs height and visual weight, so I’m adding a native deciduous shrub; and 2) be careful of irrigation overspray when turf adjoins a garden of native plants that like dry conditions.  

I’m happy with my new pollinator garden.  Already, several neighbors have complimented it. And unless it’s wishful thinking, I’m seeing tiny bees which I’m guessing are native.  So on to the next adventure – identifying native insects!

Ann Winslow, Master Gardener volunteer since 2019







Native Plants in a Suburban Setting

Inspired by Douglas Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home, this spring I decided to create a native pollinator garden in my 1960s suburban Denver yard. It was my first adventure in using all native plants.

Most yards in my neighborhood are primarily turf and evergreens with some popular but non-native blooming shrubs or perennials. As Dr. Tallamy explains, these plants are mostly unpalatable for our native pollinator friends at their various life stages. 

As the new neighbor on my block, I wanted to showcase a native pollinator habitat that was beautiful and naturalistic without looking “wild” – a common complaint about native plant gardens.  The Habitat Network and National Wildlife Federation websites gave me tips on how habitat gardens can fit into a typical suburban landscape. 

For the garden site, I chose the side yard between the house and street — a long, narrow space that resembled a landing strip.  It had thirsty turf, an overgrown arborvitae, and a narrow foundation bed with a few struggling shrubs and a dwarf blue spruce.  It also had full sun – perfect for many Colorado native plants.

Besides southern exposure, my site analysis showed heavy clay soil, average drainage with no slope from the house to 15’ out, and westerly winds.  In addition, it was easy to see that the side yard served no purpose for my family – making it a good site.   

From there, I looked at specific examples of garden and plant designs on the websites of Plant Select, Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS), and Resource Central.  These gave me ideas for shape, dimensions, and plant placement. 

I was finally ready to design the garden.  CSU Extension Fact Sheet #7.228 on xeriscaping and Garden Notes #411 and #413 on water wise landscaping were useful resources even for my smaller project.  Native plants and xeriscaping work together well, giving me both the habitat and water-savings I wanted.

Keeping in mind my budget and the available labor (my husband and me), I decided to  simply enlarge the existing foundation bed into a half-oval shape twice its original size and fill it with blooming perennials.

By enlarging the existing bed on level ground, I eliminated the need for terracing which would have added expense.  I did decide to use sandstone pavers as stepping stones through the new garden giving it some hardscape interest.

Now that planning and design were finished, I was ready to move on to the next phase in my suburban to native adventure.

Join me in July when I share the fun and sometimes challenging experience of researching, selecting, and installing native plants in my pollinator garden.

By Ann Winslow, Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2019