Gardening recommendations from DU’s horticulturalists

Sure-fire plants that thrive at high altitude

Gardeners tilling the soil at higher elevation will encounter different challenges from their counterparts in Denver. The high country has various microclimates created by wind and different levels of moisture. Winters are colder, and the local wildlife often finds landscape plantings delectable. Here is a list of perennial plants that do well above 8,000 feet. Some are native, while others come from cold climates in North America. 

Serviceberry is a deciduous woody plant that is available as a shrub or a small multi-stemmed or single-stemmed tree. In early spring, white flowers bloom in short, erect clusters.

Potentilla is covered in white or yellow flowers from early June until fall. This shrub will reach 1–3 feet in height and responds well to rejuvenation pruning, which is a hard prune done in late winter or early spring.


Snowball viburnum blooms in mid-spring, displaying white flowers arranged in spherical clusters. Blooms fade in early summer and are followed by clusters of red berries. The leaves resemble maple leaves and are a dark emerald green.

Rock spirea is a native shrub that grows upright with slightly arching branches. Small, serrated leaves turn yellow, orange, gold, red or purple in the fall. Its tiny white flowers bloom in profusion from midsummer into August. Once the blooms fade, a tan fruit remains and lasts through the winter. 

Lupine is known for its striking flowers that grow on spikes. The wildflower strains come in hues of blue and white, while domestic varieties offer yellow, pink, blue and purple flowers. The spikes can tower as high as 3 feet and are a good selection for the back of a garden. The flowers contrast well with the texture of the lupine’s foliage.  

Columbine blooms in a variety of colors from midspring to early summer. The flowers contrast well with the dark green foliage. Columbines like the sun but don’t like the heat, so the high country is a great place to plant them. After all, they grow naturally and flourish in mountain meadows.

Catmint is a hardy and showy plant with soft gray-green foliage and clusters of lavender-blue flowers. It also seems to be wildlife resistant and blooms for most of the season.   


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