The wintry weekend notwithstanding, spring is just around the corner — and with it will come a new gardening season.
As the snow begins to melt, Colorado master gardener Dawn Miquel wants backyard horticulturalists to think about going native this year.
Miquel, a volunteer with Colorado State University’s Arapahoe County extension office, said cultivating native plants in the garden offers multiple benefits, including being environmentally friendly.
“It’s always good to use native plants. You’re essentially putting the ecosystem back to where it was before we came here,” Miquel said. “If we can put some of that back into our yards, that’s great.”
Growing native plants will cut down on water use — and yard work, said Betsy Kelson with Jared’s Nursery, Gift and Garden Center.
Kelson’s backyard near Evergreen features an assortment of native plant species such as ponderosa pine, native grasses and wildflowers. Because the plants grow naturally in this climate, less work is needed to ensure they survive.
“If you grow what grows in that ecosystem already, it saves so many things,” Miquel said. “It saves water; it saves your back.”
Cultivating native plants also attracts birds and butterflies, Miquel said.
“I’ve had more hummingbirds in my backyard with just plants than I’ve ever had with a feeder,” Miquel said.
While gardens featuring native plants sometimes appear spartan compared to a more traditional plot, Miquel said that doesn’t have to be the case. Mixing and matching appropriate plants create a multi-layered look.
“There are some wonderful shrubs that create a beautiful backdrop for native perennials,” Miquel said.
Kelson said gardeners should also consider using “Plant Select” varietals, which might not be native but are from areas with a similar climate, such as South Africa or Pakistan.
“If you look at something like the Plant Select program, which is a combination of the expertise of the Denver Botanical Gardens and CSU, they’ve tested these plants under all sorts of conditions that Colorado can throw out there,” Kelson said. “Also, plants like petunias are great for a touch of color in a garden. They’re sturdy and can handle any water regime you throw out at them.”
Kelson said that, before switching to a native garden, homeowners check with their HOAs to make sure regulations permit them.
For questions about what plants are best suited for your growing region, contact your local CSU Extension office. To find the nearest office, visit www.ext.colostate.edu/cedirectory/countylist.cfm.