The varying elevations, climate and soils of Colorado support a diverse population of shrubs. From the low-elevation plains of the eastern part of the state, to the high elevations of the sub-alpine region, gardeners in Colorado can find both evergreen and deciduous shrubs suitable for their area. When located appropriately, native shrubs can thrive in the home landscape with little care and have the added benefit of providing food and shelter for wildlife.
The rounded, deciduous shrub Potentilla fruticosa, commonly known as shrubby cinquefoil, grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. Thin, erect stems grow out from a twisted trunk and teem with grayish-green leaves and small yellow flowers throughout the summer. Shrubby cinquefoil performs well in gardens at elevations of 5,000 to 11,000 feet when planted in full sun and well-drained soil. These shrubs grow wild in varying locations, from bogs to rocky mountain summits, and therefore tolerate both wet and dry soil conditions. Mature growth produces the most flowers, so avoid pruning back older stems.
Fallugia paradoxa, or Apache plume, forms a dense, twiggy mass reaching up to 6 feet tall. Stiff, grayish green leaves line the thin twigs and sometimes remain on the shrub throughout winter. In summer, five-petaled white flowers with yellow centers and wispy pink seed heads add accents of color. Native to the dry foothills and valleys of the southeastern United States, Apache plume grows best at lower elevations of 3,500 to 8,000 feet in dry, well-drained soil. It does not tolerate humid conditions but may bloom longer if provided with a small amount of supplemental water in the summer. If the plant needs rejuvenation, prune back in late winter.
Rocky Mountain Maple
Rocky Mountain maple, or Acer glabrum, grows between 8 and 20 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. Native to the foothills and mountainous forests of Colorado, it grows well at elevations of 5,000 to 10,500 feet. The smooth branches bear red buds and leathery, dark green, toothed leaves that turn yellow in the fall. Rocky Mountain maple tolerates shade and requires water during dry periods.
The evergreen, silvery foliage of big sagebrush, or Artemisia tridentata, grows from branches of gray, peeling bark and reaches up to 6 feet tall. Inconspicuous yellow flowers bloom in mid- to late summer and the foliage turns grayish green in the winter. Mammals and birds use big sagebrush for both food and shelter. This shrub grows wild in dry plains and on mountains slopes and does not tolerate wet conditions. Plant in full sun and dry, well-drained soil in elevations of 4,500 to 9,500 feet. Supplemental water and fertilization can encourage root rot diseases or cause the plant to sag.