I embraced the challenge of gardening years ago. I’m still gardening and I’m still challenged. Gardening along the front range provides lots of chances for me to succeed and, you know, not succeed. But I will not give up! I also have a friend who completed the Horticulture program at FRCC and she has been a good resource for advice.

Finding Shrubs that Thrive in Colorado

I have been trying to find some really good shrubs to use in my yard. I decided several years ago to try to find ones that will, at the least, survive and hopefully even thrive in the natural environment that is my Colorado yard. One of my goals has been to plant shrubs that do not need much extra irrigation or diligent attention. I just want them to grow and look nice. Since shrubs can live a long time, I really wanted to get the right ones.

Junipers are Survivors

When I moved in, previous owners had planted various junipers. Some of them had gotten too big and I took them out. But what I have noticed with those that remain is that they are real survivors. They need no, and I mean no, extra water at all. They do fine with whatever mother nature provides. That record-breaking hot, dry summer of 2012? They were fine. A couple of the junipers get little berries on them and what I read is that birds like those berries. I don’t find berries scattered about under the bushes, so I guess that’s true. And I like feeding the birds.

Another attractive, hardy shrub in my yard is the Barberry bush. It has burgundy leaves that stay all year, making it pleasing in the winter. It also has done fine with no additional water. Its one drawback is thorns so plant it out of the way.

Good Smaller Shrubs

I have found a few other shrubs that are doing well with minimal irrigation, plus they are smaller so they won’t outgrow their space. I did minimal augmentation to the soil they are in and they are doing well in my well-drained, sandy loam with a little additional water. Often shrubs that are fairly xeric prefer the lean soil that we have so much of here.

Hardy Flowering Shrubs:

  • St. John’s Wort – unusual yellow flowers
  • Dark Knight Spirea – deep blue flowers
  • Current bush – yellow flowers going to berries the birds like
  • Fernbush – white flowers

Non- Flowering Shrubs:

  • Gro-Low Sumac – red leaves in the fall
  • Euonymus – variegated leaves


I also planted a couple of perennials that get large enough to be small bushes:

  • Furman’s Red Sage – red flowers
  • Lavender – lavender flowers

What about Mulch?

Because our natural environment is so dry, what about mulch you ask? Good question. I’ve read conflicting advice about mulch in xeriscaping. Not all xeric shrubs like mulch and some prefer rock to wood.  I do use mulch. When I first plant I put down about an inch or so of wood mulch and make sure I water frequently. As the summer wears on and the shrub begins to get established, I gradually reduce the frequency. I haven’t been adding additional mulch each year – these shrubs are supposed to be content in xeric conditions after all.

Consider Planting in the Fall

And one last thought on planting. Early last summer I put a juniper in a very sloping SE corner of my yard. It’s a difficult corner that is not going to get extra water. For this new plant, I gave it extra water. The poor thing didn’t last through the summer. So I replanted it in the fall. With the cooler days and less intense sun exposure, it has done well.

Related Posts