High Altitude Wildflower Garden

10 High Altitude Plants for Colorado-Best for Mountain Gardens

Welcome to ThinkVail – We hope you find this article about the Best High Altitude Plants for Colorado helpful.

Growing almost anything in the mountains can be challenging. Gardeners in Vail, Colorado and in any mountain town must battle intense sun, a short growing season, little rain, deer, rabbits and less oxygen than at sea level, all make growing plants at elevation, a seemingly impossible task.

We promise these beautiful perennial plants will make your gardening easier and more satisfying. All of these plants have been tested at elevations of 8,200 feet and they survive and thrive in harsh mountain conditions.

Keep in mind, that all plants at altitude need more time to become established, so water generously for 2-3 seasons and don’t expect too much growth for at least a season or three. Elevation definitely slows the growth of most plants.

In addition, many of these plants may be considered invasive at other elevations but the harsh conditions of high altitude gardening seems to control them from spreading uncontrollably as they might in other locations. But still, keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t spread too much from their original areas unless you want them to.

All of these plants are deer resistant, drought tolerant, grow well at high elevation and are perennial, so they will keep coming back year after year.


See Also: Year’s Best Gardening Tools


Best High Altitude Plants


Clematis VineClematis Jackamanii Photo by matthiasboeckel at Pixabay

Clematis vines are easy to grow at altitude and they grow really big with a rich profusion of flowers. C. Jackmanii is a popular and widely grown clematis that can easily run up a trellis, spill over a porch railing or can even be trained in a pot with beautiful, large, knock-out purple flowers.

Jackmanii is a type 3 Clematis which means they bloom later in the season and flower from buds from the current growing season. Cut back hard in late winter or early spring to stimulate new growth.

  • Botanical Name: Ranunculaceae
  • Grows in Zones 4-9
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows in full sun to partial shade
  • Extended bloom time over 4 weeks
  • Blooms early to late summer
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Clematis prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil
  • Loved by hummingbirds and bees
  • Perennial

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Columbine Columbine Flower/ photo by analogicus at Pixabay

The Columbine plant (Aquilegia) is the state flower of Colorado and it’s easy to see why. This easy-to-grow perennial thrives in the cool temperatures of the mountains and can be found on woodland hikes throughout the state.

This North American native flourishes with little fuss and is ignored by deer and rabbits. Enjoy this colorful, spring-blooming winner in your high altitude garden.

  • Botanical Name: Aquilegia
  • Grows in Zones 3-9
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun to partial shade but they do not like it very hot
  • Extended blom time over 4 weeks
  • Blooms spring to summer
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Columbines prefer neutral soil that drains well and is not too dry
  • Loved by hummingbirds and bees
  • Comes in a variety of colors like blue, orange, pink, red, white, and yellow
  • Columbine is a short-lived perennial plant that will fade after a few years, but most varieties spread seeds that develop into new plants every spring, so they keep coming back.
  • Perennial

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Lambs Ear Lamb's Ear / photo by JamesDeMers at Pixabay

Lamb’s ears is an awesome plant for high altitude garden. It is a beautiful silvery gray foliage with really interesting texture and so easy to grow. Their fuzzy texture makes them unappetizing to deer and rabbits.

Lamb’s ear is perfect for rock gardens, walkways, flower borders and as a ground cover.  They spread readily, making them effective for covering large areas of ground if needed.

These well-known ground cover plants are grown for their texture and foliage color, not for their flowers. Lamb’s Ears are tough, easy to grow plants that you will love.

  • Botanical Name: Stachys byzantina
  • Grows in Zones 4-9
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows in full sun to some shade
  • Beautiful silver gray foliage grows all summer
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Lamb’s Ear is very versatile and can grow in soil from mildly acidic, neutral to slightly alkaline soil.
  • Grows 6-10 inches tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds and bees
  • Easily divided to create new plants
  • Ground cover
  • Perennial

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Irises Iris / photo by Alpacasocks22 at Pixabay

There are approximately 200 species of Iris. Bearded irises are one of the most common perennials to grow but Siberian irises (Iris sibirica) are hardy, easy to grow, and almost completely trouble-free.

Siberian Irises have smaller, more delicate flowers than bearded irises and numerous varieties are available.

The foliage is narrow, upright, grass-like in appearance and turns an attractive yellow or orange-brown in the fall.

  • Botanical Name: Iris germanica
  • Grows in Zones 3-8
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows in full sun to partial shade
  • Blooms in early spring (May or June)
  • Irises seldom bloom the first year after planting but should be blooming well by the third or fourth year.
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Irises grow best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils but will tolerate poor, dry sites too.
  • Grows 12-40 inches tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds and bees
  • Easily divided in early spring to create new plants
  • Grows by Bulbs / Rhizomes
  • Irises come in a variety of colors like blue, purple, wine-red, pink, white, and yellow
  • Perennial

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Snow in Summer Snow in Summer/photo by daryl_mitchell at Wikimedia

Snow in Summer is a hardy, easy-to-grow show stopper. It lives up to it’s name in June when a profusion of small white flowers almost completely covers the pretty silver foliage and looks just like snow from a distance.

Grows well in cool, mountain summer climates and may be considered invasive but higher elevation seems to slow its growth somewhat.

These lovely plants create a neat, thick compact foliage mat that can cover large areas. This is a beauty that is ignored by deer and rabbits.

  • Botanical Name: Caryophyllaceae
  • Grows in Zones 2-7
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows in full sun but does not like high heat or high humidity
  • Beautiful silver gray foliage grows all summer
  • Small white flowers bloom in June
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Snow in Summer grows best in dry, sandy, well-drained soil
  • Grows 6-12 inches tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds and bees
  • Easily divided to create new plants, spreads by runners
  • Ground cover
  • Perennial

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Walker’s Low Catmint Walkers Low Catmint photo by David Stang. First published at ZipcodeZoo.com at Wikimedia

An easy grower, Nepeta Walker’s Low (Walker’s Low Catmint) is a robust plant with really pretty dark lavender-blue flowers and aromatic gray-green foliage.

It thrives in harsh conditions, is long-lasting and very rabbit and deer resistant. But it is an excellent source of nectar for butterflies, honey bees and hummingbirds.

This is a winner for high altitude, Xeriscape gardens, and is especially rewarding for beginner gardeners.

  • Botanical Name: Nepeta
  • Grows in Zones 4-9
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun but tolerates partial shade
  • Beautiful purple flowers bloom in mid summer
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Grows well in a wide range of soil types, including dry clay
  • Catmint grows 18- 30 inches tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds, butterflies and bees
  • Fragrant, compact mounds
  • Perennial

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Lupine Lupine / photo by _Alicja_ at Pixabay

Lupine, like Columbines are a woodland staple in the forests and meadows of Colorado. These striking plants grow well in the cool summers of the high alpine mountains.

These plants are ignored by deer and rabbits and look beautiful wherever they are planted.

  • Botanical Name: Fabaceae
  • Grows in Zones 3-8
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun but tolerates partial shade
  • Blooms May-July
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Grows well in slightly acidic, evenly moist, well-drained soils
  • Grows 18 inches to 4 feet tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds, butterflies and bees
  • Comes in a variety of colors like white, red, pink, yellow, blue, purple or bi color
  • Perennial

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Little Lemon Goldenrod HybridLittle Lemon Goldenrod /photo by hansbenn at Pixabay

Little Lemon (dwarf goldenrod) is a beautiful, delicate goldenrod hybrid that boasts a compact, upright growth habit with lots of showy plumes of bright, yellow flowers.

This native beauty will be a showstopper in your mountain garden and is very easy to grow and maintain.

Solidago is a genus of about 100 species of goldenrod and contrary to what many believe, Solidago doesn’t cause allergies; its pollen is sticky, not windblown, and is moved from plant to plant by pollinators.

  • Botanical Name: Solidago canadensis
  • Grows in Zones 4-8
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun to light shade
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Grows well in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils but also tolerates poor, dry soils and clay
  • Grows 18 inches tall
  • Loved by hummingbirds, butterflies and bees
  • Perennial

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Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass Carl Forester Grass photo by daryl_mitchell at Flickr & Wikimedia

This spectacular ornamental grass is a low maintenance show stopper that adds tons of texture to your garden and adds tons of interest to fall and winter gardens with its pretty, tawny seed heads.

Feather Reed Grass has a wonderful upright growth habit with lovely tall, feathery plumes that emerge in early summer and ripen to handsome wheat-colored seed heads in the autumn

  • Botanical Name: Calamagrostis
  • Grows in Zones 4-9
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Grows well in a wide range of soils
  • Karl Foerster Reed Grass grows 48-60 inches tall
  • Decorative Grass
  • Perennial

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Partridge Feather Partridge Feather/photo by Ghislain118 at Wikimedia

This uncommon, beautiful ground cover is so interesting and unique. The lovely silver green feathers, or rather the leaves of this plant boast amazing curb appeal.

The leaves do look like fancy partridge feathers, and are quite distinctive from other plants. They cluster on slightly fuzzy stems that form a frilly mound that smothers grass and weeds.

Clusters of small yellow button-like flowers appear in late June and early July and create an appealing contrast particularly in a large area of plants.

Deer may taste this plant early in the season but usually spit it out and move on. A lovely, neat elegant plant for your high altitude mountain garden.

  • Botanical Name: Tanacetum densum
  • Grows in Zones 4-9
  • Blooms in late June early July
  • Deer resistant / Rabbit resistant
  • Grows best in full sun or part shade
  • Drought tolerant – does not need much water once established
  • Grows well in a wide range of well drained soils
  • Grows 3-6 inches tall
  • Ground Cover
  • Perennial

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Vail Valley Garden Centers

If you’re in the Vail Valley looking for beautiful high altitude plants for your home or garden visit these local garden centers to find the perfect acclimated flowers for your mountain retreat.

The Wildflower Farm in Edwards, CO

Eagle Gardens in Eagle, CO

SHC Nursery in Eagle, CO

Garden Center of Gypsum in Gypsum, CO


See Also: Best Garden Equipment for Colorado Gardens


Comments High Altitude Wildflower Garden

We hope you enjoyed this article about the Best High Altitude Plants for Colorado.  What are your favorite high altitude plants? Which plant, annual or perennial just makes you smile when you look at it? What plant do you think is the easiest to care for and which would you recommend above all others? We would love to hear your suggestions, stories and comments. Thanks for reading!


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