Prunus virginiana_Chokecherry_LAH_003If I could create one perfect plant for the Pikes Peak region, what would it be like?

Of course, I’d want it to be attractive. It should adorn itself with cheerful spring flowers, good-looking foliage, and intense fall color. I’d add persistent fruit or berries to feed the birds and provide winter interest.

My perfect plant should be easy to grow; I’d want it to thrive in our native soils with little or no supplemental water. It must be hardy to at least 8,000 feet, and still handle summer heat waves.

I’d create a versatile plant that could be trained as either a medium-to-large shrub or small tree. Deer resistance would be a bonus. And I’d want it to be readily available from local garden centers (at a reasonable price).

Well, it seems that Somebody beat me to it. There is a perfect plant for this area—the common Chokecherry.


You’ve never noticed the shrub before. Its rounded green leaves and vase shape let it lurk unobtrusively in the background, where it may eventually grow to 15 feet tall and wide. Then, seemingly overnight, there’s a neon-fuchsia beacon glowing in the landscape. Fall has arrived, and the Burning Bush is on fire.

Both the species and a variety of named cultivars are widely available in garden centers. (Most of these cultivars are significantly more compact than the parent shrubs.) Deciduous leaves appear in mid-spring, accompanied by inconspicuous yellow flowers. Orange seeds are borne in orange-red capsules that mature at the same time as the spectacular fall foliage display. (more…)

Bees and butterflies love the bright flowers.

Rubber Rabbitbrush, Chamisa
Chrysothamnus nauseosus

With intense sulfur-yellow flowers covering its gray-green foliage, blooming Rabbitbrush demands to be noticed. Flowers last from August through October, with the seed heads providing interest all winter. Branches rising from a woody base form bushes up to 5 feet tall and wide. When not in bloom, the rounded crown and muted foliage impart a subtle, natural appearance to the garden.


Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)


Aptly named Golden Currant blooms in early spring with showy clusters of small but fragrant bright yellow flowers. The blossoms are followed in summer by edible fruit that ripens from green through red to black. In autumn, green, lobed leaves turn to amber or scarlet before falling. The arching branches can reach anywhere from three to nine feet in height, depending on age and habitat.


American PlumPhoto by Lisa Bird (Prunus americana)

Appearance: American plum, a member of the Rose family, is one of the first native woody plants to bloom in the spring, with the white, fragrant, 5-petalled blossoms appearing before the leaves unfold.   There are numerous 1”-2” long, blunt thorns along the branches.  The leaves are long, pointed and oval-shaped.  American Plum bears edible 1” diameter fruit which ripen mid- to late summer, and fall color can be a muted reddish-orange. (more…)


While most fall and winter berries are red, or perhaps dark blue, snowberries sport showy clusters of pristine white, berry-like fruit. If not eaten by the birds, the fruit will adorn the bare branches in winter. The upright, finely-branched shrubs are about three feet tall. Moderate growers, they are long-lived, with tiny pink, bell-shaped flowers that appear in early summer.


A Colorado native, snowberry is well adapted to our growing conditions, and is hardy to zone 3. Soil type doesn’t matter, so long as it’s moderately fertile and reasonably well-drained. Plant in full sun, and water until established. While mature plants are highly drought tolerant, they also survive once-a-week watering, which also results in heavier fruit crops. Prune only to remove old, dead wood.


While the slightly toxic berries are considered inedible by people, deer will browse on the plants. With its dense foliage, snowberry makes a good foundation shrub. For a woodland feel, combine with other natives such as Oregon grape and ponderosa pines.

Contributed by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at (719) 520-7684 (new number) or

Photo courtesy of Leslie Holzmann.

Elderberries - Wikipedia-1APPEARANCE

Elderberries are upright, spreading shrubs that grow six to twelve feet high. Their leaves are opposite and compound with five to eleven leaflets. Leaves also have serrated margins. Their showy, white flower-clusters generally are six-to-ten inches in diameter and have a pleasant fragrance. The fruit is a smooth globular berry that measures three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. The broad, flat clusters of berries, which ripen in early August to late September, are deep purple to black.


Elderberries are drought and cold tolerant. They also tolerate almost any moisture condition and soil type in full sun or part shade. They grow in Zones 2-9 with a preferred pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Some elderberries are partially self-fruitful and generally show increased fruit-set when two or more cultivars are planted within close proximity.  Plant elderberries five to seven feet on center to accommodate air circulation. Plant bare root stock or rooted cuttings in early spring and container-grown plants anytime during the growing season. It’s important to cultivate these shrubs carefully, because the root system is shallow and can easily be damaged. Prune each winter, thinning out spindly suckers and removing all wood older than 3 years.

Elderberries have few pests, and natural predators often control outbreaks.


Elderberries are native shrubs that produce fruit used in jellies, pies and wine. The fruit is seedy and tart, but high in vitamin C. These shrubs also are used for landscaping and wildlife habitat. To harvest, cut whole clusters off when fruits are dark blue or purplish black and soft to the touch. Clusters of white flowers are also edible.

Contributed by Nadine Salmons, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at (719) 520-7684 (new number) or

Amorpha canescens - Leadplant @DBG LAH 334rAPPEARANCE

Silvery, delicate foliage and mid-summer spikes of violet-blue flowers make leadplant a desirable addition to local gardens. Upright, slightly arching stems grow two to four feet high and three feet wide, with an open, spreading habit. They become woody with age, dropping their leaves in winter. The flowers turn yellow in fall. They’re followed by small, attractive seed pods.


Leadplant is hardy in zones 4 to 8, and prefers full sun. The deep-rooted shrubs are moderately xeric. Once established, they’ll appreciate a deep soaking every two weeks. They tolerate most well-drained soils; avoid wet clay. Like other members of the legume family, leadplant adds nitrogen to the soil, reducing the need for fertilizer. While the plants are easy to grow, you may not see flowers for the first several years. Pruning stems back to one foot in late fall will encourage more prolific bloom.


A Great Plains native, leadplant combines well with grasses and other prairie plants. Unfortunately, it’s very attractive to rabbits and deer.

Contributed by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 719.636.8921 or

Photo courtesy of Leslie Holzmann



Mahonias are low evergreen shrubs with spiny-edged leaves growing 1-2 feet high and up to 6 feet wide, depending on variety. Yellow flowers appear in the spring, followed by blue or black fruit which may attract birds. The holly-like leaves turn red in the fall, then bronze in winter. Too much winter sun and wind will cause leaf edges to burn.


Mahonias are adaptable but prefer loamy rich soil. Grow in part sun to full shade. Hardy in Zones 4-7, mahonias are adaptable to low water, but plants should be watered in dry winter periods. Prune after flowering to remove old, damaged or awkward stems. Mahonias are also slow to establish.


Two varieties are recommended for Colorado: M. aquifolium ‘Oregon Grape Holly’ prefers more moisture and afternoon shade while M. repens ‘Creeping Grape Holly’ prefers full sun and little-to-no water. It spreads by underground stems, becoming an ideal groundcover under trees. Try planting with spring bulbs.

Contributed by Joan Nusbaum, Colorado Master Gardener. Photograph also by Joan Nusbaum.

To read more about broadleaf evergreen shrubs, go to: For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or (A version of this article appeared in The Gazette on 4/18/09.)