Forsythia_DBG_2764Just when you don’t think you can stand another minute of bare branches or dead, brown-gray foliage, spring heralds its arrival in a burst of dazzling yellow. All over town, forsythias reassure us that the growing season has finally arrived.

Originally from eastern Asia, where they have been cultivated for centuries, forsythias were collected for western gardens in the early 1800s. Most current garden varieties are hybrids of two species, Forsythia suspensa and F. viridissima. The problem is that the resulting cultivars aren’t reliably hardy in much of Colorado.

Happily plant breeders have been hard at work. ‘Northern Gold’ and ‘Northern Sun’ are both the product of a cross that includes a very hardy (but not very showy) Korean species. The resulting bushes retain the spectacular floral display of their other parentage, and survive down to USDA zone 4, or even 3 with a thick mulch or good snow cover. That’s plenty of hardiness for the Front Range. ‘Meadowlark’ is another cultivar hardy to zone 4.


photo by Lisa Bird

Berlandiera lyrata

Appearance: This very aromatic plant has bright green, flat spreading leaves with shallowly lobed edges.  The flowers are daisy-like, with green center and light yellow petals.  The underside of the petals have maroon markings on them.

Habitat: This plant is very drought tolerant and blooms profusely throughout the season.  The flowers have a wonderful chocolate scent are are edible.  Chocolate Flower prefers full sun and needs very little water.  Found on the Western plains to northern Mexico, in dry rocky soils.  Hardy to Zone 4. (more…)

Iris pallida ‘Variegata’

While most people grow bearded irises for their rainbow of spectacular blooms, Variegated Sweet Iris is prized for its striking variegated leaves. The plants bloom in late spring with lovely violet-blue flowers, and your nose will appreciate their delightfully heady fragrance. But that’s just the beginning. Long after the flowers fade, the stiff, sword-like leaves will remain, with their vertical stripes of blue-green, white and cream creating an exclamation point in the landscape. Plants grow from two to three feet tall, and clumps spread over time.


Gazania linearis ‘Colorado Gold’

Gazanias for Colorado! With this cultivar, those of us in cold-winter areas can overwinter these daisy-like flowers usually reserved for gardens in warmer climates. Clumps of strap-shaped green leaves grow only three-inches high, while the big, sunny blossoms hover above on their short stems, stealing the show. The flowers close up at night, and stay that way on cloudy days. An extra bonus: the leafy clumps are evergreen.


Zinnia grandiflora @ChatfieldBG 2006jun29 LAH 003rAPPEARANCE

Resembling a carpet of sunshine, prairie zinnia will delight you with a profusion of gold flowers late summer through fall. A native southwest perennial, prairie zinnia grows low and mounded. Tiny needle-like leaves of light green grow 4 to 8 inches tall topped with vibrant, nearly round yellow-rayed flowers.


This native wildflower loves the heat and sun. It thrives in dry, well-drained soil and can grow on slopes and in rugged terrain. Prairie zinnia is hardy in zones 4-7 and is deer and drought tolerant. It grows naturally throughout the southern regions of the intermountain west. Start seeds indoors in the spring or sow in the garden in late spring. For a longer flowering period, sow the seed in succession. It will self-seed once it is established.


Prairie zinnia forms masses of golden flowers resembling daisies on finely textured foliage growing from a woody base. The low, shrub like growth makes a good ground cover, spreading 4 to 15 inches wide. Prairie zinnia is perfect for naturalizing, in borders and edging around other dry loving plants such as penstemon and cacti. The flowers remain from summer to fall and attract birds and butterflies. Remove the dead flower heads to increase the number of flowers and length of bloom.

Contributed by Valerie Smith, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 520.7684, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, or

Photo by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener.

Heliopsis helianthoides False Sunflower bloom 2 @CSUAPPEARANCE

This mid-summer bloomer features golden yellow daisy-like flowers up to three inches across. The bright flowers with dark centers perch on stiff stalks rising from clumps of dark green foliage. Waves of these golden flowers are often seen along roadsides or in fields and meadows.


Heliopsis is an easy to grow perennial. It prefers well drained soil amended with compost, but will tolerate rocky or clay soils. Plant in full sun to part shade and remove the dead flowers during the growing season to promote new blooms. Divide the foliage clumps every two to three years to stimulate growth. Heliopsis is hardy in zones 3-9.


A valuable addition to the perennial border or cutting garden, Heliopsis blooms from summer through fall. A mid to tall perennial that can reach heights of five feet, it is best planted in the back of borders or open areas. Grow with other colorful perennials such as campanulas, hardy geraniums and rudebeckias. The flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators to the garden.

Contributed by Valerie Smith, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636-8921, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays – Thursdays, or

Photo courtesy of Leslie Holzmann.