Where I live in Colorado, we’re lucky if we get 14″ of moisture per year
Depending on where you live, you may get even less!
Just to put that in perspective, Seattle and Chicago get close to 40″ of moisture per year. Boston gets about 44″ per year. And Atlanta and Orlando get around 50″ per year.
It’s dry in the West, which means we need to be strategic about the flowers we grow in our gardens.
If you want to create a thriving western garden, it’s helpful to learn about “waterwise gardening”
With waterwise gardening:
- You group plants together that have similar watering and sunlight needs. For example, plants that need less water and a lot of sunlight go in one section of your yard. Plants that may need a little more water go in a different section of your yard. That way, you’re being efficient with water.
- You intentionally choose flowers that don’t need as much supplemental water to grow. (No need to use the sprinkler today!) You may hear these plants called “drought-tolerant flowers.”
While drought-tolerant flowers may make you think of cacti, rest easy, there are many beautiful flowers that grow well with less water.
They just may not be the flowers you know from other parts of the country!
To help you dig into waterwise flower gardening, here are 4 useful resources
I wish I had known about these resources sooner in my gardening journey, and I hope they help you.
These resources are a good place to learn about waterwise gardening and discover drought-tolerant flowers that grow well in our region.
I’m sharing the links below for your convenience only. (They are not affiliate links.) You may be able to find the books locally.
1) “Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens” (book)
Lauren Springer and David Ogden are western flower gardening experts. They have a wonderful book called: “Waterwise Plants for Sustainable Gardens.”
This is one of my go-to books for waterwise flower ideas.
It’s filled with photos and helpful tips that can be used whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced gardener.
This book contains plant ideas for different regions of the semi-arid West, including the West Coast.
TIP: As you go through the book, make sure that the flowers you like match your plant hardiness zone. A plant hardiness zone tells you whether a plant is likely to survive the coldest winter temperatures that are expected in your area. Some of the flowers in the book may be better suited for parts of the West with warmer winters.
2) “Pretty Tough Plants” (book and web resources)
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone actually tested which plants grow well in the intermountain west?
Good news, there are people that do!
Plant Select is a non-profit collaboration between the Colorado State University Extension, the Denver Botanic Gardens and local horticulturalists.
With Plant Select, plants go through trials for a number of years to make sure they can handle our tricky, western growing conditions, and they’re non-invasive. The best plants are chosen as Plant Select. Then, they’re sold at local garden centers (from Colorado to Oregon) and online retailers that have a focus on western plants (like High Country Gardens).
Plant Select has a GREAT book called “Pretty Tough Plants.”
I refer to this book all the time. It’s another book that is user-friendly for gardeners of different levels.
Do you like online resources, rather than books?
You can see photos and descriptions of Plant Select flowers on their website, including both flowers and shrubs.
And if you’d like to see these flowers in person…
You can find Plant Select demonstration gardens in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and northern Texas.
I’ve started visiting the demonstration gardens in the metro Denver area. So far, my favorite demonstration garden is the waterwise garden in Aurora, Colorado. They have a lot of helpful signage and a variety of flowers, shrubs and trees.
I’ll share upfront, some demonstration gardens are better than others, and the plants aren’t always marked.
So, if you’re just getting started with waterwise gardening, my suggestion is to visit the Plant Select demonstration gardens at your local botanic gardens. That way, you can ask what a flower is if you like it. We’ll chat about plant identification apps in a future tip, but you can always try identifying plants with plant ID apps too.
3) Online workshops, videos and low-water plant lists
Colorado Springs Utilities has a number of helpful resources on gardening with less water.
On their waterwise plants website, you can find links to:
- A variety of online workshops, including a video called “Waterwise Landscaping for Beginners”
- Photo galleries of waterwise landscapes
- Low-water plant lists
While the online workshops are tailored to Colorado Springs residents, many of their waterwise gardening tips are relevant well beyond.
This is a website worth checking out, regardless of whether you live in Boulder, Boise or Cheyenne.
4) Native plant lists and tips
Would you like to learn about growing “native plants” that are drought tolerant?
Native plants have occurred naturally in a region. They’ve adapted to local growing conditions, and they can provide great habitats and food sources for birds, insects, etc.
Many states have “Native Plant Societies,” and these organizations have helpful information about native plants for your area.
Here are the native plant societies for the intermountain west:
- Colorado Native Plant Society
- Idaho Native Plant Society
- Montana Native Plant Society
- New Mexico Native Plant Society
- Utah Native Plant Society
- Wyoming Native Plant Society
If you don’t see your state above, simple google: [Name of your state] Native Plant Society.
In Colorado, the native plant society has a dedicated resource page for gardening with native plants in Colorado.
You’ll find their plant guides for every region in the state. For example, they have suggestions for low-water, native plants for the Front Range of Colorado. You’ll also find their recommendations for flowers to avoid planting because they can be invasive.
Of all the resources I’m sharing with you, I would say these resources aren’t quite as user-friendly for budding gardeners. (There’s a lot of Latin and lingo.) But if you’re interested in growing native plants, these websites are still worth exploring.
Please note… Many native plants are drought tolerant, but not all.
I’ll share more tips about drought-tolerant flowers and waterwise gardening in the future
If you’d like to receive waterwise gardening tips as they’re added, scroll down to join my mailing list.
And hey, sharing is caring
If you have friends who are interested in gardening with less water and want to choose great flowers for the semi-arid West, please pass this article along.