Plant this, not that: trees and grasses

Plant this, not that: trees and grasses

Ruby Muhly Grass (Photo by Gardens on Spring Creek)

Written by Rita Jokerst, Horticulturist, Spring Creek Gardens

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When people transplant themselves across the country, they may want to do the same with their favorite plants—ignoring soil conditions, rainfall or pest pressure in their new home. In this article, I discuss alternatives to some plants that are not ideal for the front set.

Our first two banned plants are Erianthus Ravenna (hardy pampas grass) and Miscanthus sinensis (maidenhair herb). Both grasses have been shown to escape cultivated areas and spread into the wild, and their need for moisture is not well suited to Colorado’s arid summers. When considering alternatives, consider how much space you have.

For larger areas, keep this in mind Sporopulus reti (Giant sacaton grass), native to the southwest, has fronds of foliage topped with golden seed heads. Reaching seven feet tall and five feet wide, the Goliath of Grass can serve as an impressive anchor in your garden.

For smaller areas, keep this in mind Calamagrostis brachitricha (Korean feather reed grass) or Muhlenbergia reversoni “PUND01S” (Ruby Muhly Plucky Grass). The former is an elegant four-season grass well suited to a variety of sites and conditions, and the latter is a soft-textured grass with small pink flowers that dazzle when backlit on autumn mornings or evenings.

Ruby Muhly Grass (Photo by Gardens on Spring Creek)

As for the trees, skip the noise Acer x fremanii ‘Autumn Fire’ (Autumn Fire Maple) is very susceptible to chlorosis in our soils. Instead, make smarter choices Sugar maple (sugar maple) which is more suitable for our area. Think agriculture ‘Green Mountain’ or ‘Bailsta’, the latter usually branded as Fall Fiesta® sugar maple. They are excellent, long-lived shade trees with gorgeous fall color.

Finally, for the love of all that is beautiful and healthy in your yards, don’t plant Terrified people (Aspen shakes). These trees don’t like our altitude, summer heat, or urban pollution, making them susceptible to a variety of diseases including canker, heart rot, leaf spot, and rust.

Instead, look at Amelanchier x grandiflora “Autumn Shine” (Apple Serving). This adaptable plant provides forage for birds and multiple interesting seasons, although its fall display is certainly the ultimate selling point of this plant. Remove root suckers to keep the raspberry looking like a tree rather than a shrub.

If you really insist on getting an aspen tree, consider getting a more specialized type – Terrified people “NE Arb”, commonly trademarked as Prairie Gold® aspen. This variety is a Nebraska native described as being more adapted to low elevation gardens with drought, heat, and disease tolerance not found in mountain species. The Gardens feature three of these bad boys at Foothills Garden, and we’re excited to see how they perform in the coming years.

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