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Western Natives to Spruce Up Your Garden

Charles Willgren
Wikimedia Commons

You can add a touch of fall color to your garden landscape by incorporating western natives. KUNC Gardener Tom Throgmorton suggests which native plants can best provide that pop of color.

This time of year we look for autumn, oranges and reds. These aren’t just the colors seen in the eastern states. We have western native plants that are colorful.

Some native shrubs to seek out are Three-leaf Sumac, native currants and Western Sandcherry. Three-leaf Sumac grows on rocky foothills slopes. There it stays less than four feet tall. In the landscape, with more water, it can grow eight or ten feet tall. It’s an irregularly shaped plant. The lobed leaves turn orange and red in the fall.

Native currants have showy yellow spring flowers. They have a small, tart red fruit. Currants grow four to six feet tall and wide. The leaves turn orange-red before they fall.

The leaves of Western Sandcherry are glossy silver-green in the summer. They turn to a rosy-red in the fall. Sandcherry prefers hot, dry conditions. It grows at elevations up to ten thousand feet. Pawnee Buttes is a low growing selection of Sandcherry. Pawnee Buttes is a groundcover shrub that grows a foot or so high.

Now is the time to pick out native trees for their red fall color. Most native trees are seedlings with unique genetics. Their fall color is as variable as their genes. Selecting plants in the fall is the way to take advantage of their colorful diversity.

Bigtooth Maple is a Rocky Mountain native with variable fall color. Many turn orange to red in the fall. Bigtooth Maple is slow growing but can get twenty to thirty feet tall. It tolerates dry, alkaline soils. Use it as an accent in a dry land garden or a backdrop to other plants.

Gamble Oak is our shrubby native oak. It is variable, growing fifteen to thirty feet tall. It is usually found in groves in its native habitat. Gamble Oak has glossy green summer leaves. Many of the oak develop orange-red fall color.

If you don’t have a place for any of these colorful western natives in your garden, go for a hike in the hills to enjoy their show. 


Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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