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Wednesday - March 23, 2011

From: Basalt, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Rain Gardens
Title: Native plants for high moisture area in Aspen CO
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We live near Aspen, CO at about 7,000 ft elevation. We have a seasonal creek running through our yard with large amounts of fertilization from farms in the water and a very high water table with tons of moisture. The Iris have grown so high in 3 years that they block our view of the water (some are close to 5 feet high and no longer have blooms even though we try to thin them out every year). What are good plants that will grow in this much moisture and fertilization but remain low? We prefer for it not to be another type of grass. THANK YOU!!!!


You have more than one problem, here. In the first place, all that fertilizer in the water is more than the plants need, want or maybe even tolerate. In the second place, there's all that water. And in the third place - 7000 feet? Wow, we need astronaut plants.

We are going to suggest a rain garden for your property because there are plants that adapt very well to having wet feet part of the time, and since you note that your creek is seasonal, can tolerate dry feet other times. Our biggest concern is going to be what your USDA Hardiness Zone is and whether there are native plants that can survive there, along with the other conditions.  The other reason we are going to recommend that is that we have a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that addresses the subject in Colorado Springs, which is pretty high, too. Incorporated into that previous answer are links to more good information on rain gardens, plus some Colorado plants suggested that came from our Native Plant Database. Here is another article to fill you in more on the subject: Rain Garden Design Template. Of course, we realize that probably what you have is a snow melt garden, but the principle is the same.

And by the way, speaking of all that fertilizer, it occurs to us that could be the reason why your iris no longer bloom, they just get very tall. High nitrogen fertilizer encourages plants to grow leaves. Because they are using so much energy growing those leaves, they don't have the energy remaining to grow flowers. This is often a problem for flowering trees that are standing in a lawn that is being regularly fertilized with a high-nitrogen fertilizer; good for the greening of the lawn, but for the blooming of the trees, not so much.

Back to the climate and elevation. Take a look at this USDA Hardiness Zone map for Colorado. It's really difficult to establish a zone, because of all the changes in altitude. Your garden could be anywhere from Zone 2b to Zone 4b, with average annual minimum temperatures of -50 to -20 deg F. You will definitely need to study our web page on any plant you select to see if it can adapt to your temperatures, as well as wet and then dry feet.








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