Plant Select Program can help your yard thrive

In the Plant Select gardens at Colorado State University Extension’s office at the Mesa County Fairgrounds, visitors can see late-summer garden stars including Coronado red hyssop, a type of agastache, with blue mist spirea (which is not designated a Plant Select variety, but still performs well in our climate). They can also see the brilliant yellow blooms of Engelmann’s daisy complemented with Furman’s red sage salvia thriving in the dry heat.



In the Plant Select gardens at Colorado State University Extension’s office at the Mesa County Fairgrounds, visitors can see late-summer garden stars including Coronado red hyssop, a type of agastache, with blue mist spirea (which is not designated a Plant Select variety, but still performs well in our climate). They can also see the brilliant yellow blooms of Engelmann’s daisy complemented with Furman’s red sage salvia thriving in the dry heat.



The Plant Select trial gardens at Colorado State University Extension’s offices at the Mesa County Fairgrounds are regularly maintained by two master gardeners, Annie McDonald and Jim Kearl. The three flower beds are located on the north side of the parking lot and the plants have labels indicating the identity of the varieties of Plant Select plants.



What if there were gardens that have already figured it all out? Places that tried all the different types of flowers you pondered planting in your yard? A kind of test to determine what thrived in the soils and climate of our high desert, to save you money, time and angst in figuring it out yourself?

If you ever wanted gardens that could show you what to plant and what not to bother sticking in the ground, guess what? They already exist with the Plant Select Program.

This program isn’t some all-knowing oracle that can look into the future and see you ripping pathetic, dead plants from your flower bed, but it can help prevent the situation.

There’s a reason the motto of Plant Select is “plant smarter,” and it is largely because the program has already tested how different varieties perform for you, so you don’t have to figure it out the hard way. The program, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, is a nonprofit organization that works with Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and horticultural professionals. It organizes annual trials that test how plants perform in our state’s growing conditions.

In 2016, the program compiled performance surveys gathered from 53 public gardens in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Montana to make recommendations. These gardens not only grow the plants for evaluation, but provide a test garden for the public to examine, and showcase varieties that perform well in the communities they’re set in.

We have a test garden in the Grand Valley at the Colorado State University Extension offices at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Master gardeners maintain the Plant Select flowerbeds, which are located on the north side of the parking lot in front of the office. There, visitors can see past Plant Select winners as well as possible future ones growing this season. And let me tell you, if plants can thrive in the middle of the scorching heat of the fairgrounds parking lot, chances are they’ll do well in your yard, too.

Test garden participants evaluate the plants for vigor and overall performance. Obviously, the ones that don’t survive don’t score well and don’t make the cut.

But many of the plants that have been part of the Plant Select trials over the years are still growing at the extension office’s gardens. This year, the office is trying out around 40 Plant Select varieties, many of which are meant for desert environments, according to extension agent Susan Carter.

“Their focus is on more water-wise plants,” Carter said. “So I think that’s really important, especially in years like this year when it’s so dry.”

Currently, the Plant Select gardens are located in public gardens stretching from Boise, Idaho to Amarillo, Texas, and Jefferson City, Montana to Holyoke. The majority of them are located on Colorado’s Front Range.

Plants are evaluated on winter hardiness, bloom, foliage quality and overall performance.

The winners also are categorized according to elevation, which allows for gardeners to differentiate between what varieties might be more appropriate for a high-alpine garden versus a desert climate sitting at 4,000 feet.

All the Plant Select varieties can be found on the program’s website, plantselect.org, and users can search characteristics including flower color, hardiness, water requirements and deer resistance.

The program also published a book this year called “Pretty Tough Plants,” which highlights 135 of the top picks for hardy plants including ground covers, shrubs, grasses, perennials, annuals and trees.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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