Winter Best Practices for Western Shrubs

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Four planting tips to improve your homeowner experience

As we look to the future, native plants are likely to play a greater role in our residential landscapes. Western dryland shrubs—like leadplant, fernbush, hardy manzanita, sumac and Apache plume—put Colorado front and center in our communities. They create a sense of place, tend to be lower maintenance, use minimal water and support birds and pollinators.

Plus, many of these shrubs grow horizontally. This means you don’t have to use as many of them in your residential landscape designs, saving you money.

But when it comes to native dryland shrubs, consider these planting tips, so you create easier winter landscapes for your buyers.

Tip 1: Give western shrubs breathing room near sidewalks and driveways.

Many of these shrubs expand and grow wide (like cookies on a baking sheet), so give them extra room near hardscapes. Don’t pop them next to a border where they’ll need a hard and unnatural shear to avoid getting mangled in snowblowers. You’ll enhance their natural beauty when you give them room to spread.

Tip 2: Avoid creating unintended ice rinks.

Regionally native shrubs like fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) offer beautiful alternatives to water-guzzling plants like hydrangeas. But some of these shrubs can be dense, so think about where you plant them. Avoid placing them directly along the south side of driveways or sidewalks where they can cast winter shadows and create ice build-up. Instead, choose lower-growing shrubs for edges or move denser shrubs farther away.

Related: Smart Irrigation for Residential Landscapes

Tip 3: Think about microclimates. Location, location, location!

Western shrubs thrive in well-drained locations that are hot, sunny and dry, including slopes. They don’t like to sit in wet soils, and cold, winter soils don’t dry out quickly. With that in mind, skip using these shrubs in damp, north-facing locations or under downspouts that get snowmelt and rainwater from much of the roof.

Tip 4: Skip weed barrier and watch how you apply your mulch.

Weed barriers can accidentally trap moisture from rain and snow near root crowns, encouraging rot. (Organic mulch can do the same thing, so avoid piling mulch near stems.)

In addition, weed barriers can throw off the microorganisms and health of the soil, affecting how well plants grow. These fabrics make it difficult for pollinators to nest in the ground. And over time, weeds are likely to grow on top of weed barriers anyway. Mother Nature doesn’t like bare spots.

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