Life is a little different in the mountains than at lower elevations. Cooking takes longer. It’s harder to catch your breath but easy to catch a celebrity or two on the slopes. It’s no surprise to discover plants behave a little differently at 8,000 feet than they do at sea level. But landscaping at high altitudes doesn’t have to be an uphill climb. Knowing the difference between your property and one 4,000 feet below is crucial for a beautiful yard. Before you break ground, here are a few ideas that will make your high altitude landscaping project more successful. “And now with the Colorado Stay at Home Order, this is a fabulous time to plan and plant.”
Insist on Native Species
The best advice for landscaping at high elevations also holds true at sea level. If you want a low-maintenance property, choose plants that are native to your region. This is extra good advice when your home is exposed to any kind of extreme. In the desert, native succulents thrive without the watering requirements of traditional grass. In New England, native plants are hardy enough to survive hard frosts and heavy seasonal rains. In higher elevations, native species have adapted to thrive in thin air, rocky soils and snow. Colorado spruce, red-berried elder, and columbine are all good choices for high altitude planting.
Keep in mind, just because something grows in your area doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for your property. Aspen trees bring many leaf peepers up the high country in the fall to marvel at the golden colors. It’s easy to see why many people try to plant them in Denver or in their yards in Vail. But the shoots and roots that make these trees so prolific, make them a headache for homeowners. The tree will constantly grow new trunks, and leave you digging up the dead ones.
Take Advantage of Microclimates
Once your elevation tops 9,000 feet, the number of non-native options dwindles. But, there might be places on your property where the conditions are naturally able to support warm-weather flora. The term “microclimate” describes small areas of your property where growing conditions are unique. The temperature may remain a little warmer where your garage and house meet to block the wind. Maybe the soil at the end of your driveway holds moisture longer than anywhere else. These areas offer you the chance to grow plants or trees that might not survive in another spot.
High altitude soil does not have a great reputation for supporting plant life. High pH levels, insufficient nutrients, and extra rocky terrain are all common issues with mountain soils. But these are problems you can fix. The compost you get from household kitchen scraps can bolster your plants and reduce your carbon footprint. Store-bought fertilizer can also give nutrient levels a boost. Proper mulching will help maintain moisture levels. Soil testing is a great way to find out what you’re working with and what fertilizers will offer the best results. The more you know about your soil, the better you’ll be at encouraging plant growth on your property.
Slopes are great for skiing, but not so much for landscaping. Too steep an incline can cause issues with drainage and erosion. Grassy lawns on a steep pitch present challenges in both seeding and maintenance. To make growing easier, terracing, and other labor-intensive techniques can help create flat spaces. If an extensive project requiring heavy machinery isn’t your cup of tea, skip the terracing and consult with a local professional. They can look at your property’s unique layout and offer customized solutions.
Clint Whitworth is a guest author and retired real estate agent who alternates spending time between his cabins in Colorado and Wisconsin. He enjoys fishing, hiking, skiing, and growing an eco-friendly vegetable garden on both properties.