Why Grow Native Trees? There are many benefits to using Colorado native trees for home and commercial landscapes. Colorado native trees are naturally adapted to their specific Colorado climate, soil, and environmental conditions. When correctly sited, they can be ideal plants for a sustainable landscape that requires reduced external inputs such as watering, fertilizing, and pruning. In order to realize these benefits, the planting site must approximate the natural environmental conditions of the plant in its native habitat. Another benefit of using Colorado native trees in landscapes is that they attract a wide variety of wildlife including mammals, birds, and butterflies. Rapid urbanization in the state is reducing biodiversity as habitat is removed for building and road construction. Landscaping with natives on a large or small scale can maintain biodiversity that otherwise would be lost to development.
Native trees should not be collected from the wild because this reduces the biodiversity and causes a disturbed area that may be invaded by weeds. Most of the trees listed in Table 1 are available as container-grown plants. Native trees often do not have as great a visual impact in the container or immediately after planting as do traditional horticultural species. Over time, they reward the homeowner with their natural beauty and other benefits. Where to Grow Native Trees There are several factors to consider when designing a native landscape. Due to Colorado’s variation of elevation and topography, native plants are found in many habitats. In order to maximize survival with minimal external inputs, trees should be selected to match the site’s life zone and the plant’s moisture, light, and soil requirements. Even if a plant is listed for a particular life zone, the aspect (north, south, east, or west facing) of the proposed site should match the moisture requirement. For example, a blue spruce, which has a high moisture requirement, should not be sited with plants of dissimilar water needs. Similarly, a blue spruce should not be planted on a south-facing slope, where a significant amount of additional moisture would be required.
Growing native trees does not exclude the use of adapted non-native plants. There are many non-native plants that are adapted to Colorado’s climate and can be used in a native landscape as long as moisture, light, and soil requirements are similar. If a site has a non-native landscape that requires additional inputs (such as an irrigated landscape on the plains), dry land native plants can be used in non-irrigated pockets within the non-native landscape. These native “pocket gardens” can be located in areas such as parkways and next to hardscapes that are difficult to irrigate. Some communities regulate landscape appearance or the type of plants that may be used. So before completing a landscape design, check with local authorities, including homeowners associations, to discover any regulations that may affect your design. Life Zones of Colorado Colorado can be divided into five life zones that are broadly defined by the plant communities that occur at the approximate elevations described below.
The Plains life zone, 3,500 to 5,500 feet, is located in eastern Colorado where the majority of Colorado’s population resides. It is dominated by grasslands and streamside cottonwoods. In western Colorado, the Upper Sonoran life zone is located at altitudes below 7,000 feet, and in the San Luis Valley, below 8,000 feet. This zone is characterized by semi desert shrublands and piñon pine-juniper woodlands at its upper limit. The Foothills life zone occurs from 5,500 to 8,000 feet and is dominated by dry land shrubs such as Gambel oak and mountain-mahogany, and in southern and western Colorado, piñon-juniper woodlands and sagebrush. The Montane zone consists of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, and aspen woodlands at elevations of 8,000 to 9,500 feet. Dense forests of Subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce dominate the Subalpine zone at 9,500 to 11,500 feet. The Alpine zone above 11,500 feet is a treeless zone made up of grasslands called tundra. Species requiring medium to high moisture occur along watercourses throughout all zones. Culture and Maintenance Successful establishment of native trees require supplemental moisture for one to several years after planting. Once established, the watering frequency can be reduced or eliminated, if the plant was sited in its native environmental conditions. Container-grown trees can be planted at any time during the growing season. Container-grown native trees are often grown in a soilless mixture of peat and bark, so the planting site should be amended with some organic material. Using native trees offers many benefits in addition to reduced maintenance. Natives are part of our natural heritage, and the ecosystems of Colorado. Native plant communities make Colorado visually distinct from the eastern, southern, or western United States. Native plant gardens are wildlife habitats and each plant contribute to the biodiversity of the state.
To see chart concerning Life Zones of Colorado go to: