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Popularity of water-wise plants grows across Colorado

And, presenting: Plant Select’s Top 10 most popular plants.

As Colorado sizzles in the summer sun, many people are turning to water-wise plants to spruce up their landscapes.

“We promote 160 plants that are sold by retailers along the Front Range,” said Ross Shrigley, executive director at Plant Select. “We’ve seen sales increase by 14% since 2017 and expect that to continue to increase.”

Plant Select is a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists that advocates for using plants that thrive in the high plains and Rocky Mountain regions.

Water-wise plants can survive on what Mother Nature provides or need just a few extra inches of water during the summer growing season.

“The work Plant Select does to research and promote plants suited for Colorado’s semi-arid climate is important to expanding the use of these water-wise plants around our homes,” said Jeff Tejral, water efficiency manager at Denver Water. 

The Denver Daisy is a one-of-a-kind flower created and named in honor of the City of Denver’s 150th anniversary. It thrives in hot, sunny areas with minimal moisture. Photo credit: Plant Select.

“Seeing Plant Select’s label on a plant means buyers can know that plant meets the collaborative’s criteria and is a good plant for our climate, like knowing that appliances with the Energy Star label use less energy and that WaterSense-labeled devices use less water,” Tejral said.

The Plant Select label also is important for growers and retailers, because knowing buyers are looking for the label makes them more willing to invest time and money into growing plants that meet Plant Select's criteria, Tejral said. 

There are a wide variety of plants that fall under the water-wise description and provide alternatives to thirsty Kentucky bluegrass. They don’t require as much water as grass and they are beautiful, Shrigley said. 

Plant Select promotes 160 water-wise plants on its website. The plants all thrive in Colorado’s semi-arid climate. Image credit: Plant Select.

Shrigley said the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a renewed interest in gardening and home improvement, which led to an increase in awareness about water-wise plants and sales of those plants. 

Shrigley believes homeowners looked at ways to improve their homes and spent more time researching plants that grow well in Colorado, which led them to Plant Select’s website.

He also said many people moving to Colorado from other states are aware that water is scarcer in the West compared to other parts of the U.S. and they want to do their part to reduce water consumption.

Dog Tuff grass is a popular alternative to Kentucky bluegrass because it doesn’t require as much water and holds up well against pee breaks from the pups. Photo credit: Plant Select.

“Colorado is not Iowa or Ohio, and since we don’t get the moisture they do in the Midwest, we shouldn’t try to grow the types of plants or grass they see in states with more water,” Shrigley said. “We encourage people here to embrace our climate and pick plants that will do well here.”

Shrigley says with Colorado’s growing population, impacts related to climate change and growing stress on the Colorado River — which supplies half of Denver Water’s supply — it’s important that homeowners prepare their landscapes for the future.

“You can’t do landscape change in an instant, so it’s good to think about water-wise plant options now,” he said. “We need to prepare for a future with less water and that includes using the right plants.”

The Highlands Village Gardens is one of Plant Select’s Showcase Gardens and features water-wise plants. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Being smart about watering outside is critical to Denver Water and its customers, as outside water use accounts for about half of residential water use.

That’s why Denver Water supports efforts by Plant Select and another nonprofit called Resource Central to help make customers more efficient with their landscapes.

Read about Denver Water’s partnership with Resource Central, which offers the popular Garden In A Box program that helped Denver-area customers plant 100,000 square feet of water-wise gardens in 2021. 

“Our customers are seeing that there are other options besides grass for their landscapes,” Tejral said. 

“Water-wise plants can be used in large parts of the yard or just in small sections. Either way, it helps customers be more efficient with their water while giving them a great looking yard.” 

Furman's Red sage produces crimson and scarlet flowers through the summer and autumn. Photo credit: Plant Select.

Resource Central offers popular water-wise planting kits called Garden In A Box, and some of the kits include Plant Select plants> One kit was designed by Plant Select experts.

Check out stories and advice from Denver Water customers who have added Garden In A Box kits to their landscapes.

Both organizations also offer a variety of additional resources for homeowners, including irrigation audits, watering guidelines and landscape designs. 

Plant Select also has dozens of Demonstration and Showcase Gardens across the state to give people an idea of what’s available.

Turkish veronica is a sturdy groundcover with teardrop-shaped leaves. It is reliably evergreen and takes on purplish tints in hot sun. Photo credit: Plant Select.

Both organizations recommend researching plants before purchasing and say fall is a great time to plant because the weather is cooler, which gives new plants time to establish their roots over the winter months.

Plant Select also is a great resource for information about retailers that sell plants that meet the nonprofit's criteria.

And now, Plant Select’s Top 10 most popular plants of 2020:

  1. Blonde Ambition blue gramma grass
  2. Dog Tuff grass
  3. Fire Spinner ice plant
  4. Furman’s Red sage
  5. Red Rocks penstemon
  6. Denver Daisy
  7. Turkish Veronica
  8. Little Trudy catmint
  9. Undaunted ruby muhly grass
  10. Pikes Peak Purple penstemon
Blonde Ambition blue gramma grass is Plant Select’s most popular plant. It is a Western native grass that does well in sun or partial sun with minimal water needs once established. Photo credit: Plant Select.