First-time high-altitude gardener here...

Golden, CO

Hello! I will be gardening this year for the first time in the foothills above Denver (moved here from D.C.) Have a piece of land with some small periennial patches already established, some wildflower areas (columbine, yarrow, flax), a small herb garden (with hummingbird attractors), etc. A grab bag of plantings that individually are nice, but sort of scattered.

My aims this first year are just to find out what works and doesn't work. First of all, elk and mule deer hang all around the house and browse on everything, it seems. Part of the land around the house is fenced, so I can plant anything there, but I'm interested in native and deer-resistant periennials for the non-fenced area. Also, I have a lot of balconies that the deer can't get to, where I want window boxes that can deal with the fierce sun.

So my questions are, what are some periennals, native preferred, that will resist the elk and deer? Bird-friendly (berries or nectar) preferred. And for my windowboxes, which don't have to be deer resistant, what can withstand the sun and wind? For my lower window boxes, I'm thinking portulaca, which I love, but may not be tall enough. Has anyone grown them in elk country?

Finally, there are these really beautiful trees around the stream near my house, which I believe to be mountain ash. Gorgeous berries in the fall, fine locust-like foliage. They seem to grow mostly in shade and near the wetter ground, so that species probably wouldn't do for my yard. But I'm interested in some non-aspen color, and these have gorgeous warm-yellow foliage in the fall. Anyone grow any ash species for landscape trees, in this area? Do I have any choices for red color, in trees that would do well up here in the foothills? The native rocky mountain maples are beautiful but sort of shrubby.

Thanks in advance! I'm excited to have found this forum.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Hi nele, I'm also new to high-altitude gardening, moved here to Weed Ca from coastal NC last September. We can learn together. ;-)

One resource you might like to know of is High Country Gardens -- they're a commercial nursery in New Mexico: -- They seem to really know their stuff.

Lovely that you have a stream!


Golden, CO

Excellent! thanks Kyla. I looked immediately at the "critter repellent" section and noticed the "Japanese rocking fountain" - wonder if it works for elk??? Has anyone used it? I love water sound anyway, but had thought a water feature might be out of the question because of the aridity and wildlife!

So was it an adjustment, no longer having humidity in your life? :-) I miss it, though I do not miss mold and abundant bugs :-)

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Yes it was an adjustment, but an easy one, my body seems to really like this climate. And the mold is replaced by abundant dust, but I don't mind.

I also have critter issues, thought not elk, mainly deer and rabbits. I'll be growing my veggies in containers for now....

Right now tho, humidity is the actual issue, we here are in the midst of a big rain that is about to drown my WinterSown containers...... ironic. Wish I could share the rain with some of the folks here in this forum who have had none to speak of this winter.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I didn't know that the Japanese rocking fountain scared off critters but I remember seeing them in little streams in Thailand. They are cute and make a wonderful sound. Theirs are entirely water driven and one hotel we stayed in disabled them at night to keep from disturbing the guests' sleep. I thought it was unfortunate because I loved the sound.
I say, don't worry about whether they drive the elk away or not. They are great for relaxing the humans.
As for high altitude gardening, I am a New Orleans/Mississippi transplant and love high altitude gardening except for winter. Winter is a pain but it is quite beautiful most of the time. I grow anything that is rated for my zone -- 5a, which is a whole lot of stuff. There are even hydrangeas and magnolias that grow here. One warning though, lots of stuff that does well in low areas are used to acid soil. You can have yours tested and see if it is alkaline but chances are excellent that it is. So forget acid loving plants like blueberries and azaleas. On the other hand raspberries and strawberries do well here and even some blackberries.
Some flowers that you may not have thought to use before like liatris do extremely well here, too. Roses have fewer problems because many of their molds and fungi don't like the dry air and roses really don't need as much water as most people think.
Welcome to gardening in the Rockies. I predict you will love it.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Welcome to the Rockies nele ^_^ I have a mountain ash in clayey soil in dry, windy conditions and it does just fine.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Welcome nele. I can't really say much about Elk resistant plants as I'm in the middle of a city. Have fun with it.

Golden, CO

Thanks everyone! Dahlianut, I may try to collect some mountain ash berries from nearby and see if I can germinate them.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

It's worth a try. I have mountain ash babys popping up here and there.

Reno, NV

Hi and Welcome:). Virgina creeper does well here, is liked by the birds and not much else. WARNING tho. It can be invasive and some people are allergic to it(that's why it's left alone). I had the missfortune to find that out last summer. Causes a burning stinging pain for hours. It pretty tho.

Oregon grapes seem to do well here. And those are edible.

Window boxes- My back patio is cement, gets lots of sun and a far bit of wind. Nasturtiums did pretty well for me. Lemmon thyme grew exceptionaly well and very pretty. Rosemary-as long as you pull it inside for the winter. Basil did ok in containers out there. Needed a bit extra water because of the wind. I had lettuce, radishes, chard, and other stuff out there.


Golden, CO

Thanks Duchessdreams. yes, Oregon grape grows wild as a groundcover all over the foothills, here. I know back east I admired the leatherleaf Mahonia (same sp. as Oregon grape) - wonder if it would grow here?

I like vines. The previous owner had a little trumpet vine started near the fence, hopefully it survived the winter and will climb. Virginia creeper - I love it! So, so gorgeous in the fall and that red is much missing in this landscape. But I have seen it take over houses for sure!

Carson City, NV(Zone 6b)

Hi nele,
Welcome to gardening in the high and dry. If your allergic to everything (like me) a humidifier can help soothe your sinuses, especially if you put it by your bed at night.

One of my favorite fall color trees around here is Liquidambar (sweetgum). I'm not sure if they are hardy to your zone but they do pretty well for us. You just don't want them near a lawn because the seed pods are spiky and shoot out of the mower at about 500 miles an hour.

I have portulaca in gravel mulch in full sun and it's perfectly happy. Some other wind resistant annuals in my garden are marigolds and morning glory. Even my cosmos do well in the wind because they grow out there from seed and have thicker stems than protected ones.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

Deer-resistant perennials:
Russian sage
Anything in the mint family

They eat my young lilacs, columbine, anemones, daylilies, apricot trees, butterfly bush, ... all kinds of things I didn't expect them to!

Golden, CO

Thanks Picante. Has anyone had success with HYSSOP sp. in deer-"infested" areas? It seems to do well in my neighbor's yard. Also, surprisingly, IRIS. Which reminds me: I was totally surprised at how gorgeous and widespread iris are used in Denver, and even up here in the foothills. Perhaps the dryness helps prevent the tubers from rotting?

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Iris makes sense as the leaves are very fibrous and tough. Not the kind of salad I want to eat.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

They leave my Siberian & Japanese irises alone. Irises do well in alkaline soil, so we have lots of them around here. Plus the German irises like it dry. They're the ones that really go to town. I don't thing the deer bother them much, either. I just don't have any in my deer-exposed areas to know.

Daylilies are said to be deer-resistant, but they get eaten here. The flower buds, that is.

Santa Fe, NM

Hi, Nele. I'm dropping in late. I live in the city so don't have deer or rabbit problems. The only thing I can tell you is to see what does well and if you like it, plant some more! When I grew dahlias in pots last year they loved the sun and heat but I doubt they would want too much wind. I planted mine rather late, though, and the wind had calmed down some by then. They are such pretty flowers.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Dahlias are gorgeous and do very well in the Rocky Mountains if you are willing to a) treat them as annuals or b) lift the bulbs at the end of the season and bring them in for the winter. Don't know how deer feel about them.
Deer really don't bother iris much and iris put on quite a show here. Wait until late May and early June. You will be thrilled with iris.
Nicotiniana is a plant deer hate. I guess it tastes bad. After the big fire here the deer were starving and a friend wanted some flowers in her burned up yard. The deer ate everything she put out so she sent her daughter to the store for nicotiniana. Sure enough, the deer came down the row and took a bite out of the first one, then spit it out and left the rest alone. Go nicotiniana.
Deer really enjoy fruit trees and roses, flowers and stems, and raspberries and tomatoes. I cage my tomatoes and they chew them up to the edge of the cage creating little square topiary tomatoes.
You know, I don't think they have ever touched my agastache but mine is the one they call anise hyssop -- not one of the fancy kinds. Agastache is a close relative of mint and I can't recall any deer problems with my mint either. I notice that they do like garlic tops though.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

they like garlic tops. uh-oh.

that was one of the non-wildflower type things I was hoping they might leave alone, oh well.

I read on another forum that deer ate everything but the poster's zinnias -- there was a photo of a rather large rather bare looking expanse with this little patch of colored blobs way out in the distance, lol! I immediately made plans for more zinnias.....

Good tips there Paj! thanks for the voice of experience.


Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Yes, we have group wailing parties in my neighborhood where we compare the deer's latest tolls on our precious plants. That said, we don't have so many that they eat everything we have. They always leave us some. Apparently we can thank the local mountain lion for that!

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Here I t hink the deer must've won, cause nobody much gardens.

Well it will be interesting we canbe sure of that.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

You can buy plastic deer fencing by the roll from Johnny's or maybe it is Gardeners Supply. You put it up with fence posts like those that are used for ranch fences. It is supposed to keep the deer out. I haven't tried it because my garden is oddly shaped, but I am sorely tempted. I am just too lazy to drive the stakes in the ground/rock we have here.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)

Yeah, some of that is on my list of things to buy and try. I need shade cloth too, I know I will need that for the deck. List getting kinda long. ;-)

I did do a fence like that in Santa Cruz....... to keep the neighborhood rabbits out! and also my landlady's kids. It may have been birdnetting I used...... and I only used those aluminum garden stakes that have the green plastic coating..... every few feet. Worked great. Doubt it would be strong enough for this tho...... plus have not found where they keep those particular stakes around here. Santa Cruz was a dream for access to all manner of things.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Ah, Santa Cruz is a dream period. I went to Gardeners Supply and found the first page devoted to deer proofing including plants and fencing on sale. Voila:

If this doesn't work, just google Gardeners' Supply.

Gastonia, NC(Zone 7b)


Aurora, CO(Zone 5b)

Nele, welcome to the Denver metro area. You have moved to a very pretty area, there in Golden. 2 areas of great info for Colorado gardening is the Denver Botanical Gardens and Colorado State University(the states ag school). As to dealing with deer and elk, I have no idea as the only wild things around here are fox and coyote, and those furry rats! Aliums grow great around here. I've even put leeks out in the flower gardens for there foliage and flowers, and greaat winter interest. Roses do great around here. Most of mine are near yard sprinkler range, so Ijust let that overspray a bit, and they do fine. Nicotianias are great, and they also kill bugs. When I get out to the gardens, I usually find all this little black flecs, and a big smile crosses my face. As to russian sage, I know that does well as it is almost overplanted around here. I've started 3 lavander plants from seed during my first year of gardening, and they all are doing well. Oregano and thyme do exceptionally well around here. Virginia creeper is nice, just cut it the ground every year if you want it reigned in. You might try spraying cougar or wolf urine around your fence area to keep the deer out of your yard. It doesn't really rain here enough to wash it away. And a key necesity around here is COMPOST. Well, after this novel, I'll just wish you the best of luck, and welcome to Denver. Paul.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Hi neighbor:
Welcome to the dry and windy midwest.

Although I live in town, deer and antelope come down from the mountains to feed. I have had my share of them even though my yard is fenced. They easily jump them under 7 ft high.

Evidently, I have nothing in my garden that they like to eat. They just leave hoof prints and droppings. I grow Daylilies, Iris, Sedums, Sempervivums (hen and chicks) Echanacea, Coreopsis, Oenothera, Penstemon, Asclepias, Hardy Mums, Gaillardias, Creeping Phlox, Iberis, Salvia, Veronica, Euphorbia, Armeria, Dianthus, Callirhoe, Heliopsis, Hyssop, hardy Geraniums, Catananche, Russian Sage, and many more.

I have roses and have lost a flower or two to them since they are growing along the fence that meets the sidewalk.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I would expect them to eat mums at the very least -- also hyssop. But maybe they don't like the flavor you planted.

Monument, CO(Zone 5a)

Welcome to Colorado, Nele.
Gardening here can be a real challenge, but I don't know any gardener who doesn't like a challenge!

I live in Monument, between Denver and Colorado Springs and have had success with everything I've grown. The list is too long to post here, but some of my favorites are: Delphinium, Daylilies, Oriental & Asiatic Lilies, Roses, Iris (all kinds), Dahlia, Galadiolus, Foxglove, Columbine, Agastache, Salvia, Poppies, Mums, Asters, Peonies, Daisies, Sedums, Penstemon, Allium and ALL spring bulbs.

I personally feel that fall planted spring bulbs give me the most bang for my buck. They are super easy to plant, require very little maintenance and water, and most return and increase year after year.

I also plant several raised bed vegetable gardens each spring and start a lot of my seeds indoors since we have such a short growing season. I also use row covers and 'wall-o-waters' to protect against weather and critters.

I have to say that the greatest challenge on my property is pocket gophers. For the first year I tried everything short of poison and then resorted to having Terminix come monthly and put poison in the tunnels after they ate nearly half of everything in a 4' wide by 75' long bed. Now, when I put in a new bed, I underline it with hardware cloth and they can't tunnel up from underneath. As of last Fall, it looks as though I've won the battle, but I'm not sure about the war!

I do have some deer pressure year round and I have found 'Deer Off' and 'Liquid Fence' to work very well in my gardens. One of my neighbors tried making the homemade version and I don't think it worked very well. I spray EVERYTHING starting with the first signs of growth in March, continuing every three to four weeks through the summer ending whenever there is nothing green growing.
This year I'm switching to 'Bobbex' because I've read and been told that the deer can become less sensitive to a product over time.

I hope some of this will help you in your Colorado gardening adventures.

Kalispell, MT(Zone 4b)

Welcome to the mountains everyone wants to be around. Glad to have you here. My only comment is build a deer fence before you buy one plant. They eat everything. You will find one plant survive one year and the next they gobble it up. I spent 4 years buying deer proof and they ate all but nicotania, barberry and Marygolds.

Thumbnail by Soferdig
Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Cute chickens, Sof!

Kalispell, MT(Zone 4b)

Those are my pheasants greeting all who visit our special place on the planet.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Wow! You have pheasants! I love pheasants both to hang out with and to eat, I am embarassed to admit. Do you have any males with their magnificent plumage?

Kalispell, MT(Zone 4b)

We have a large pond and river below our property and it is full of Pheasants. Every day all year we see them. I feed them in the winter just to keep them friendly. I don't hunt the ones here but Montana is full of Ringnecks.

Thumbnail by Soferdig
Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Oh, pheasants are so beautiful! Nice picture of that one.

Colorado Springs, CO(Zone 6a)

I've had great luck with the plants listed above, even on our unbelievably windy hilltop, even delphinium (staked, of course)! One thing I've noticed is that the deer seem to stop dead when they encounter lavender... I have that in front of a bed with lots of yummy columbine, and they haven't touched that.

Unfortunately, I think rabbits are munching on my Spring bulbs this year (these are in my protected backyard, so I know it's not the deer). I found several crocus and grape hyacinths nibbled on, and last year something decimated the garden phlox and balloon flower.

Others are hydrangea, dianthus, digitalis, echinacea, marguerites, shasta daisies, glads, coreopsis, hellebores, clematis, daylilies (so far... at another house the deer munched these to the ground), lupines (first year from seed, so they haven't bloomed for me yet), penstemon (same as the lupines), pennesetum, and red-hot poker plants. Although, they munched on ALL my grasses this winter, so we'll see if they leave them alone once they come back up.

Another thing to keep in mind is our Colorado soil (or lack thereof!). Ours is heavy clay, pretty alkaline. Lavender seems to like abuse and not great soil, but it has to be fast draining, so I add a ton of sand to the soil for them (I use cheap ole builders sand, and limit the poop).

Lillies, on the other hand, seem to be very persnickity, and want very rich, well drained soil. Half of my lillies did great; the other half hit the soil and croaked! Daylillies seem happy no matter what I do to them: I forgot several in the garage ALL SUMMER last year, and they were sad, white and limp when I finally found them. After a good soak, I planted them and kept them shaded until they turned green again, and the darned things bloomed from October til frost!

Just my two cents... :)

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I am amazed that the deer ate red-hot poker! It is sharp and tough. They must have really been hungry! Glad to hear about the lavender. I will have to add some near my veggies!

Colorado Springs, CO(Zone 6a)

Ooops... that was a list of deer resistant plants... sorry that wasn't very clear!

Colorado Springs, CO(Zone 6a)


Do you plant marigolds with your veggies? I read a recommendation on that somewhere, so we did, and I think that helped with the aphids--well, that and the 8000 ladybugs we bought!

Any ideas on controlling rabbits? We had NO rabbit issues in the backyard (home to the Great American Vegetable Garden) last year, but am thinking some are appreciating our spring bulbs now and will dine mightily on the veggies later... I feel like Mr. McGregor!

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Oh, good! I think it would have to be an alligator to eat red-hot poker!

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