We're all here to discuss what will actually grow in eastern Colorado or similar environments in neighboring states. Decades of experience with both successes and failures with thousands of seedlings representing numerous varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses have taught me that most plants available for the local USDA planting zone will not actually grow there. I've lived in Zone 5 in the eastern states, and I live in Zone 5 in Colorado. Not only will trees for New York or Pennsylvania not grow in eastern Colorado, but many trees and shrubs sold at local nurseries that will grow in Colorado cities will not grow on the shortgrass prairie.
I've been growing plants in Colorado since the mid-1980s. For several years, that was in Colorado Springs. I bought a new small house in a new neighborhood, where residential sprawl extended to the northeast - onto what I would learn later was shortgrass prairie. The neighbors and I were purchasing and planting the first street trees there. Growing them was a challenge because the ground was very sandy and lacked organic material. The neighbor created a sandbox of clean white sand for his kids simply by removing a 4'x4' square of newly-laid sod. Something else I would learn later that I didn't appreciate at the time was that the houses of the surrounding developments provided protection from the full force of the wind.
The outer reach of Briargate in the 1980s probably was comparable to the development during the 2000s and that continues today in the Falcon area. Plants that will grow in the micro-climate-protected city may struggle or fail in a new residential development. Plants that will grow in a new residential development may struggle or fail on a prairie homestead or ranch.
That said, the new residential development, with years of planting, irrigation, and care, eventually (over a few decades) will extend the habitable region of the plants suitable for the city micro-climate. On a homestead, I've seen identical young plants thrive in a protected location and fail a few feet away in a more exposed area. The difference is in how much the harsh natural conditions that are unfavorable to most plant life have been modified to alleviate some or all of those natural conditions. What harsh conditions? Read on!
Eastern Colorado climate is difficult for plants because it is:
- subject to high winds
- subject to periods of drought
- exposed to strong high-altitude sunlight
- lacking in soil nutrients and organic material
- lacking surface water
There are reasons that the native vegetation consists primarily of a few hardy native grasses and forbs. That's basically it, unless you're far enough south to have cacti and yucca growing among the grasses. There are almost no shrubs or trees - pretty much only in riparian areas, which are few and far between. If you want to grow something other than blue grama grass, buffalo grass, curly cup gumweed, and a few lupine and other wildflowers, it's going to take some work.
And that's what this site is here to discuss!