More beauty with less work and less water is a great idea for today’s landscapes. (Photo by Linda Corwine McIntosh)

More beauty with less work and less water. Doesn’t that sound like a great gardening idea! Have you ever heard of Plant Select plants or seen a Plant Select tag placed in the pot at the garden center and wondered, what’s a Plant Select plant all about?

Back in 1997 the Denver Botanical Gardens, Colorado State University and a group of growers got together and developed the hugely successful idea of finding and developing plants that were more drought tolerant and suited for the growing conditions in Colorado. These plants are also less prone to insects and disease, and many are deer and rabbit resistant. What a great idea!

They project that Colorado will have continue to experience significant growth in next few decades. This could have a huge impact on Colorado’s water supply.

Needless to say, people are looking ahead and have realized we need to change the way we water our landscapes. If we don’t move away from the days of heavily watering and fertilizing our landscapes we will not have enough water to drink or use in our homes. This is where the idea of water wise xeriscaping and Plant Select plants come into play.

Every year since 1997 new varieties of low maintenance perennials have been introduced by Plant Select. They strive to make five to seven new plants available for the Rocky Mountain and nearby regions each year. In 2011 they had over 67 growers participating in Plant Select plant production and sold more than 1.5 million plants. Seventy-six varieties were native in North America with 39 being native to Colorado.

When you see these award-winning plants with the distinctive Plant Select tag you know that the plant has been tested by CSU, and the Denver botanic gardens promote it.

These special plants are have been chosen for drought tolerance in Colorado’s dry climate, are not invasive, are easy to take care of, have few insect and disease problems, and are tough and resilient in challenging climates.

They will thrive in a broad range of conditions. These plants are one of a kind in their uniqueness.

It’s quite a sight to see these plants growing and being tested in the trial gardens in Fort Collins.

You can see the plants being grown to see if they will work for the region. Several retailers participate and give their input if it appears to be a plant that people would want to buy. As a master gardener I’ve had the opportunity to participate in these trials and I can assure you that these plants earn the distinction of becoming a Plant Select plant.

Most of the Plant Select plants had never been in commercial cultivation. The parent plants were discovered and propagated from areas in Colorado, and areas near arid regions and locations around the world with similar soil, climate, and growing conditions. Through the years the selections grow and they are able to offer a large of variety of plants.

Plant Select plants are not limited to perennial plants. They also offer a wide variety of trees, shrubs, ground covers and ornamental grasses. However, you may not find most of these plants at your big box stores. You will need to treat yourself to a visit to the local garden centers to discover them.

Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers over the years you can see many of these great plants growing in the Montrose Botanic Gardens. It’s always a fun journey through the gardens discovering these special plants and imagining them growing in your landscape.

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, you’re in luck. The Montrose Botanic Society is having a very special speaker coming to talk about this topic. The director of Plant Select, Ross Shrigly will be speaking at the gardens at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 15. (They ask that you bring a lawn chair.)

If you want to garden responsibly and in harmony with the environment, you might also want to go to their website at and check out the plants. It’s awesome!

Linda Corwine McIntosh is an ISA certified arborist, licensed commercial pesticide applicator and advanced master gardener.

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