The Joy of Planting Sustainably 17

Summer Gardening Tips and Tricks

As many of us are in the middle of summer gardening projects, this month we reached out to Luan Akin, Gardening Outreach Ambassador at Tagawa Gardens, to give us some insight into what to plant and how to maintain a healthy garden.

Akin began accumulating her plant expertise in a somewhat unusual way – as the gardening reporter for Channel 4 News. She spent 35 years working in radio and television, mostly at Channel 4, covering news from the helicopter as well as the gardening beat. Eventually, when it was time for a change, Akin applied to Tagawa and essentially created her own job in the process – Garden Outreach Ambassador. She now does different outreach projects for the gardens targeted towards a variety of different demographics from senior citizens to preschoolers.

Many Colorado gardeners are becoming increasingly interested in planting native plants or plants that are well-adapted to Colorado’s climate, both for their unique beauty and their environmental benefits. We asked Akin about why planting with native or well-adapted plants is so important, suggestions as far as what to plant, and for professional tips and tricks to keep those plants thriving throughout the season. Here’s what she had to say.

Why Should We Plant Native or Locally Adapted Plants?

It’s worth understanding some of the benefits of planting native and regionally adapted plants and considering incorporating them into your garden in whatever way possible, big or small.

Colorado is a dry state with challenging soil structures, and both native and locally adapted plants have evolved to thrive in these particular conditions. Planting either native or locally adapted plants means less watering, less fertilizer, fewer soil additives, and healthier plants – overall, less work for the gardener!

Planting native plants, however, has an important benefit over regionally adapted plants; native plants best support native pollinators since the two have evolved together over time. While maybe the most well-known bee in Colorado is the honey bee, this bee is actually a European import and not native to the region. Colorado, however, is home to over 950 different types of bees native to the region, most of whom are solitary bees or live in small nests. Many native pollinators only nest in or pollinate native plants, and thus planting natives allows Colorado’s pollinators to thrive.

Now, What to Plant…

When we talked to Akin, she provided us with a strong list of native and regionally adapted, pollinator-friendly plants to help those just beginning to think about planting more sustainably get started. For additional information (and to see just how fun and colorful a sustainable garden can be!) visit the Plant Select website at PlantSelect.org.

Regional Natives 
(native to this region, not necessarily the Front Range 
or Colorado)

  • Gaillardia
  • Kannah Creek Buckwheat
  • Denver Gold Columbine
  • Bridges Penstemon
  • Apache Plume
  • Fern Bush
  • Serviceberry
  • Rabbit Brush (also pollinator-friendly)
  • Redbirds in a Tree
  • Wild Plum
  • Rocky Mountain Bee Plant 
 (also pollinator-friendly)
  • Purple Cone Flower 
 (also pollinator-friendly)
  • Bee Balm (also pollinator-friendly)
  • Chocolate Flower 
 (smells just like a Hershey bar in the morning!)

Regionally Adapted/ Pollinator-Friendly

  • Cranesbill
  • Catmint
  • Moonshine Yarrow
  • Pincushion Flower
  • Russian Sage (fairly invasive, 
 so plant in a contained area)
  • Goldenrod
  • Pussy Willow (needs a wet spot in your garden)
  • Blue Mist Spirea