What is your Life Zone?

The Colorado Springs Metro area is expanding . . . rapidly. . . . With that the city, and its neighbors, encompass various types of biomes and habitats.  Each incredibly diverse both in plant life and wildlife.  In this article I wanted to highlight notes from a Colorado State University Extension Office’s publication (7.421).  For the purposes of this article I am going to summarize and add a few personal opinions and personal notes mostly focusing on trees and shrubs.

Let’s start with the “Life Zone” most similar to where I grew up in Iowa.  The Plains Life Zone

Now granted I grew up at 500 ft elevation, in Colorado the Plains Zone is considered to be from 3,500 ft to 5,500 ft elevation. But the similarity comes in because they are both dominated by grasslands and cottonwoods. So I get to grow some childhood favorites, like fountain grass and little blue stem. But unfortunately some of my childhood favorites don’t grow as well thanks to the 3-4,000 ft elevation difference are birches and most oak trees.
What can the areas of the city under 5,500 ft grow? (this would be areas in the downtown region, Broadmoor, Fountain, etc) These areas get to play around with the plants zoned for 4 and 5, this includes Cottonwoods (not recommended), White Firs (yeah Christmas Trees!), and BONUS fruit trees of all sorts. But please, PLEASE do not try rhododendrons and be very cautious with hazelnuts or forsythias. Although we, in Colorado Springs and the Front Range, are rated for zones 4 and 5 we are still well above sea level, so please use caution.

As we move higher, we move into the Foothills Life Zone.

This zone is located roughly between 5,000 ft and 8,000 ft elevation. These areas were originally dominated by gambel (or shrub) oaks, mountain mahogany and juniper woodlands. So what grows great here? Upright junipers, hardy oak trees (such as burr and northern red), and mountain ashes. I would start to caution in these elevations to stay clear of shrubs and perennials labeled for zone 5. Yes, we don’t get that consistent cold (which is what the zones are based off of, cold hardiness), but there are other stressing factors that the zone 4 plants tend to handle better. But now we are starting to eliminate ornamental almonds, boxwoods, holly bushes, all hydrangeas (sorry Colorado Springs!), and pyracantha (not sorry).

The last zone found in the Colorado Springs area?

The Montane Life Zone.

This life zone is from 8,000 to 9,500 ft elevation. Now this zone . . . this zones what most non-natives think of when you say you live near the mountains in Colorado. It is dominated by pine trees, douglas firs, and aspens. Notice, the elevation is 8,000 ft!!! Aspens are prone to disease, stress and, quite frankly, death below this elevation. And surprisingly these elevations tend to have more moisture than the lower life zones discussed above. The trade-off for being able to have “Colorado” in your backyard? Plant restriction. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still great colorful plant options like chokecherry, brooms, elders, lilacs, sumacs, etc that grow well in these areas.

Just like we have issues breathing when we go from sea level to 5,000 ft elevation, trees, shrubs and perennials have a hard time “breathing” as well.

Please note that in each life zone there is incredible diversity beyond what is mentioned in this article. These are just broad examples, and I highly recommend if you want to keep with the spirit of these habitats that you consider many different varieties and species.
Feeling overwhelmed? Give us a call today and we can help sort out how to create a colorful, diverse, life-zone appropriate landscape for your yard.