How to Select Plants for High Altitude Gardening

Living in a high-altitude region comes with unique challenges for gardening. The colder temperatures, higher solar radiation, and shorter growing seasons make it difficult to grow plants. However, with the right knowledge and plant selection, you can have a successful high-altitude garden. In this article, we will provide you with tips and advice to help you choose the right plants for high altitude gardening.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand the high-altitude growing conditions in your specific region.
  • Choose native plants or cold-tolerant varieties for better success.
  • Protect your plants from harsh weather and wildlife.
  • Make the most of the shorter growing season by starting seeds indoors.
  • Select a sunny location with proper soil preparation.

Understanding High Altitude Gardening

High-altitude gardening presents unique challenges due to the harsh conditions found at higher elevations. If you reside in a mountainous region or anywhere with high-altitude conditions, it’s essential to understand the nuances of gardening in this environment. High altitudes, typically ranging from 4,900 to 11,500 feet, are characterized by colder temperatures, higher solar radiation, and shorter growing seasons. Cities in Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, and other Western states often face these high-altitude conditions. To successfully garden in such areas, you need to be aware of the specific climate and adapt your gardening practices accordingly.

One of the key factors to consider in high-altitude gardening is the colder temperatures. The drop in temperature with increasing elevation poses a challenge for plant growth. Additionally, the higher solar radiation at higher altitudes can intensify heat stress on plants. Lastly, the shorter growing seasons limit the time available for plants to mature and produce crops. Understanding these factors allows you to plan and select plants that can thrive in high-altitude environments. By doing so, you can increase your chances of having a successful high-altitude garden.

Mountain Gardening: A Different Approach

Gardening in high-altitude regions requires a different approach compared to gardening in lower elevations. The unique environmental conditions necessitate careful plant selection and special care. Some plants that may thrive in lower altitudes may struggle or fail to grow altogether in high-altitude environments. Conversely, certain cold-tolerant and hardy plants are well-suited for high-altitude gardening. By understanding the specific needs and characteristics of these plants, you can create a successful garden in high-altitude regions.

When embarking on high-altitude gardening, it’s crucial to research and gain knowledge about the specific conditions in your area. Understanding the unique challenges and opportunities presented by high-altitude gardening empowers you to make informed decisions about plant selection, garden location, soil amendment, and other crucial factors. With the right strategies and techniques, you can overcome the challenges of high-altitude gardening and create a thriving garden that brings beauty and joy to your mountain home.

Choosing Altitude-Friendly Plants

When it comes to high-altitude gardening, selecting the right plants is crucial. Native plants are the easiest choice as they are already adapted to the challenging growing conditions. These plants have evolved to withstand the colder temperatures, intense sunlight, and shorter growing seasons.

If you want to diversify your garden with a variety of produce and flowers, consider cold-tolerant plants. These plants can thrive in the harsh conditions of high altitude and still provide a bountiful harvest. Look for seeds for crops that are known for their ability to grow well in cooler climates, have a short time until harvest, and are easy to grow. Hardy plants like root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and lettuce are great options for high-altitude gardening.

To further assist you in selecting altitude-friendly plants, here is a table summarizing a few examples:

Native and Cold-Tolerant Plants for High-Altitude Gardening

Plant Type Height Light Requirement Hardiness Zone
Alpine Aster Perennial 8-12 inches Full Sun to Part Shade 3-8
Bergenia Perennial 12-15 inches Part Shade to Full Shade 3-8
Bleeding Heart Perennial 18-24 inches Part Shade to Full Shade 3-9
Delphinium Perennial 24-36 inches Full Sun 3-8
Lupine Perennial 24-36 inches Full Sun to Part Shade 3-7
Yarrow Perennial 24-36 inches Full Sun 3-9
Sedum Perennial 4-6 inches Full Sun 3-9
Garden Phlox Perennial 24-36 inches Full Sun to Part Shade 3-9
Boltonia Perennial 36-48 inches Full Sun 4-8
Columbine Perennial 12-36 inches Part Shade to Full Sun 3-9

By carefully selecting altitude-friendly plants, you can achieve a thriving and beautiful high-altitude garden that will bring delight throughout the seasons.

Protecting Your Plants

High-altitude gardening often exposes your plants to challenging weather conditions, including strong winds and rapid temperature changes. Protecting your plants is essential to ensure their survival and promote healthy growth. By implementing some key strategies, you can safeguard your garden against high-altitude weather and reduce the risk of wind damage.

One effective method to protect your plants from wind damage is to weather-proof your garden. This involves creating physical barriers and structures that shield your plants from strong gusts. Fencing, trellises, or windbreaks made from materials such as wood or mesh can provide much-needed protection. Additionally, installing row covers or using hardware cloth can prevent wildlife from damaging your plants.

When high winds are expected, it’s crucial to cover your plants for added protection. Use materials like burlap or frost cloth to shield delicate plants from the elements. Covering your plants overnight or during extreme weather conditions can help maintain a stable microclimate and prevent windburn or frost damage. Remember to remove the covers during mild weather to allow proper air circulation and sunlight exposure.

Another way to safeguard your plants is by selecting varieties that are more resilient to high-altitude weather. Look for plants that have natural wind resistance and can withstand cold temperatures. Consult with local garden centers or experienced high-altitude gardeners for plant recommendations that are well-suited to your specific region.

high-altitude weather

Protecting Your Plants – Tips at a Glance:

  • Create physical barriers like fences, trellises, or windbreaks to defend against strong winds.
  • Use row covers or hardware cloth to prevent wildlife from damaging your plants.
  • Cover delicate plants with materials like burlap or frost cloth during high winds or extreme weather.
  • Select plant varieties that are naturally more resistant to high-altitude weather conditions.

Working with a Shorter Growing Season

One of the main challenges of high-altitude gardening is the shorter growing season. The drop in temperature with increasing elevation means that plants have less time to mature and produce crops. However, there are several strategies you can use to make the most of your growing season and ensure a successful harvest.

Starting Seeds Indoors

A great way to extend your growing season is to start seeds indoors. By sowing seeds indoors and allowing them to germinate and establish themselves before transplanting them outside, you can get a head start on the growing season. This is especially beneficial for plants that require a longer growing period, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

When starting seeds indoors, make sure to provide them with adequate warmth and light. Use a seed starting mix and place the containers in a warm area or use a heat mat to speed up germination. Once the seedlings have developed their first true leaves, they can be gradually acclimated to outdoor conditions before transplanting them into the garden.

Succession Planting

Another technique to maximize your high-altitude garden’s productivity is succession planting. Instead of planting all your crops at once, stagger your plantings to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Succession planting involves sowing small amounts of seeds or transplanting seedlings at regular intervals, typically every two to three weeks, depending on the crop’s maturity time. This way, you can take advantage of the limited time available and have a consistent supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season.

Garden Planning and Crop Selection

When planning your high-altitude garden, be mindful of the specific growing season in your area. Research the average first and last frost dates to determine the length of your growing season. This information will help you select crops that have shorter maturity times and are more likely to thrive in your region.

Choose crops that are well-suited for high-altitude gardening, such as cool-season vegetables like kale, spinach, and Swiss chard, which can tolerate lower temperatures. Short-season varieties of crops like carrots, radishes, and lettuce are also excellent choices for high-altitude gardens, as they mature quickly and can be harvested early.

Crop Maturity Time Planting Time
Carrots 60-80 days Early spring or late summer
Kale 55-75 days Early spring or late summer
Lettuce 45-60 days Early spring or late summer
Radishes 20-30 days Early spring or late summer
Spinach 40-50 days Early spring or late summer
Swiss Chard 50-60 days Early spring or late summer

By implementing these high-altitude gardening tips, such as starting seeds indoors, succession planting, and selecting suitable crops, you can make the most of your shorter growing season and enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Choosing the Best Location for Your Garden

When it comes to high-altitude gardening, selecting the right location for your garden is key to ensuring its success. Consider the following factors when choosing where to set up your garden:

  1. Sunlight Requirements: Look for a location that receives 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day. Most vegetables and flowers require ample sunlight to thrive, so make sure your chosen spot meets their sunlight needs.
  2. Protection from the Wind: High-altitude regions are often prone to strong winds, which can damage plants and hinder their growth. Choose a location that provides natural windbreaks, such as buildings or hardy shrubs, to shield your garden from excessive wind exposure.
  3. Raised Garden Beds: Consider implementing raised garden beds in your high-altitude garden. Raised beds offer several benefits, including improved drainage, warmer soil temperatures, and better control over soil quality. They also help mitigate the lower temperatures typically experienced at higher elevations.

garden location

Table: Comparing Pros and Cons of Different Garden Locations

Location Pros Cons
South-facing area Ample sunlight, ideal for most plants Potential heat stress in hotter climates
East-facing area Early morning sun exposure, cooler afternoons Less overall sunlight, slower plant growth
West-facing area Warmer afternoons, extended sunlight hours Risk of scorching plants in hot climates
North-facing area Cooler temperatures, suitable for shade-loving plants Less sunlight, limited plant options

By carefully considering these factors and finding the most suitable garden location, you can create optimal conditions for your high-altitude garden. Remember to plan ahead, prepare the soil, and choose the right plants to maximize your chances of success.

Proper Watering Techniques

When it comes to watering your high-altitude garden, it’s important to implement proper techniques to ensure optimal growth and prevent dry soil. High-altitude gardens are often exposed to drier air and can be prone to uneven moisture absorption due to the angle of the garden beds. Here are some tips to help you effectively manage water in your high-altitude garden.

Watering Schedule

Adjust your watering schedule based on the wind and time between rainfall. High-altitude air tends to be drier, so it’s crucial to water your garden when the top 2 to 4 inches of soil are dry. This will help prevent water loss through evaporation and ensure that your plants receive the necessary moisture.

“Water your high-altitude garden when the top 2 to 4 inches of soil are dry.”

Soil Moisture Control

To manage the moisture levels in your high-altitude garden, consider using mulch. Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around your plants to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. Mulching also helps prevent weed growth, reducing competition for water resources.

Additionally, if your garden beds are on an angle, gravity can cause water to run down the beds. To address this, create berms or contour the landscape to redirect water and ensure even distribution throughout the garden.

Water Conservation

In high-altitude regions, water resources may be limited. To conserve water in your garden, consider collecting rainwater in barrels or implementing a drip irrigation system. These methods help minimize water loss and ensure that your plants receive a consistent supply of moisture.

Proper Watering Techniques Table

Technique Benefits
Water when soil is dry Prevents overwatering and water loss through evaporation
Use mulch Retains moisture, regulates soil temperature, and reduces weed growth
Redirect water flow Ensures even distribution of water in angled garden beds
Collect rainwater Conserves water resources, especially in regions with limited water supply

Addressing Poor Soil Conditions

When it comes to high-altitude gardening, poor soil conditions can pose a significant challenge. Higher-elevation soil is often rocky and deficient in essential nutrients. However, with proper soil correction techniques, you can improve the quality of your soil and create a fertile environment for your plants to thrive.

One effective way to address poor soil conditions is by adding organic matter. Organic matter, such as compost and manure, helps improve soil structure and provides necessary nutrients for plant growth. Consider incorporating these amendments into your soil before planting to ensure your plants have access to the nutrients they need.

Mulching is another helpful technique for improving soil quality in high-altitude gardens. Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil, prevents erosion, and gradually breaks down, adding organic matter to the soil over time. Apply a layer of mulch around your plants to help conserve moisture and improve the overall health of your soil.

Regular soil testing is also essential for monitoring the nutrient levels in your soil. By identifying any deficiencies, you can target specific areas for improvement and adjust your fertilization plan accordingly. Understanding the composition of your soil allows you to make informed decisions about which amendments will best support the growth of your plants.

Soil Correction Techniques for High-Altitude Gardens
Add organic matter (compost, manure) to improve soil structure and provide nutrients
Apply mulch to retain moisture and gradually improve soil quality
Regular soil testing to identify nutrient deficiencies and adjust fertilization

soil conditions

Quick Tips:

  • Consider using raised beds or containers filled with high-quality soil to create optimal growing conditions for your plants.
  • Rotate your crops each year to prevent nutrient depletion and reduce the risk of disease and pest infestation.
  • Avoid overwatering your plants, as excess moisture can lead to poor soil drainage and root rot.
  • Consider incorporating natural soil amendments, such as bone meal or fish emulsion, to further enrich your soil.

“Improving soil quality is crucial for successful high-altitude gardening. By adding organic matter, mulching, and regular soil testing, you can create a nutrient-rich environment for your plants to thrive.”

Protecting Plants from Wildlife

One of the challenges of high-altitude gardening is dealing with wildlife that can damage your plants. Gophers, voles, rabbits, chipmunks, and deer are common garden pests that can quickly destroy your hard work. To protect your plants, it’s important to implement effective wildlife protection measures and plant barriers.

Garden barriers: Installing physical barriers around your garden can help keep wildlife out. Fencing is a popular option, but make sure it is buried at least 12 inches deep to prevent burrowing animals from accessing your plants. Hardware cloth can also be used to create cages or covers for individual plants that are particularly vulnerable to wildlife.

Repellents: There are various natural and commercial repellents that can deter wildlife from entering your garden. These repellents often use scents and tastes that animals find unpleasant. Some common natural repellents include garlic, hot pepper spray, and predator urine. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully when using repellents to ensure their effectiveness.

“Installing physical barriers and using natural repellents are effective strategies for protecting your high-altitude garden from wildlife. By creating a secure environment for your plants, you can prevent damage and maximize your gardening success.”

Dealing with specific pests

Each type of garden pest requires a specific approach for effective control. Here are some tips for dealing with common high-altitude garden pests:

  • Gophers: Use underground barriers like hardware cloth or gopher baskets to protect the roots of your plants. Trapping and relocating gophers is also an option.
  • Rabbits: Install fencing that is at least 2 feet high and buried 6 inches deep to keep rabbits out. Adding chicken wire to the bottom of the fence can prevent them from digging under.
  • Voles: Use hardware cloth or vole repellents to protect your plants. Removing tall grass or vegetation where voles can hide can also discourage them from settling in your garden.
  • Chipmunks: Keep your garden clean and free of debris that can provide hiding places for chipmunks. Trapping and relocating them may be necessary if they become a persistent problem.
  • Deer: Install tall fencing around your garden to keep deer out. You can also use deer repellents or plant deer-resistant species.

Table: Common Garden Pests and Control Methods

Pest Control Methods
Gophers Underground barriers, trapping, relocating
Rabbits Fencing, chicken wire, repellents
Voles Hardware cloth, repellents, habitat management
Chipmunks Garden cleanliness, trapping, relocation
Deer Fencing, repellents, deer-resistant plants

15 Plants That Thrive in High Altitude Landscapes

When it comes to high altitude gardening, it’s essential to choose plants that can withstand the challenging conditions. Thankfully, there are a variety of hardy plants that thrive in high altitude landscapes. These plants have adapted to the cold temperatures, intense sunlight, and poor soil often found at higher elevations. Here are 15 plants that are well-suited for high altitude gardens:

Plant Description
Alpine Aster This beautiful perennial produces vibrant flowers in shades of purple, blue, and white. It is a low-maintenance plant that can tolerate harsh weather conditions.
Bergenia Also known as “elephant ears,” Bergenia is a tough evergreen plant with large, leathery leaves and clusters of pink or white flowers. It adds a splash of color to any high altitude garden.
Bleeding Heart This delicate plant features heart-shaped flowers that hang from arching stems. It is a shade-loving perennial that thrives in cool, mountainous regions.
Delphinium With its tall spikes of vibrant flowers, Delphinium adds vertical interest to a high altitude garden. It prefers well-drained soil and full sun.
Lupine Lupine is a stunning wildflower that produces tall spikes of colorful blooms. It can tolerate poor soil and is often used to attract pollinators.
Yarrow This perennial plant features clusters of small, aromatic flowers in shades of white, pink, and yellow. It is drought-tolerant and attracts butterflies.
Sedum Also known as stonecrop, Sedum is a hardy succulent that can thrive in challenging conditions. It comes in a variety of shapes and colors, adding texture to the garden.
Garden Phlox Garden Phlox is a beautiful perennial that produces clusters of fragrant flowers. It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil.
Boltonia Boltonia is a tall, airy plant that blooms with daisy-like flowers in late summer. It is a low-maintenance plant that can tolerate high-altitude conditions.
Columbine Columbine is a beloved wildflower with unique, bell-shaped flowers in a variety of colors. It is well-suited for rocky, high altitude gardens.

These are just a few examples of the many plants that can thrive in high altitude landscapes. When selecting plants for your garden, consider their adaptability to cold temperatures, sunlight requirements, and soil conditions. By choosing plants that are well-suited for high altitudes, you can create a stunning garden that flourishes despite the challenging conditions.

hardy plants

Additional Tips for High Altitude Gardening

  • Use raised garden beds to improve drainage and protect plants from colder temperatures.
  • Choose native plants that have already adapted to the high altitude conditions.
  • Start seeds indoors before transplanting them outdoors when the weather becomes warmer.
  • Consider installing windbreaks or using row covers to protect plants from strong winds.
  • Amend your soil with organic matter to improve its structure and fertility.

By combining these tips with the right plant selection, you can create a thriving garden in high altitude landscapes. Enjoy the beauty of nature at higher elevations with these hardy plants!


High-altitude gardening can be challenging, but with the right knowledge and plant selection, you can create a thriving garden in these conditions. By understanding the unique challenges of high-altitude gardening and implementing the tips and strategies mentioned in this article, you can successfully grow plants at higher elevations.

Remember to choose altitude-friendly plants that are native to your region or cold-tolerant crops that have a short time until harvest. Protect your plants from the unpredictable high-altitude weather by weather-proofing your garden and having materials on hand to cover plants for warmth or wind protection.

Additionally, make the most of your shorter growing season by starting seeds indoors and practicing succession planting. Choose the best location for your garden, ensuring it receives adequate sunlight and protection from strong winds. Proper watering techniques and addressing poor soil conditions are also crucial for the success of your high-altitude garden. Finally, take steps to protect your plants from wildlife by installing barriers and deterrents.

With patience, proper care, and suitable plant choices, your high-altitude garden can be a beautiful and rewarding endeavor. Follow these high altitude gardening tips to unlock the full potential of your garden and enjoy successful high-altitude gardening.


What are some tips for high-altitude gardening?

Choose plants that are native to the area, select cold-tolerant and fast-growing crops, and protect your garden from weather conditions and wildlife.

How do I start a high-altitude garden?

Understand your region’s climate, choose altitude-friendly plants, find the right location with adequate sun and wind protection, and prepare the soil properly.

How do I protect my high-altitude garden from weather conditions?

Weather-proof your garden, cover plants for warmth and wind protection, and use row covers, fencing, or hardware cloth to prevent wildlife damage.

How can I extend the growing season for my high-altitude garden?

Start seeds indoors, transplant when weather permits, and use succession planting for quick-maturing crops.

What kind of location is best for a high-altitude garden?

Choose a location with 6 to 8 hours of full sun per day, consider a wind break, and use raised garden beds for better temperature control.

How should I water a high-altitude garden?

Adjust your watering schedule based on wind and rainfall, water the soil when the top 2 to 4 inches are dry, and consider water rights if using wells for irrigation.

How can I improve the soil quality in a high-altitude garden?

Test your soil, add organic matter like compost and manure, and use mulch to retain moisture and slowly improve the soil over time.

How can I protect my high-altitude garden from wildlife?

Install hardware cloth, row covers, or fencing, and take preventive measures against common garden pests like gophers, voles, rabbits, chipmunks, and deer.

What are some plants that thrive in high altitude landscapes?

Examples of altitude-friendly plants include alpine aster, bergenia, bleeding heart, delphinium, lupine, yarrow, sedum, garden phlox, boltonia, columbine, and more.

How can I be successful in high-altitude gardening?

By understanding the unique challenges, selecting suitable plants, and implementing the tips and strategies mentioned in this article, you can create a thriving high-altitude garden.

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