Native Plant Garden Pairings

| Colorado Native Plants, Flower Interest, Native Landscape Planning & Design

by Danna Liebert

As advocates for Colorado native landscaping, you may have claimed (as we have) that you can create any traditional landscape style with natives; the whole story, as many of us know, is complicated: not all CO native plants are low-water; some need space to roam (spreading by rhizomes or reseeding); some don’t play nicely with others; others are stunning only briefly. It can be daunting to pull native plants together into pleasing compositions that provide a succession of color throughout the season. In our last member survey, we received feedback reflecting a wish for some design guidance on working with a native plant palette, so we have pulled together some pairings we like. 

Keep in mind, this is not an article on companion planting. These plants are not paired together because of symbiotic relationships. These are colorful combos that we think look good together and have similar water/sun needs. Beyond a few general tips, our list is divided by bloom time, and has a few multi-plant combos at the end for multi-season bloom.

General tips:

  • Planting en masse with large drifts is best for supporting pollinators.
  • Everything looks better next to Artemisia! The pale blue-green of Artemisia makes colors pop, especially deep colors. Depending on the height you want, you’ve got Artemisia frigida, filofolia, and ludoviciana as CO natives to choose from, and if you have a large space, tridentata, too. If you can find Krascheninnikovia lanata (Winterfat), it provides a similar look, in a slightly denser form. 
  • Good fillers that go with everything (in our opinion): Native flax (spring blooming, may rebloom), Oryzopsis hymenoides (Indian rice grass), Berlandiera lyrata (Chocolate flower) or Engelmannia peristenia (Englemann’s daisy), Geum triflorum (Prairie Smoke), Antennaria neglecta (Pussytoes), Callirhoe involucrata (Purple Poppy Mallow)


Penstemon virens (Blue mist penstemon) and Erysimum capitatum (Wallflower): Great combination of blue and orange for smaller bumblebees and butterflies. Wallflower is a biennial, but it will reseed, and is also great paired with spring bulbs. 

Linum lewisii (Blue flax) and Salvia greggii (Furman’s red sage): Again, everything goes with blue flax. California poppies are not quite a local native, but paired with flax make a spectacular blue and orange combo. Chocolate flower also goes well with blue flax. 

late spring bloming flower combination
Late spring blooming combo: Achillea lanulosa (native white yarrow), Oryzopsis hymenoides (Indian rice grass), and Heterotheca villosa (hairy golden aster)


Carilhoe involucrata (purple poppy mallow) is a long-blooming, spreading groundcover that pairs well with any of the following: Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly Everlasting), or for a total color riot, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) or Oenethera macrocarpa (Missouri evening primrose). Achillea lanulosa (Native White Yarrow) is a nice mid-height foil for these bright colors. 

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) and Purple Prairie clover (Dalea purpureum): these also pair well with chocolate flower.

Dalea purpurea (Purple Prairie Clover) and Sphaeralcea munroana (Monroe’s Globe mallow)

Mirabilis multiflora (Desert four o’clock) and Berlandia lyrata (Chocolate flower): Again, what doesn’t go with Chocolate flower? These are both incredibly xeric, so a good pairing for the driest part of your yard. Englemann’s daisy is an alternative to Chocolate flower. Know that Mirabilis multiflora needs a lot of space to spread once it is established, so site carefully.

Penstemon strictus (Rocky mountain penstemon) and Gallardia aristata (Blanketflower); again, orange or yellow with purple/blue. Great for larger bumblebees and butterflies and/or Carillhoe involucrata (Poppy mallow); the upright vibrant blue of the penstemon against the magenta sprawl of the poppy mallow is hard to beat.

Opuntia (Prickly pear) and Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed): These won’t necessarily bloom at the same time, but the plants look nice next to each other, and also pair well for watering. In other words, they don’t need much. Both prefer to be dry and in gravel mulch as opposed to any other type of mulch.

Salvia greggii (Furman’s red sage) or Salvia darcyi x S. microphylla (Salvia Windwalker Royal Red) and Artemesia frigida: Nice foliage contrasts. Actually any type of sage will look nice with the Salvia.

Liatris punctata (Dotted gayfeather), Salvia Azurea (Pitcher Sage), and Solidago (Goldenrod): Pink and yellow blooms, both blooming in late summer. Solidago multiradiata (Rocky Mountain Goldenrod) is a great native goldenrod which blooms earlier (mid summer) than other goldenrods. It blooms earlier (mid summer) than other Goldenrods and is about a foot tall.

Yucca glauca and Amorpha canescens (Leadplant): Odd pairing but the airy leaves of the Leadplant contrast nicely with the roundness of the yucca. 

Glandularia bipinnatifida (prairie verbena), hard to find (please grow it again, High Plains Environmental Center!), provides constant color in low, loose mounds of spectacular pale purple flowers. Pair with native white yarrow and Ratibida columnifera pulchera (prairie coneflower), or it would go well with Chocolate flower or Englemann’s daisy, too.  

Verbena stricta (Hoary Vervain) is unusual and catches people’s attention with its tall spikes of tiny pale purple flowers. It is a prolific re-seeder, starts blooming in mid-late summer, and pairs nicely with warm season, mid height grasses, and Ratibida culmnifera (either red or yellow), which blooms earlier than the verbena), or taller and later blooming Ratibida pinnata (Gray Headed Prairie Coneflower)


Ribes aureum (Golden current) and Artemesia tridentata (Big western sage): The currant’s leaves turn dark red in the fall which looks great against the pale green of the sage. Two low- spreading plants that turn dark red/maroon in the fall are Prunus besseyi (Pawnee Buttes sand cherry) and Mahonia repans (Creeping Oregon grape).

Solidago (Goldenrod) with Aster Laevis (Smooth Blue Aster) or Salvia Azurea (Pitcher Sage): This is the classic yellow and blue/purple combination, so common in nature and so beautiful.

Multi-seasons ideas:


Front: Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea Moonshine), or Oenothera macrocarpa (Missouri evening primrose). Achillea Moonshine is a dependable, all-season color blast.

Middle: Bouteloua gracilis and Echinacea pallida; and/or Angustifolia and prairie clover and/or Liatris punctata. Echinacea pallida, a regional prairie native, is lovely with its droopy melancholy petals and it provides winter interest when planted amongst grasses. It is a subtler Echinacea and earlier blooming than the more robust looking Angustifolia. Pallida has never bloomed for long for me probably because I give less water than its midwest prairie ideal, but I still like it after it’s done flowering, amongst airy grasses. This gives nice winter interest. Prairie clover takes its time to establish, don’t give up hope.

Back: Artemisia Ludoviciana, with Allium sphaerocephalon (drumstick allium) for color that comes on the tail of the Pallida. Artemisia Ludoviciana spreads aggressively but is easy to pull and transplant if it spreads too far. The flip side of being aggressive is it will fill in quickly. 

Late season bloom to add: Salvia azurea


Earlier season bloom to place (in front): Zauschneria (Hummingbird Trumpet) and Blue Flax or Penstemon mexicali “Pikes Peak” (Pikes Peak penstemon) and Missouri evening primrose

Mid-late summer bloom: Agastache Foeniculum (Blue Giant Hyssop) or Blue Blazes, and Agastache rupestris (Sunset Hyssop), and Bouteloua gracilis, little bluestem, or other warm season grass. You could go color crazy and add Salvia darcyii or windwalker too. Echinacea and liatris would add nice contrasting form.

For tall Late season bloom (in back): Aster laevis or Solidago rigida (stiff goldenrod). I have been warned that stiff goldenrod is an aggressive spreader but that hasn’t been my experience (so far, but time will tell!), perhaps because I keep it pretty dry.

There are so many more great pairings. We would love to know what has worked well for you. Please send us your favorites along with photos!

Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!