Shrubs and trees for mountainous areas

When choosing plants to grow in a garden that is at high altitude it is crucial to take account of the particular climatic conditions. The plants will pay you back a hundred fold !

Shrubs and trees for mountainous areas


A mountain climate generally exists at altitudes of greater than 600m. If the land is north facing then these conditions can prevail at altitudes of 500m or more. However, if the land is south facing you may need to exceed 800m to find the same conditions. The way the land is facing is crucial for deciding on the type of plants to grow. Winters tend to be long with heavy snowfall, this suits many plants as they are protected by the soft snow and can repose underneath. It is common to have early frosts (sometimes as early as September) and late frosts also. Summers tend to be hot and more or less dry depending on the particular mountain range. Rainfall is heavier than on the plains: mountain plants tend to be really thirsty! The soil found in mountain gardens is usually of good quality. However, check the PH because it could equally be acidic or alkaline.

With these conditions, you should choose plants that do not grow at all in winter. Any that fear late frosts should also be eliminated, as they will suffer every spring.

What to choose?

Although the climatic conditions can be tough, the choice of plants is vast. Among the hardy perennials, the toughest of them are Aquilegia, Asters, Cornflowers (Centaurea montana), Campanula and Potentilla. For shrubs, choose from the many berry bearing species, like Holly (in particular the Michigan holly, which looses its leaves in winter but is very decorative when fruiting), Elders, Dogwoods, Berberis, Cotoneasters, Viburnum and Mountain Ash...

If you want to plant trees grow the local species such as hazel, beech and birch, which are well suited to growing at altitude. The walnut tree on the other hand will not grow well at altitudes above 800m. Of course, do not forget the conifers of which there is a huge choice. Be careful though not all conifers are hardy in mountain conditions.

Things to remember

If the soil is rocky, make the effort to dig a large planting trench, remove all the stones to a depth of about 50cm. Regardless of the slope a tree’s trunk is always planted vertically, and never at an angle.

Interesting fact

Certain vegetables have mountain origins and will feel very at home there, examples are wild spinach and chives. Why not use this last one as an ornamental plant as it will flower twice a year!

M. Jean-Michel GROULT
Pépinières PLANFOR
1950 Route de Cère
Tel : (020).7660.0178
Fax : 0033 558 064 854