Issue: May 7, 2005

Northern New Mexico planting dates

Question:

I moved to New Mexico last fall and wonder when I should plant my garden. I noticed that the stores are selling tomatoes seedlings and other vegetable transplants, but a friend said it is too early. When is the correct time?

Jackie A.
White Rock, NM

Answer:

In New Mexico the correct time to plant varies greatly by location and from year-to-year. I called Carlos Valdez, the Extension Service County Agent for Los Alamos County, to ask when the last frost is expected in White Rock. He told me that the average last frost date is in mid-May in both Los Alamos and White Rock. However, when I asked him when he would plant tomatoes, he said that he would wait until the first of June. He also feels that this year may have a later cold spell than usual, but he also said that it is impossible to really predict. His feeling is based on the fact that it is quite cold now and some plants are budding later than usual.

In your area (White Rock) you can safely plant some of the plants that tolerate some cold weather. Lettuce, radish, kale, and other plants like these are more cold tolerant than tomatoes, beans, corn, and chiles. However, if you buy transplants at a nursery, harden them by gradual exposure to cold nights, wind, sun, and dry air. Plants from the nursery have been in a protected environment compared to the environment of your garden.

Gardeners in some other parts of the state have already planted their warm season vegetables. Las Cruces gardeners started several weeks ago. Albuquerque gardeners are planting them now. Santa Feans will soon plant their warm season gardens. Patrick Torres, Santa Fe County Extension Agent recommends waiting until after May 20 to plant warm season crops. He advises this even though the average last frost date is May 10. It is not unknown for Santa Fe to have a cold spell that kills tomatoes up to May 20.

Gardeners in Taos and Raton are still waiting also. According to Rey Torres, Taos County Extension Agent, gardeners should wait until after May 22 to plant. He said that any cold weather after that will be brief and the plants usually survive. In Taos, he finds that a frost in mid-summer (it happens) does more damage. In Raton, County Extension Agent Sandra Barraza says to wait until after May 15, the date of the last expected hard freeze.

Even Lincoln County gardeners are advised to wait. Pete Gnatkowski, Extension County Agent in Lincoln County, said that Capitan, which is at relatively low elevation, should wait until after mid-May because it is in a pocket where cold air collects after draining from the mountains.

The climate of New Mexico is quite variable and affected not only by latitude, but also by the influence of our mountains. Your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service Agent knows the county conditions and is an excellent source of information.

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Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or at https://www.facebook.com/DesertBloomsNM/. Please include your county Extension Agent (aces.nmsu.edu/county) and your county of residence with your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at desertblooms.nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.