Issue: December 8, 2007
Annuals and perennials for high altitude New Mexico gardens
Can you tell me what annual and perennial flowers that would do well in the poor soil of Cloudcroft, NM? The altitude is 8,500 ft. but I don't know the soil pH.
Many plants will grow and do well in your environment. We can start with some bulb plants such as tulips, daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinths, and many other spring flowering bulbs. It is a little late to plant them in your area. However, if you have them already, it is better to plant them than save them. You will need to find a place where the soil has not yet frozen so that you can plant them. You may also choose to plant these next fall. Since these are perennials, they will return to flower for many years.
As winter passes, you can plant pansies. These annuals may die or at least cease flowering once summer arrives, but in the cool weather of spring, they will flower well for you. Some of the smaller varieties such as the old-fashioned Johnny-jump-ups (small, self-reseeding pansy relatives) may also be good choices. Calendula plants with their colorful daisy-like flowers can be planted as the weather warms in the spring. Like the pansies, they can tolerate some light frost.
Once the frost has passed, you can plant marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, scarlet runner beans, and many other summer flowering annuals. Many may be planted by direct seeding, but you can also start them earlier indoors and transplant them, or buy transplants from a nursery. The transplants will give you much faster flower displays. These plants should keep you in flowers all summer.
Other perennials to consider include lilacs, peonies (these love cold conditions during the winter), crabapple trees, golden currants (these have beautiful, fragrant early spring blossoms and edible fruit). Tiger lilies, and perhaps other types of summer blooming lilies will do well in your environment. Irises and daylilies are certain to bloom and brighten your landscape. Dwarf plumbago, vinca major (periwinkle vine), and several types of sedum are also good choices for flowers and serve as groundcover plants.
This is only a short list of the many plants that you can grow. Your high elevation environment, with greater moisture and cooler summers, open many opportunities for your garden, but as you have guessed, will limit your ability to grow some things your lower elevation friends can grow. Try these and each year add some new plants to your garden to develop a palate of colorful flowers that pleases you and challenges your neighbors to join you.
As a bit of side advice, you should collect a soil sample after the soil warms in the spring and send it to a soil testing laboratory. Your local NMSU County Cooperative Extension Service office can provide you with information on collecting the soil sample and understanding the results once your soil has been tested. Understanding the nature of your soil will allow you to garden more successfully. You may then choose plants best adapted to your soil conditions and you may modify your soil if needed. In the meantime, addition of well-decomposed compost to your soil will help most of the plants mentioned above.
Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.