April 2, 2016

1 - Variability and unpredictability are characteristics of New Mexico's gardening weather.

Yard and Garden April 2, 2016

Q.

When I moved to Albuquerque from the Northwest I had no idea what kind of gardening challenges I was taking on. The weather has really stumped me! It was warm in February and cold in March! I wonder if my fruit trees have survived. I thought we were to experience a wet winter because of El Niño. Is it always like this in New Mexico?

A.

New Mexico provides many challenges for gardeners. Our soil is challenging, our precipitation patterns are challenging, and our temperatures are challenging for gardeners. One aspect of New Mexico's climate and weather that gardeners can count on is that it will be variable and difficult to predict. We can expect a hot summer, but some summers are much hotter than others. Winters are often cold, but some are much colder than others, and some are surprisingly mild. Spring in New Mexico often provides the greatest challenges. Drying winds and often dry months with little or no precipitation are to be expected, but even those conditions vary from year to year.

You are correct that we were forecast to have a somewhat wetter winter than usual as a gift from El Niño. We did have some moisture in the winter, more than some winters, but then we entered a dry period. November had several days with precipitation as did December. January was fairly generous with moisture and February gave us some moisture. These are often much drier months, so perhaps El Niño was sending moisture our way. However, the amount of precipitation we received in New Mexico was extremely little compared to other regions of the U.S. If you are interested in a graphical presentation of daily precipitation and which parts of New Mexico were blessed with moisture you can go to COCORAHS Data and by changing the date in the bar above the map you can see daily presentations of precipitation and where New Mexico got moisture. This will show how we have very fickle precipitation; some parts of the state receive moisture while other parts receive none. The National Weather Service also has numerous useful web pages showing past weather as well as forecasts well into the future. Gardeners in New Mexico should take advantage of these resources. Even so, the weather for New Mexico can be very unpredictable and you will notice the forecasts change frequently. New Mexico gardeners must be flexible and prepared to deal with the challenges of the weather. Some encouraging news from the National Weather Service is that we are forecast to have above average precipitation in the next few months.

Our spring temperatures are a real challenge for gardeners and their plants. Plants that should be hardy through the depth of New Mexico's winters will often succumb to New Mexico's erratic late winter and spring temperatures. We often experience a warm period in late winter causing plants to break dormancy, loose hardiness, and perhaps to even begin growing only to be challenged with a return to freezing temperatures just as you mentioned in your question. Some plants are killed by these temperatures while other, such as apricots, cherries, and sometimes even apples will lose their flowers and developing fruit due to the return of freezing temperatures.

The above discussion focused on the challenges for New Mexico Gardeners caused by weather. There is not room here to discuss the challenges that result from our soil conditions. But then the characteristics of our soil are also related to our weather conditions.

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, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.

Links:

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!