Gardening in New Mexico is Different from the East Coast
April 7, 2018
Reprint from April 2009. Written by Dr. Curtis Smith, retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist
I have just moved to the Rio Rancho area from the East Coast. What do I need to know about gardening in New Mexico?
- J.T.S., Sandoval County, NM
The first thing to learn about New Mexico gardening is that it will be different and difficult, but not impossible. Eastern gardeners are used to adding lime to their garden soil. Do not do that here. Our soil is already very calcareous (contains much calcium). Here you may need to add sulfur. Organic matter is often deficient in our soils.
Our soils often contain other mineral salts that can cause problems, and our soils are often deficient in some nutrients. In some cases, the minerals are present in the soil but unavailable to the plants because of the alkalinity of our soils. A soil test will help you understand the needs of your soil. For more information on soil testing, see NMSU Extension Guide A-114: Test Your Garden Soil.
Irrigation in New Mexico is important. Because of our arid environment, both the soil and air are very dry. Dry air can be a benefit because plant diseases you experienced in the East are much less common here, but the dry air can cause problems for the plants, injuring them directly. Proper choice of plants and proper site selection and preparation help you manage the dry air problems. Irrigation seems to be simple, but water is a valuable commodity here and should not be wasted. Drip irrigation and other appropriate irrigation techniques are necessary to avoid wasting water.
In New Mexico, we look forward to July and August because these are our monsoon months. During this season we may have a weather pattern in which moist air from the Pacific Ocean enters New Mexico. If this weather pattern develops, we can have very beneficial rains. However, this weather pattern sometimes fails to develop.
Proper selection of landscape plants can help avoid problems. Native and adapted plants that can tolerate our soils, arid environment, and weather are a good way to maximize your landscape success and enjoyment. Our summers can be very hot and the winters are often quite cold. Plants in your landscape must be able to withstand these extremes.
Many vegetable and fruit crops with which you are familiar can be grown here, but the factors mentioned above can cause problems unless you know how to adapt your gardening techniques. Some plants you know from back East are not recommended for New Mexico. These include blueberries, azaleas, and gardenias. While it is not impossible to grow them, it is very difficult.
As you learn to garden in New Mexico, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office and their associated Master Gardener volunteers. Garden clubs and local nurseries are also a source of information. Stay up to date with our statewide Extension Horticulture Program on social media (@NMdesertblooms). The NMSU Extension Horticulture Publications page is another source of excellent information for those learning to garden in New Mexico.
I have covered only a few of the things you will learn about gardening, but this should help you start. Welcome to New Mexico and enjoy the challenges of gardening in this unique and very interesting environment.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!