Issue: December 16th, 1996

When to transplant maximilian sunflowers


When is the best time to transplant Maximilian sunflowers? I have been impressed with their spectacular autumn blossoms.


You can transplant them in the spring before growth begins. In your area that would be late February to early March. You could probably successfully transplant them now, but it would be important to keep them adequately moist through the winter without causing them to rot. Waiting will make the transplant easier and the chances of success greater.

In answering your question, I have applied a rule of thumb that suggests transplanting late summer and fall blooming perennials in the spring before growth begins. The converse of this is to transplant spring blooming perennials, such as peonies, in the late summer and fall.

Winter soil improvement


What should I be doing to my soil now? I have been frustrated by these so-called New Mexico soils. My vegetable garden has just not done well and I am told that I need to improve my soil.


What you should do depends on what you plan to grow. Interestingly, beans, squash, and corn are native to the southwest and need less soil improvement than many other vegetables. However, even these crops have been hybridized and modified for use elsewhere and will benefit from some soil amendments. Lettuce, carrots, broccoli, and other vegetables native to moister, cooler climates will need considerably more amendment.

So what amendments should you use? Organic matter, organic matter, and organic matter. Our soils in the Southwest are high in many minerals but low in organic matter and nitrogen. These minerals and lack of organic matter can cause nutrient availability problems and in some cases, salt problems especially when sodium levels are high. Even though the minerals may be present in the soil, they are not always available to the plants. Altering the ph of the soil will help make these nutrients available. Organic matter helps acidify the soil, altering its ph to be more beneficial to vegetables. Sulfur and sulfate compounds can also be helpful.

If you plan to add manure to your garden, now is the best time to add it. Manure contains high salt levels, and if your soil already has salt problems or your soil is on the verge of problems (very likely in New Mexico), manure should be used carefully. Applying it in the fall allows winter precipitation, if there is any, to leach the salts deeper into the soil where it is less likely to cause problems. If you prefer to apply organic matter in the spring, apply well-developed compost as it will cause fewer salt problems. Fresh or incompletely developed compost, especially if it has a high manure content, can be a problem.

The compost will liberate some nitrogen and other nutrients as it continues to decompose in the garden but, to assure adequate nutrition to your plants, you should have your soil tested. Contact your local County Extension Office for information on how to get you soil tested.

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:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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

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

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