Issue: March 15, 2008

New Mexico gardening basics


We are planning a garden this year and want to include tomato plants, sweet peppers, and green beans. We are concerned about disease, especially the tomatoes. A friend suggested an inocculant for the beans. Is this necessary?

The soil has been worked a bit, but we are going to rototill it well and add more amendments. What do you recommend?

We are also thinking of sending away for some worms as there are few here.

Planting time appears to be critical. I have bought other types of plants from catalogs. They only want to ship according to zones because of potential freezing. But by the time the plants arrive, it is too hot and the plants do not have much of a chance.

I know it requires a lot of work, but do you recommend overall screening from the sun?

George D. S.
Los Lunas area


Welcome to gardening in New Mexico. You have asked some very good questions. You mentioned concern about diseases. There are some diseases to consider, but as a result of our dry environment diseases are less of a problem than in many regions of the U.S. Tomatoes and peppers may have a problem with curly top virus, but the problem can be reduced by good weed control in the garden and landscape during winter and early spring. This will reduce the source of infestation. Overwatering and failure to rotate crops from year to year can cause some fungal disease problems, but they can be managed by proper irrigation and crop rotation.

Your friend's suggestion to use inoculants for the beans is good advice. It is not essential, but it usually results in healthier, more productive bean plants. The innoculant consists of rhizobia bacterial that works with the bean plants to extract nitrogen from the air and fertilize the plants. If you supply nitrogen to the soil, this association between bacteria and plants is less effective.

Adding organic amendments to the soil is a good idea, but do this with caution. Use amendments that do not add to soil problems with mineral salts. Of particular concern is the addition of manure in the spring. The salts in the soil and manure can cause damage to the roots of the plants. Well decomposed compost is the best material to use as a soil amendment.

The native earthworms will appear in your garden soil as it is prepared and organic amendments are added. You do not have to send off for them. If you want to add the compost worms to your compost pile, those may be purchased. They are a different type of earthworm.

The problem of nurseries not shipping until too late here is a problem. They do not want the plants to freeze during the shipping. You are correct, that results in plants arriving when conditions are hot and dry here. Some nurseries will ship if you sign a document releasing them from liability. It may require finding nurseries in other (warmer) regions to ship the plants at a more appropriate time. It is possible to plant here after it has become quite warm if you acclimate the plants prior to planting and protect them from sun and wind once they are planted. Mulching will also help protect the roots of these plants.

Shading a garden and newly installed plants is a good idea. In New Mexico we are blessed with much sunlight and wind. This can cause problems with some garden plants. It is best to avoid plants that cannot tolerate these conditions (they may also not tolerate our soil conditions). However, shade from structures and other plants can be helpful in the vegetable and flower gardens.

We have covered a lot of material, but with little depth. Many of these topics have been covered in more depth in previous issues of Yard and Garden which are available online at NMSU' s web site There are also numerous publications available to you from NMSU through your local Cooperative Extension Service office or online at Thank you for your question and best wishes for a successful garden.

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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!