Issue: August 16, 2008

Three landscape planting seasons in New Mexico


This spring was so windy and the temperatures were so variable that I never found a good time to add plants to my landscape. Now, it is too hot to plant. When is the best time to plant here in New Mexico?

Oral question at a gardening presentation


Now is actually a great time for planting some plants. This year much of the state has had good rains and the temperatures have declined. Many Southwestern U.S. native plants are genetically prepared to grow during these monsoon conditions and will thrive if planted now. If the rains stop, you will need to irrigate to help the plants establish, but now is still a good time to plant.

The autumn is also a good time to plant. Container grown trees and shrubs can be planted well into the autumn. Irrigation will be necessary to establish the plants, but many of these plants exhibit good root growth in the fall. Autumn is also less windy than the spring and that helps with maintaining soil moisture, so consider the autumn as a good planting time. Of course, that is also the time to plant spring flowering bulbs, so while you are planting the trees and shrubs, add some bulbs for early spring excitement in your landscape. You should not dig under established trees to plant bulbs (to protect the roots of the trees), but when you are first planting trees, you can plant bulbs near the base of the tree without fear of harming the roots of the trees.

Finally, spring will come again with its winds and unpredictable temperatures. Spring is a good time for planting many things. Do not let the vagarious spring weather prevent you from planting. For some plants, especially plants available bare root (not in containers and with no soil on their roots), spring is the only time for planting them. Nurseries will put some of these into containers so you can plant them later, but some are not available later. Once again, maintaining moisture around the roots requires irrigation.

There are three good planting seasons here in New Mexico. Each has its own benefits and limitations. While you may not be able to plant every landscape plant in every season, many can be planted in any of the three seasons if the plants are available.

As you have noticed, I mentioned irrigation in each instance above. Water is critical for the establishment of plants in the landscape. However, water conservation is also critical. Planting during the monsoon season with its precipitation is one way to maximize plant establishment while conserving water. Organic mulches (bark, wood chips) applied at the base of establishing plants helps conserve moisture and greatly enhance root development (in any season).

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.

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