February 13, 2016

1 - New Mexico's soil, climate, and a gardener's choice of plants can create great challenges for gardeners new to New Mexico and the Southwest.

Yard and Garden February 13, 2016


Why is gardening in New Mexico so difficult? I have gardened with great success in Great Britain, in New England, and with some success in California. Gardening in New Mexico is much more difficult that all those locations. Why?


Your comment is not uncommon. Many people move to New Mexico and are confronted with the challenges of gardening here. What are you trying to grow? Some plants are quite easy to grow here - Yuccas, agaves, some cacti, and numerous native and xeric plants. Landscape plants, flowering plants, and vegetables that are commonly grown in other locations can be quite challenging, but many of them may be grown here.

A major factor determining how readily plants grow in New Mexico is our soil. While the soil varies from one part of the state to another, it is typically high in calcium and other minerals, often low in organic matter and nitrogen. While there are often high levels of minerals in New Mexico soils, these minerals and the high pH of the soil limits the availability of some of these nutrients to plants. Addition of organic matter and acidifying agents can help with this issue. Some plants such as blueberries and azaleas require more acidity than we can provide and are not recommended.

Our climatic conditions are also a factor impacting gardening. Conditions are variable from cold in the winter, warm spells followed by cold again in the spring, and then very hot in the summer. Our precipitation patterns vary from year to year. Spring may be wet, or it may be dry. Monsoon rains are expected in mid-summer, they may come early or late or hardly at all. Trying to guess when to plant can be a challenge. Learning to irrigate properly is a big challenge for many gardeners. Irrigating can cause problems because it adds additional mineral salts to soils that contain considerable mineral salt already. Efforts to conserve water in our arid climate are a challenge.

Gardening in New Mexico is certainly possible, but it requires learning the intricacies of our soil, moisture, temperatures, and the insects that will invariably find your garden. Choosing the right plants helps gardeners succeed. Visiting successful gardeners and learning from them, joining garden clubs, attending lecture, and gathering gardening information from local sources will all help you more quickly learn to garden well in New Mexico. There is a great deal of information available from your local NMSU County Cooperative Extension Service office and online from ACES Publications.

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.


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!