October 29, 2016

1 - Winter gardening is possible in most of New Mexico.

Yard and Garden October 29, 2016


Winter is coming and I am going to miss my garden. I have only been here a couple of years, but I know it gets cold enough in New Mexico to kill most of my vegetable and flower garden. Is it possible to grow any vegetables and flowers through the winter here?

- Thomas G.

Bernalillo County


There are some plants and techniques to try in the Central Rio Grande valley. If you are east of the mountains in Bernalillo County, it becomes more difficult, but still not impossible. In fact, there are some things even gardeners at high elevations and in Northern New Mexico can do to keep gardening.

Outdoors there are plants that will survive the winter if it is not too harsh. This is easier in Southern New Mexico, but even further north we can often grow kale and flowering kale, kohlrabi, turnips, pansies, and sometimes even carrots through the winter. Most of these should have already been planted by now; most planted by mid-summer. In the depth of winter when temperatures are lowest, these plants may need a protective covering. Pine needles and row cover fabric may be enough. In colder locations, burlap bags filled with leaves, straw, or pine needles can be used to cover the plants during extreme cold, but removed on warm days to allow the plants to receive sunlight and to allow the soil to absorb heat to protect the plants when extreme weather returns. In New Mexico, provision to provide irrigation is necessary most winters as well.

Some onions and garlic should be planted in the autumn as well as the spring flowering bulbs. The onions (such as chives and shallots) should survive if given some protection during the winter. Garlic and shallots may have their foliage burned by the cold, but will resume growth as the worst of winter has past and be ready for mid-summer harvest. Other onions, those that produce larger bulbs, may be planted in late winter or very early in the spring in the Middle Rio Grande areas.

Of course, gardening can continue indoors everywhere in New Mexico. An indoor location with as many hours of bright light and cool temperatures will allow gardeners to grow many different plants, both edible and ornamental. Gardeners fortunate enough to have a sun room are prepared to grow even tomatoes and chiles through the winter. Of course they can grow many other plants as well. Indoor temperatures that people prefer can stress some plants unless they receive many hours of sunlight each day, but cooler temperatures near 50 degrees help them survive the winter indoors.

Finally, hard core gardeners such as you may choose to build a cold frame that protects plants through the winter if they do not have a sun room. Cold frame gardens require frequent attention to prevent daytime temperatures from rising too high and to prevent freezing at night.

I am finally building a cold frame I have planned for about 20 years. I have grown chile plants in south-facing windows for many years and enjoy fresh chiles to spice up my meals in the middle of the winter. Kale, Chinese cabbage, shallots, garlic and kohlrabi are growing outside in my Albuquerque garden now and will probably survive the winter. You can indeed garden through the winter in New Mexico.

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!