August 2, 2014

1 - Fall gardens are a good idea in New Mexico.

Yard and Garden August 2, 2014


I moved to Santa Fe too late to plant a spring garden. Is it possible to grow a fall garden in New Mexico? What should I plant?


Fall is a good time for gardening in much of New Mexico. It will be more difficult at higher elevation locations where the growing season is significantly shorter. Even at higher elevations there are some plants you can plant now for a fall harvest and some tricks for extending the growing season. Now is the time to plant for a fall harvest.

The first thing to consider is how much growing season is left in your location. Determine the expected date of your first frost in the fall. You can get this information from your local NMSU Cooperative Extension office. Count the number of days from now until the expected frost, and then add a week or two for harvest time. Seed packets often tell how long it takes from planting seed until harvest. If the number you determined is at least as long as the information on the packet, you can plant that vegetable. Some crops such as broccoli, radishes, turnips, carrots, lettuce, and kale will tolerate some frost and even taste better after frost. These cool season crops are the best to consider. While you may still be able to grow some warm season crops in southern New Mexico, gardeners in other parts of the state should grow fast maturing cool season crops.

Prepare the soil as you would for any garden and plant your seeds or transplants if you can find transplants at a nursery. One advantage of fall gardening is that water needs will decrease as temperatures decrease and there is less drying wind in the fall than in the spring. Some of the crops mentioned above, such as broccoli and kale are sweeter when harvested during the fall. The cool nights allow for more accumulation of sugars in the plants.

As I mentioned, many of these cool season crops can tolerate a light freeze. Using some season extending tricks such as floating row covers, cloches (plastic supported over the plants with hoops like little greenhouses), and cold frames will allow you to grow warm season crops where they could not otherwise be grown in the fall. Even the cool season crops will benefit from season extenders as the temperatures approach freezing at night. Be sure to allow ventilation during the day since heat will accumulate rapidly in the intense New Mexico sunlight even in the fall.

Another season and harvest extending trick is to grow plants in large containers that may be moved into a protected area when frost is expected and returned into the sunlight during the day. You can even overwinter some plants such as chiles in pots carried indoors into a sunroom or bright sun lit room during the coldest part of winter. It is a real treat to pick fresh chiles in the middle of the winter to add spice and flavor to winter meals. If you have a room that is bright enough and the temperatures are kept cool (50 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day), it is very possible to grow many plants indoors fall and winter. There are also special, dwarf varieties of vegetables developed for winter windowsill gardening.

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.

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

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