December 8, 2012

1 - Caring for indoor plants, pruning, irrigation, and composting are some important garden activities for late fall.

Yard and Garden December 8, 2012


What can I be doing in my garden at this time of year? The frost has killed everything, but the warm days are just too beautiful to stay indoors.

Mary M.

Santa Fe


Now is a good time for indoor gardening, especially watching for insect pests and diseases to develop. If you catch these problems early, you will be much more successful in saving your plants. However, your question implies that you want to be working outside.

It is not too late to plant the bulbs of spring-flowering plants, but you should get them planted as soon as possible. Good soil preparation as needed by each type of bulb plant will result in the best results. Proper planting depth and irrigation at least once a month through the winter are also important. Even though the days have been warm, you may find that the ground (the moisture in the soil) has frozen in areas that remain in the shade most of the day. Even though you can plant most spring-flowering bulbs in these areas, you may want to avoid them because they will be more difficult areas to dig and in which to amend the soil.

You can begin pruning your dormant, deciduous trees, even if some leaves remain on the trees. Evergreen trees and shrubs may be pruned, but do not expose protected inner growth to the harsh sun and wind that dries growth that had been protected. For holiday decorations, collect branches from the shadier sides of the plants.

You should irrigate plants in your landscape at least once a month during the winter. This has been a very dry fall and the winter is usually a dry time in much of New Mexico, so irrigation is essential. Plants are still alive and must maintain their internal moisture even though they are dormant in the winter. Plants use less water in the winter, but irrigation remains important. To protect the health of the root system, irrigate to moisten the soil to the same depth that you irrigate in the growing season. You can change the frequency of irrigation, but not the depth of moist soil (duration of irrigation). Remember to disconnect any garden hoses that will freeze and drain buried and surface irrigation systems after watering.

Finally, fall and winter are good times for composting. Garden debris and kitchen wastes may be composted outdoors as during the summer. If the compost pile is kept moist, the natural heating caused by the metabolism of decay organisms (bacteria and fungi) will allow for creation of the compost that will be very beneficial when you prepare your garden for planting in the spring.

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!