September 8, 2012

1 - There are numerous small shrubs and large perennial plants that will grow in New Mexico.

Yard and Garden September 8, 2012


Can you suggest any small shrubs or fairly large perennials that are likely to do well in clay soil and partial shade? We are located in Albuquerque's northeast heights.

-Ralph P.

I am not sure what you consider a small shrub or a large perennial, but I will suggest some plants that may fall into these categories.

Some small broad leafed evergreen shrubs to consider are Indian hawthorn (Raphiolepis species), boxwood (Buxus species), dwarf Burford holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordi’ dwarf forms), heavenly bamboo (Nandina species), Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium), lavender (make sure it has drainage in clay soil), and dwarf bamboo. Each of these has strengths and weaknesses. As broad leafed evergreens they often exhibit foliar damage during the winter and early spring until new growth can replace the old leaves. They also require more winter irrigation since the leaves continue to transpire water even in the winter.

Some deciduous shrubs to consider include the cotoneasters, miniature roses, flowering quince (Chaenomeles species), dwarf lilacs (Syringa meyeri), Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi), dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleja or Buddleia) Texas sage (Leucophyllum species), cherry sage (Salvia greggii), and many other excellent plants. Although these lose their leaves in the winter, they often produce an excellent display of flowers in the spring or summer. They will be less demanding of water in the dormant season, but will need to be irrigated some.

Some perennials to consider are peonies and tree peonies. There are many peonies from which to choose and will vary in heights. They produce striking flowers in the spring and provide greenery through the summer. They love cold locations, but will grow in much of New Mexico. The tree peonies are any form that becomes woody and grows taller than the herbaceous perennial peonies that die to the ground each winter. Ornamental grasses are a very large group of herbaceous perennials that can serve many functions in the landscape. They often retain interesting forms, textures, and shades of brown (chocolate, mahogany, tan, or gold) through the winter. Their graceful movements make them interesting additions to the landscape. They also provide food for many songbirds. Ornamental grasses should be cut to the ground before growth begins in the spring to reveal development of new growth. Some grasses, called cool season grasses, begin growth in late winter while other plants are still dormant. The warm season grasses do not begin growth until after temperatures have warmed and frost is unlikely.

The list of plants provided above is certainly not complete. There are many other plants to consider, but these will give you something to consider as you begin your search. Some are more tolerant of shade, while most will tolerate some degree of shade and may greatly appreciate shade in the heat of the summer.

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.


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