Categories
Gardening Basics and Tips Native Plants Southwest Gardening You Can Grow That!

Chocolate Flower: You Can Grow That!

Chocolate flower grows well in rock gardens.

Chocolate flower  (Berlanderia lyrata) is a Southwest native packed with flowering power and a bonus—the chocolate aroma of the flowers. Be sure to plant it where you can get a whiff of the scent while walking down a path or sitting on your deck or patio. You can grow this easy-care native.

New-buds-open-flowers-chocolate-flower
A chocolate-colored and scented center and daisy-like petals add to chocolate flower’s interest in the garden. Even the unopened blooms are pretty.

Native to Dry Areas

No wonder chocolate flower is easy to grow in the Southwest; it is native to dry plains and hills of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Kansas. It grows best in elevations of 4,000 to 7,000 feet, so Berlanderia thrives in high deserts and intermountain areas, but you certainly can try it in a hotter climate where it gets afternoon shade or as an annual in a container during spring or fall.

Because it’s native, and probably because it looks and smells so great, chocolate flower attracts butterflies, bees and birds. And deer leave it alone! Need more reasons to grow Berlanderia? It reseeds naturally, but not aggressively, so one plant can turn into a few or more, depending on lots of conditions and where you plant the first one. Another great feature of this native is that it will reseed more naturally if planted near rocks or gravel mulch. The rocks “trap” the seeds when they blow in the wind.

chocolate-flower-leaves-blooms-rocks
Chocolate flowers love morning sun and afternoon shade.

Caring for Chocolate Flower

You can plant chocolate flower in nearly any type of soil, but it probably will do best if the soil drains well. In cooler Southwest zones, be sure to place it where it will receive plenty of sun – up to all day – and where its mature height (about a foot to 15 inches tall, and up to two feet wide) will work without overcrowding. Give it a little more water the first year, and then chocolate flower should grow and bloom with mostly rain only. Each spring, trim off dead flower stalks and some of the foliage if necessary to keep the plant base about three inches high.

Chocolate flower is a perennial in zones 4 through 11, although ask for the variety best for your area. For example, High Country Gardens has introduced a new Mora County mix of B. lyrata that is particularly cold hardy for Southwest mountain areas. Deadheading, or removing spent blooms, keeps Berlanderia blooming.

chocolate-flower-desert-zinnia-rock-garden
Chocolate-scented Berlanderia can be a great border plant or part of a natural landscape.

Enjoy Growing Chocolate Flower

Chocolate flower is in the daisy family, a relative of the sunflower and others, and some people call it Chocolate Daisy. It makes a nice cutting flower as part of an arrangement, but just know that its stalks can get a little lanky and thin. Still, cut enough to enjoy that soft chocolate scent inside! The foliage and flower buds also have a muted silvery-green quality – they look like a sage green paper flower. Its growth habit is bright and colorful but just wild enough to fit in a natural looking, xeric landscape.

spent-bloom-chocolate-flower-deadhead
The circled bloom is spent and ready to deadhead, at least once the birds are done with it.

Leave some of the drying flower heads on your Berlanderia at the end of the season if you want it to reseed in your garden (and for birds). Then watch in spring. If conditions are right, you might see a few new crowns of chocolate flower with the distinctive leaf pattern.

It’s a good thing chocolate flower can spread, because you can’t move it. The plant has a tap root (which helps its drought tolerance) that doesn’t survive division or transplanting. Otherwise, chocolate flower is a perfect, sunny perennial for a xeric garden.

You can grow chocolate flower!

Categories
Fall Landscape Design Southwest Gardening

5 Hardscaping Projects for Fall

As summer fades and the temperature begins to drop a little, it’s time to plan for fall projects in the garden, especially of the hardscaping features in your landscape, which season does not affect (unless it is too hot to be outside, of course). Hardscaping refers to the landscaping or decorative materials incorporated into the landscape.

Fall is a great time to plan and complete garden projects, especially those involving elements of the landscape other than plants. How late or early in fall depends on where you live—it might still be too hot in early fall or you might be focused on planting cool-season edibles. Still, taking care of a few things on the “to-do” list can ease the load in spring. Here are 5 ideas for sprucing up your landscape without having to buy plants.

Replace or repair a worn-out path. Paths in the garden, whether made of flagstone, brick, pavers or gravel, take plenty of wear and tear. If your path is lined with landscape fabric and you see weeds poking up anywhere other than the edges, it might be time to replace the fabric. Landscape gravel often is used for paths, but it allows more water and air to reach weeds than does crusher fine (decomposed granite) or solid concrete. However, concrete does not let water through. A path made of crusher fine with a good-quality fabric beneath can absorb water but choke weeds for years.

Boulders and rock walls are natural backdrops for Southwest native plants.

Add a border or backdrop. Is there a plant you enjoyed more than others this summer? Do you feel like you need to add some height or texture to your landscape? Think about how you can feature your favorite plant and add interest to your landscape with a rock, boulder, wall or other non-plant item placed behind the plant. Boulders make gorgeous backdrops for native Southwestern plants. It is easy to add store-bought trellises behind climbing plants or just for a backdrop. Or repurpose an old door, window or other item. Add a fun garden-related sign and you are all set.

This gabion wall re-used rocks that were set on a slope to create a solid backdrop for plants and to define raised beds. Notice how that crusher fine material has settled in on the path.

Build a wall. Whether for privacy, a backdrop, or to separate areas of a garden, adding a wall can bring height and color to a garden. Walls get a little more complex to build, but should not cost too much with a little creativity. Stack pavers to define a raised bed or add a gabion wall. Gabion walls use baskets to hold rocks as the building material. We all know there are plenty of rocks in the Southwest, so stack them neatly and give them purpose.

Help water drain away from the house or toward a tree with an attractive dry river bed.

Make or fix a slope. If you have a plant that gets too much water (rare in the Southwest, but it can happen), consider building a berm or mound or terracing a sloped area of your yard. Control water from a downspout by digging down just enough to help the rainwater flow to a nearby tree, shrub or bed. Add some curve or changes in width for a natural, river-type look, and top with decorative rocks. Now, you have a functional and attractive dry river bed. You also can create a terrace effect with containers, placing a row of short containers before taller ones.

A touch of paint on this low wall offsets all the colors in the plants before it.

Add color. Color from plants is the best, especially for pollinators. But you can add color with a painted wall, new accent pots (with or without plants) or by staining concrete. Concrete stain comes in plenty of colors and looks, and can add color beneath your feet. Patios, entryways, and small sidewalks all can add color and interest to the landscape with a touch of color.

Line a path with color, like this bottle border.
Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

Connect with Teresa on TwitterInstagramPinterest and Facebook.

Categories
Gardening Basics and Tips Native Plants Southwest Gardening

5-Plus Native Plants for High-Altitude Gardens

natives-penstemon-high-altitude-denver

Gardening in high deserts and mountains of the Southwest presents some unique challenges because the growing season is short with cool nights, hot days and plenty of wind. In Northern Arizona, Northern and South-Central mountains of New Mexico, and most areas of Colorado and Utah, elevation plays a role in selecting the best plants for a landscape. Plants native to high-altitude conditions usually survive better in a landscape than do plants you might love but simply have trouble growing in extreme climates. Native plants also can support local wildlife and often use less water than non-natives.

Plant breeders like to make Southwest gardening more fun and successful for all of us by breeding the best qualities of our native plants with other characteristics – such as more or larger flowers – to give us plenty of choice in our gardens. Here are some of the best native and native hybrids for higher elevation Southwest gardens.

aspen-trees-fall-color-shed
Aspens love the elevation of Southwest mountains, where they get cooler temperatures and a little more rain than in the valleys. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Native Tree

Growing trees native to the Southwest mountains, and even to your specific state’s mountains, helps you find success, uses less water, and helps native wildlife. The Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) grows at elevations of 4,500 to 8,500 feet. In full sun and with little water, the member of the Beech family can grow to nearly 30 feet high and 20 feet across. It grows faster if watered deeply on a regular basis, but can handle dry spells. Its leaves turn from dark green in summer to a copper/bronze in fall before dropping. This is a good choice for a shade tree to cool a home or patio in summer but let some sun through in winter. Also called Scrub Oak, the Gambel is native to mountains of New Mexico and Colorado.

The Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a favorite mountain tree thriving at up to 10,000 feet, but it needs more water than many natives, especially if grown at lower altitudes (about 4,000 to 5,500 feet). The Valley Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) is tall with one of the most attractive canopies, favoring river valleys but with roots that can invade sewer and water lines. A few shorter trees can grow like tall shrubs or multitrunked trees. An example is New Mexico Olive (Foresteria pubescens) with twisting branches. The Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum) grows more like a tree, but also is considered a tall native shrub.

serviceberry flower
Serviceberry, or Amelanchier, is a favorite native of birds. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Native Shrub

Native shrubs also provide shelter or food for native insects and wildlife. As urbanization spreads, adding native shrubs into local landscapes can help provide habitat for birds, butterflies and mammals. The Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) grows at altitudes of 5,000 to 10,000 feet and provides color in spring when it flowers, green in summer, blue-black fruit for wildlife, and orange-red leaves in fall. The shrub grows to nearly 12 feet high, depending on the cultivar. They have low to moderate watering requirements.

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis) also grow in foothills or mountains of about 5,000 to 8,500 feet for serviceberry and 11,500 feet for buffaloberry, and provide berries for birds and small mammals.

Agastache-with coral-pink-flowers-against-rocks
Agastache, or hummingbird mint, is a favorite of hummingbirds.

Native Perennial

Although native to plains, Agastache (A. foeniculum) grows well in Southwest intermountain gardens. The plant, often called hyssop, anise hyssop, or hummingbird mint, is a perennial member of the mint family. It is not prone to disease and is cold hardy down to zone 4 and summer hardy to zone 8 (with a few taking the heat of zone 9). Hyssops are attractive to hummingbirds, but not to deer, so they are big-plus perennials in high altitude gardens.

Although truly native hyssops feature mostly mint-like leaves and purple flowers, hybridizers have cultivated various colors and needle-like leaves. Most hyssop leaves are fragrant, and the plants bloom in late summer to early fall. They love full sun, but need a little afternoon shade in warmer climates of the Southwest. This might affect flowering, but not enough for anyone to avoid this versatile perennial.

Other members of the mint family, such as Nepeta (catmint) and Cuban oregano often do well in high-altitude gardens. Just beware that some mint relatives, such as horehound, can become invasive. Additional perennials for the high-altitude Southwest garden are sages, either culinary or salvia species.

Native Groundcover

pineleaf penstemon is a native groundcover for high-elevation gardens.
The needle-like leaves of pineleaf penstemon grow on the same stems as the tiny, tubular blooms. This one just needs a little more rain to pop.

You’ve no doubt seen us tout many penstemon varieties for hot Southwest gardens. Scarlet penstemon is a pretty native of Texas Hill Country and similar to a wild one that just appeared in my yard. Others are native to cooler or higher regions, like Rocky Mountain penstemon. My favorite is pineleaf penstemon (P. pinifolius), also called Pineleaf Beardtongue. Bees and hummingbirds love the trumpet-shaped flowers of penstemons, which grow best in full sun or in morning sun with some afternoon shade.

Pineleaf penstemon requires a little more water than some to maintain its lush carpet of orange flowers above pine-like leaves. It begins blooming in late spring and needs little care, just shearing of spent flower stalks in early spring. Give it soil that drains well. One reason it is such a great groundcover is its propensity to spread. The plant becomes larger, but it also makes baby plants nearby. We have dug them up and transplanted them with good success. High Country Gardens sells tall and compact pineleaf penstemons, one with a redder flower.

reed grass can look more formal or natural, and grows great against rocks and fences
This high-elevation garden in Denver has a beautiful display of grasses, inluding the row of native Karl Foerster along the wall.

Native Grass

Feather Reed Grass (specifically Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’) is a hardy and beautiful ornamental grass for high-elevation gardens of the Southwest. It grows pretty green blades that add flower stems in summer that can rise nearly two feet above the blades. The wheat-like stems are favorites of birds and look elegant but natural blowing in the breeze, even through winter.

In higher elevations of 7,500 feet or more, the plant does best when planted in spring. Warmer climates can plant feather reed grass in fall, just being sure to give its roots time to grow before the first frost hits. It needs a little more deep water than some native grasses to grow and develop a flush of flower stalks. Other than that, care is easy. Just cut the entire leaf base close to the ground in early spring and it will regrow.

Some plants are not native to your state or altitude but have adapted to the climate or have qualities that make them good choices. You don’t have to plant only natives; find other plants that grow well in your state and at your altitude to complement native plants by mixing up color, bloom time, height or  texture. And don’t be afraid to try native hybrids; they should work as well as native plants you see growing naturally nearby.

Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

Connect with Teresa on TwitterInstagramPinterest and Facebook.

Categories
Fun DIY in the Great Outdoors Gardening Basics and Tips Pollinator Gardens Southwest Gardening

5 Weekend Pollinator Projects for Southwest Gardeners

The Southwest U.S. boasts its share of pollinators—native butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other insects or mammals to balance nature, despite our dry and harsh conditions. For example, Texas reportedly has the most butterfly species (495) of any state. Beneficial insects that pollinate plants and crops need a little help in the dry Southwest.

butterfly-pollinators-on-native-plant

Here are 5 quick and easy ways to help pollinators.

Build a Butterfly “Puddle”

Butterflies need moisture and the minerals water contains. They can’t use the bird bath, which is too large and deep. You can use a large shallow “dish” like a container saucer, old bird bath or pie pan. First, add a layer of sand to the bottom so that if rain saturates the tray, only about one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch remain.

butterfly-in-water-puddle
Butterflies can get moisture from wet soil, and a butterfly puddle makes it easier.

Add nutrients like composted manure to the sand. Make a shallow low spot in the middle to form a puddle. Replenish the water every few days (every day in the Southwest,  most likely). You can continue to just refill the existing soil for about a month before needing to build a new soil and manure base. Here’s a video with steps from The Arbor Gate.

Plant Host Plants for Pollinators’ Caterpillars

Chemical cues signal to female butterflies (and male butterflies seeking “companionship”) that a plant will host their eggs. All those plants that attract them with nectar help replenish the energy butterflies exhaust as they seek egg-laying spots. Larval host plants provide a place to lay eggs and feed caterpillars. Add a few of these to your landscapes or kitchen container gardens (plant enough of the edible herbs so you can share with the caterpillars) to help pollinators.

swallowtail caterfpillar on dill
The dill leaves on one plant are gone, but it was worth it to feed these Swallowtail caterpillars.

Swallowtails are the giants of the butterfly world and easy to attract. Eastern Swallowtails love dill and fennel. Tiger swallowtails use several trees, including cherry, ash, willow, and birch. See a helpful list of swallowtail larval host plants and nectar hosts in this helpful post from American Meadows. Plant dill in spring in cooler Southwest climates and between October and January in the low desert and watch for butterflies in March. Plant fennel in spring after the last frost in cooler climates and in October through April in the low desert.

Milkweed plants also host the beloved pollinators — Monarch butterflies. In the high desert, I grow common milkweed (Asclepsias syriaca) as a perennial or butterfly weed (A. tuberosa). There are hundreds of native varieties. The Desert Botanical Garden lists Arizona varieties and here’s an article from High Country Gardens about the nontropical species that fare best in the dry Southwest.

Add a Bee Home

You can create bee habitat by purchasing or making a cute bee/pollinator hotel. Bees like to nest in dead trees and snags, so leave some tree limbs tucked away in a corner of your backyard. One project is to cross a cleaning chore off your list by leaving some natural spots, like dead but hollow branches, for bee nests.

beed-home-for-pollinators
This is an old bee house that needs some work. But it shows the tiny holes in most bee houses or of hollow plant stems.

About 70 percent of native bees nest in the ground in burrows. So, this weekend, make sure you have a few spots where these super pollinators can access bare soil. Another 30 percent use cavities like the little holes in bee houses. You can gather the kids to build a bee house, using the advice of pollinator and wildlife experts. That advice can help you prevent designing or buying a bee house with the wrong materials or so large that it attract lots of bees, making them a target. Most bees actually are solitary critters. Also know that bee nesting houses require some maintenance.

And don’t forget the role some wasps play as pollinators. They are a little harder to take when set up near a house, but solitary wasps spotted in your yard can be a good sign. They eat some helpful insects but also kill harmful ones and their larvae. Pollen wasps don’t sting but do seek flowers for pollen. if you grow tomatoes, help out Braconid wasps, which prey on tomato hornworm eggs. Both types are solitary wasps and non-stingers. That is a wasp I can get behind!

Add Some Native Plants for Pollinators

When replacing a tired shrub or filling any empty spot in the landscape, consider native plants first. You have to select what you like, what fits the area or the color combination first. But there just might be a native plant that gives you as much joy as it does the pollinators. Because native pollinators have adapted along with local, native plants, these are the best bets to help bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Look for a plant that attracts or hosts beneficial insects. If you’re not sure which natives help native pollinators in your area and appeal to you as a perennial in your garden, see last week’s post by Jacqueline Soule. You also can check with local nurseries, cooperative extension offices, native plant societies or master gardeners.

butterfly-pollinator-native-gaillardia
Blanket flowers (Gaillardia) are native wildflowers that grow well and re-seed in our dry climate. Bees and butterflies love them.

Then, this weekend, put together a fun native buffet for pollinators. Choose a bare area of a garden bed or lawn, a median strip or a few large and colorful containers. A diverse selection is most effective, but you can keep it simple by repeating some of your favorite plants; this looks great to you and fly-by pollinators. For example, yarrow is stunning when several plants appear together, especially bordered by something red or orange like scarlet gilia. If you can’t plant now, you can observe and record information for next year. Watch to see when bees, butterflies and hummingbirds appear and match it to garden plants that host or feed them. Try extending the season so they have food, shelter or host spots for as much of the year as possible.

Help Local Lizards

Lizards are the fun and less scary representatives of reptiles in the garden, like butterflies are to insects! And helping them is a fun project for kids. Although lizards are less likely to pollinate plants in the Southwest than they are on tropical islands, they still are beneficial reptiles. Lizards eat slugs, for example. Those living in your Southwest garden most likely are native to your area, so supplying them with native plants, especially groundcovers, and piles of rocks where they can quickly hide helps them thrive. They need a combination of shade and sun so they can move back and forth based on temperatures.

lizard-on-pot-rim-beneficial
One of our lizards is out for a stroll on a broken pot we planted for seeds. Can you see him on the rim?

This weekend, set up a lizard-friendly habitat in your garden by making sure you have a few large and piled rocks near low, bushy shrubs or groundcovers. Add some mulch around a few plants that like it cooler or damper,  and provide water near where you see lizards. Fill a small bowl or tray with assorted rocks and sticks that lizards can use to cross to a cool drink. And you might have to set up a few safe spots for lizards away from your pooches. Catching lizards is a natural instinct for many of our furry friends.

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Plant a variety of plants, including some native plants to your area. But have fun with any plants that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Keeping those native plants healthy helps the pollinators, as does avoiding use of pesticides whenever possible.

Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

Connect with Teresa on TwitterInstagramPinterest and Facebook.

Categories
Edible Landscape Gardening Basics and Tips Growing Food Southwest Gardening Summer

Southwest Planting Pitfalls: Drought, Heat, Altitude and Wind

rocks-high-altitude-garden

We’re all aware that low precipitation prevails in most of our Southwest communities. We have received 4.4 inches of rain by mid-May this year— and it shows. But there’s more to the survival picture for plants in Southwest landscapes. Altitude, wind, and heat challenges each interact with our dry conditions in one way or another.

All told, the Southwest is the hottest and driest region in the United States. Climate change has added more heat and drier conditions in the southernmost areas. So, when you think about helping plants survive our heat, you also have to think about how our geography and climate help or hurt the heat problem and learn to work around as much as you humanly can.

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Pecan bark mulch can cool plant roots and help retain moisture, helping ease two Southwest gardening challenges.

Southwest Heat

The low desert socks it to summer landscapes. Gardeners can help plants survive by choosing native or desert-adapted plants, providing shade, especially in the afternoons, and watering plants deeply. These and other tips are in our free booklet for subscribers: Get Your SW Garden Ready for the Heat (see below). All of these strategies help. But if you want to grow food, which isn’t native or adapted, here are some additional tips.

straw-vegetable-beds-high-altitude-garden
Walls of water help start tomatoes and cucumbers. The PVC pipes will hold up shade fabric once peak heat hits.

Tips: Edible Gardening in the Hot Southwest

  • Adjust planting times to match your area, using local sources when possible. Most people plant tomatoes by early to middle May. Not so in the hot desert. Check our blog, our contributors’ blogs, local extension offices and master gardener groups or local nurseries for the schedules in your area.
  • Grow what you love in the best conditions you can give the plant. Celery is a foolish thing to grow in a desert climate, but you can get good tomato yields and all peppers (sweet and spicy) love heat. If you want lettuce and other greens, grow them cooler times or indoors in summer.
walls-water-gravel-straw-control-heat
We’ve got several strategies going to warm and cool plants. Straw in the beds keeps the ground moist and cooler and movable walls of water keep plants and soil warm at night. They come off when heat kicks in.
  • Invest in shade fabric for newly planted ornamentals, tomatoes, or other plants that wilt in heat. If that is more expense or more fabric than you need, just get creative. Stake down an old woven lawn chair to block hot afternoon sun. Or use an old window screen or maybe a sun shade from your car for a few days, just until your young plant toughens up. Just be sure to give the plant airflow (or it will heat up more) and secure whatever shade you use from wind.
lawn-chairs-shade-young-plant
These lawn chairs might look strange, but they did the job helping a young plant get used to high-altitude sun for its first few days.

Altitude

At higher altitudes of the Southwest, it doesn’t get as hot as in low deserts, but it can reach 100 degrees in our higher deserts in summer and still freeze often in winter. We get wild 24-hour temperature swings. All of these argue in favor of native plants and paying some extra attention throughout seasons, or even a single day, to the garden and plant health.

Altitude typically cools the air, but it increases solar radiation. And middle and low-desert gardeners are high enough above sea level to get some of altitude’s effects when combined with high heat. For every 1,000 meters altitude increases, UV radiation levels jump 10% to 12%. So, even at only 3,000 feet above sea level, UV rays are 10% stronger, affecting your skin and your plants.

Just like the effect altitude has on people—dehydration, rapid sunburn—plants in high deserts can wilt and suffer from the combinations of drought, heat and altitude. At higher altitudes, transpiration (water movement through a plant and eventual evaporation) occurs at higher rates, exhausting a plant’s available water. In addition, growing season length is shorter for high-altitude gardeners because of cool nights.

petroglyphs-new-mexico-native-plants-rocks
If high-desert plants can grow on rocks (near petroglyphs), the natives can handle Southwest garden extremes.

Tips for Gardening in High-Altitude, Dry Regions

  • Monitor and protect plants as best as possible, adding warmth at night for new plantings or seeds and shade as needed in peak daytime heat.
  • Choose short-season edibles for best success. High-altitude growing seasons are too short for most melons and winter squashes, and too cool for peppers. Smaller and short-season hybrid tomatoes will ripen most years.
  • Enjoy native wildflowers or perennials. Many of the wildflowers, called ephemerals because of their short life cycles, sprout after a good rain and give you spring or summer color. They might or might not show up again the next year, depending on conditions.
  • Accept that growing plants from seed might not work as well in high-altitude areas with short seasons. By the time nighttime temperatures warm the soil enough to sprout flower seeds, the plants are ready for growth spurts just as summer afternoons begin to blaze.
threadgrass-blowing-wind-mountains-altitude
Dry and windy… look familiar?

Southwest Wind

I don’t have to tell anyone living in the Southwest about wind. It’s worse in some open plains, foothills and low deserts than in others, but we all deal with it. Our strong, dry winds can wick water from soil and leaves, adding to drought and heat effects. Wind also damages plant structures, breaking entire branches. We can’t stop the wind, but we can provide breaks and protect young plants in particular from the wind. Just like drought, wind stresses plants, making it hard to grow healthy roots.

Tips for Coping with Wind in the Garden

  • Plant wind-susceptible plants where they get a wind break from structures (buildings, fences) or other plants. The wind can whip around, but most of us know the prevailing wind direction for our area (such as from southwest to northeast).
  • Usually, the crest of a hill or slope is the windiest spot. Plant on the hillside itself, on a south-facing slope when possible.
  • If you have a bad wind problem affecting a tree or shrub, you can build a temporary wall with fabric such as burlap or garden shade cloth. Just be sure the posts you use to hold the fabric are sturdily planted or a heavy wind could knock the entire “wall” over and damage your plant more.
  • It is not a good idea to stake trees, but young ones might need some protection the first year. Brace the tree trunk with a soft cloth or tubing. We run rope through pieces cut from old garden hoses to protect the trees. Rope or wire can destroy the trunk.
5-gallon-bucket-with-shade-cloth-high-altitude-garden
When full sun, heat and wind hit a young plant, add some protection from wind and intense sun in high-altitude areas. Just be aware of how hot it gets inside a shelter like this. You also can place it to the side of the plant that’s between it and the blazing sun.
  • Harden off new plants, especially vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, by setting them out in morning breezes first, getting them used to wind (and sun) a little at a time for up to a week if you can.
  • Add a mini-greenhouse over tender young plants, and stake it thoroughly. We protect small plants from wind with 5-gallon buckets with the bottom cut out and held by a wooden or rebar stake. Just place the open bucket over the plant and drive a stake down on the edge the same direction as your wind typical wind gusts. These are easy to lift off and put back on if wind picks up.
sunflowers-compost-bin-protect-altitude
Wildflower seeds blow around and settle where protected.

Learn More About Gardening in Heat

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Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

Connect with Teresa on TwitterInstagramPinterest and Facebook.