A gardening guru shares her tips for beautiful blooms
Written by Cassie McClure
Ready to get into the spring of things with your home garden? Adding pops of color and natural beauty to your yard isn’t as difficult as it may seem to those of us who weren’t blessed with a green thumb. Fortunately, we found a local grow expert willing to help with all the insight you’ll need to get your garden blooming.
If you’re a budding gardener, start at the very beginning suggests Sabine Green, the floriculture program coordinator at New Mexico State University, and consider the soil under your feet before you plant your first flowers and bushes.
“We’re in the river valley, and soil on the river floodplain has a completely different structure than off of Highway 70,” Green points out, adding that a garden that has interest points year-round is achievable in Las Cruces, but, needs to be planned out. “A well-rounded landscape will have color all months of the year here in Southern New Mexico, but you have to open your calendar and plant accordingly. For example, in March you have the flowering quince but it fades by April.”
Green says that both forsythia and crabapple trees do well in the region at this time of the year, but many modern homeowners are hoping to stick to a more desert-hardy landscape for their yard. A popular option for water-conscious homeowners, is the famous xeriscaping design—and don’t worry, that doesn’t have to translate into a dull, unexciting yard. “Xeriscape isn’t zero landscaping it’s creating zones of low or no water use and zones for high water use,” notes Green. “Think of different parts of the yard that you want to focus on by installing perennials that pop up year after year.”
The New Mexico State University College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences has a listing of different perennials that do well on varying amounts of water. For example, the butterfly milkweed with its orange-yellow, trumpet-shaped clusters of flowers, blooms from June to August. (Note, however, it takes about three years to develop a display.) The plant’s name alludes to what it attracts, which Green points out as another consideration to keep in mind when planting.
Do you want visitors? For hummingbirds, Green recommends cherry sage and trumpet vine, even though it is high water use. “They have gorgeous red trumpets that hummingbirds go nuts over,” she says. Other suggestions are ecchincia, Mexican hat, and even honeysuckle. The traditional rose also does well in this area, so long as you provide a bit more iron that the desert soil lacks.
But not everything is right for the Southern New Mexico climate. Green has seen transplants of the human variety attempt to grow plants popular on the coasts in Las Cruces, unaware of the elements. “Flowering cherry does not do well here, it doesn’t like our soil,” she says. “Rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas don’t do well; our water is too alkaline for them.”
In fact, if any of your plants aren’t faring well, consider how much of our intense heat and sun it’s getting. “I often hear, ‘I have this plant and it’s not making it,’” notes Green. “If it’s on an eastern wall, getting the full western afternoon sun, the heat from the wall is cooking the plant. Move it to dappled afternoon shade.”
Toward the end of the year, Green says the annuals are done and it’s fun to play around with cool season crop like ornamental flowering kale and snapdragrons. She’s also a big fan of ornamental grasses. “Zebra grass, feather fingergrass, crimson grass, all kinds you can get at commercial retailers,” she says. “Let them grow naturally, and in the fall the seedheads are interesting, casual designs.”
Beyond all the dots of color and variety of textures, Green believes that homeowners should look to their personal needs and limits when building their gardens. “Do you spend a lot of time outdoors?” she asks. “If you do mind being down on all fours maintaining your flowers, don’t overlook the option of raised beds or container gardening.”
For ease of maintenance and care, consider investing in plants that won’t constantly shed and drop into your backyard. And don’t forget to consider travel patterns and walkways, especially if kids and pets are involved. The goal of your garden should be to bring enjoyment, so make sure you make it as ideal as possible for your family’s lifestyle.