About the SFMGA

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ten Modest Proposals for Good Gardening

By Mary McCormick

  1. Grow food. If you don't already, consider starting small. Try a few big pots (maybe recycled plastic ones, 15-gallon or bigger). Mix greens into high-water plantings. Buy or build a hoop house for nearly year-round fresh vegetables. Get some perennial food crops started: grape vines, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, raspberry bushes, strawberries, a dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit tree or two. Plant herbs in or with your flowers or in pots. Grow sprouts on a windowsill.
  2. Mulch, Mulch again. Then, mulch again. Organic mulches retain water and also improve the soil as the materials break down. Let leaves lie on the ground over the winter, holding moisture in the soil.
  3. Water in winter. Anything panted in the last season or two needs winter water (late fall to late spring, while irrigation lines are shut down) every three weeks or so, unless snow or rain consistently falls.
  4. Organic Homemade Garden Remedies

    Garlic as a fungicide? Apple cider vinegar for leafspot, mildew and scab? Chamomile tea to prevent seedling damping off? Ground up grapefruit and lemon rind as cat and dog repellant? Check out and try all the natural, organic remedies on www.ghorganics.com

    Nourish the soil, and it will nourish the plants. There's a whole world of living creatures down there. They matter. Use organic nutrients rather than chemical applications. Apply microbial inoculants. Try alternatives to the toxins in insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides.
  5. Problem-solve. Look first at the big three: soil, sun and water. Stressed plants are more likely to attract pests.
  6. Experiment. Accept that not every plant will live. Know that not every plant will like the conditions where you put it. Understand that not every pruning job will look great when first finished.
  7. Expect changes. The variables are endless and inter-related, often in ways we don't know or wouldn't expect. One year will be different from another. Some plants will try to take over. Others will hardly hang on. Plants in rows, for instance, rarely grow with industrial regularity.
  8. Observe. Spend time in your garden, time when you're not officially gardening with a tool in your hand, time when you can just notice how all the life around you is getting along. In such quiet, you can often sense what needs doing. And then, spend a little more time in the quiet, before the doing.
  9. Don't get dismayed by what you don't know. Gardening is an exploration. Be unintimidated by the times when something doesn't work.
  10. Leave part of your property untended, wild, untrammeled. Here can be a place where plants and animals lead private lives, a place where you are not involved.

Mary McCormick Landscapes, 920-1531

Efficient water use is effective water use

By Dr. Curtis Smith, NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist

Efficient use of water means more than reducing water use. It means the water must accomplish the purpose intended, the proper growth of plants. Water used to grow plants, but not used effectively is wasted because the plants do not grow as intended.

Landscape irrigation has several purposes, but ultimately the purpose is to sustain an attractive landscape while using the water efficiently.

One landscape use of water is to establish plants. At this time the plants are usually small and require less water than when they are large, but water must be provided frequently. After plants are established water is used to foster optimal growth. Maintaining optimal growth requires more water than that necessary to just keep the plants alive. However, during times of drought water is used only to keep the plants alive until the drought has ended. The plants may not be as attractive during a period of irrigation for survival, but if kept alive, the plants can return to an attractive state when the drought has ended. Water that does not accomplish the intended purpose is not used efficiently.

How to Water Houseplants Correctly

The concept of effective and efficient water use is relevant for growing houseplants also. Water is often wasted in watering houseplants because gardeners don't understand the unusual characteristics of common potting soils. These soils will resist wetting when allowed to dry. Effective water use requires the gardener to understand how to remoisten the soil. Potting soils also accumulate salts that ultimately damage plant roots if the water is not properly used. These two characteristics can create a challenge for gardeners, but there is an easy and effective solution.

When potting soils have dried, they often shrink away from the sides of the container in which the plant is growing and drains from the hole in the bottom of the pot rather than wetting the soil. However, pots without holes are not the answer to the problem, drainage holes are necessary. Some gardeners moisten the soil slowly by making several applications of water and gradually remoistening the potting soil, causing it to swell and close the channels that allow the water to run around the soil rather than moisten the soil. Another method is to place the pots in a dishpan or other basin and slowly add water and allow it to slowly soak in through the drainage holes. If the water level is raised too quickly, the pots will float and turn over. Once the soil is thoroughly moistened, the pot can be removed and surplus water allowed to drain and carry away salts that would otherwise accumulate and cause problems.

Fun Refreshing Drink Recipes to Try

By Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener

Rosemary Lemonade
  • Handful of fresh cut rosemary
  • 1 can of frozen lemonade, any size
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
Steep rosemary in sufficient water to reconstitute lemonade, per directions on label for 10 minutes; drain, preserving water. Prepare lemonade, using rosemary water. Add a little crushed red pepper to fire it up!
Ginger Tea
  • 4 tbsp dried lemongrass
  • ¼ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, about 2" long, peeled and sliced
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh mint
  • 1 long, thin, red chile pepper, halved and seeded (optional)
Add lemongrass and sugar to the hot, no longer boiling water; steep 10 minutes, covered. Add ginger, mint, and chile and steep, covred for another 5 minutes. Strain into a pitcher. Serve hot or chill for 1 hour or more. Makes 4 cups.
Chamomile Lavender Mint Iced Tea
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 2 tbsp dried culinary lavender
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried chamomile (or 4 chamomile tea bags)
Crush mint leaves and put in a 1 gallon glass jar with lid. Add lavender and chamomile. Fill jar with water to within 2" of rim. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hrs. Pour through a cheesecloth-lined colander into pitcher for serving. Makes 1 gallon.
Sweet Iced Tea
  • 16 cups (1 gallon) water
  • 1 ¼-1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp (packed) whole fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 1 tsp dried lavender
  • 3 tbsp (packed) whole lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves, roughly torn or snipped with scissors
  • 9 black tea bags
Place water, sugar, rosemary, lavender, and lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves in a large pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water boils, remove from heat. Tie the tea bag strings together into a knot, then drape them over the side of the pot of boiling water, making sure the bags are submerged. Cover and steep for 9 minutes. Remove tea bags, pressing gently to extract their flavor. Pour tea through a strainer into a pitcher and chill. Makes 1 gallon.

A Wise Herb

By Susi Keller, Master Gardener

Garden Sage, Salvia officinalis, not only survives but even thrives at the north side of my house, where I splashed it with an occasional bucket of water during the first year to get it established. By now it is practically left to its own devices, but it still provides me with fresh sage leaves throughout the year. Several other plants thrive in different, more sunny locations with little or no soil amendment and little supplemental water.

But its thriftiness is not the only reason I love this plant. Its silver foliage adds color and structure to the garden. Hummingbirds visit the pretty purple flowers and bees love them. Its medicinal and culinary uses are well known since antiquity. And I love to use it in the kitchen.

Saltimbocca alla Romana Recipe

From my native country, where sage is included in almost every recipe for chicken, veal, pork and more.

For four persons, you need 8 small veal cutlets pounded thin, 4 slices of Italian prosciutto, 8 sage leaves, 1 tablspoon of butter, salt, pepper, and approximately ¼ cup water or dry white wine. On each slice of veal, place a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf and hold everything together with a toothpick. Place the assembled slices in a single layer in a pan in which the butter has come to a sizzling, and brown them on each side. Salt and pepper them to taste—remembering that Italian prosciutto is quite salty already—and let them cook for no more than six minutes.

Transfer the Saltimbocca to a serving plate with the sage leaf on top and without taking off the toothpick. Add the water or the wine to the pan and let it come to a boil before pouring this light sauce onto the meat and serve hot.

Chives – Oregano – Thyme

By Christina Gale, Master Gardener

These are the three popular herbs to use in cooking.

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

Chives are a member of the onion family and have been around for a long time. Chives grow in clumps like grass and do not form a large bulb underground. The leaves are the source of the onion flavor. A perennial plant, chives are perfect for the home gardener, even those with a brown thumb. If you grow your own, you will be blessed in the spring and summer with lovely lavender flowers shaped like a delicate puffball. These flowers are edible and make a colorful garnish for any dish. However, be aware that the flavor of chives becomes harsher after flowering. To avoid flowering, simply keep snipping the leaves back.

Care: Remove flower stems before flowering to increase leaf production. Chives may be cut to within 1-inch of the ground four times a year to maintain a supply of succulent fresh leaves. The pink flowers can be used in flower arrangements or used in salads.

Oregano (Origanum heracleotium)

Greek oregano may grow two feet tall with a rounded sprawling spread of 18-inches. White or pinkish-purple flowers appear in mid to late summer. Oregano was originally grown in Greece and Italy. It is used as a flavoring for vegetables, chile, wines, meats, fish and sausage.

Care: Leaves or sprigs can be picked whenever available for fresh use. As soon as flowers start to appear it is ready to harvest. Cut to 1 ½-inches above the ground. Oregano dries easily and retains good flavor. Hang to dry or spread on a clean dish cloth in a protected area.

Thyme (Thymus, mother of thyme – Thymus citiodorus, silver thyme)

Thyme is a perennial plant that grows in a soft compact mound about 12 inches across and 8 inches high. Plant in full sun, in moderately-rich and very well-drained soil. Feed lightly once a year in the spring. Plants are quite hardy; in very cold winter areas provide winter protection with straw. Thyme is a non-fussy plant and usually grows disease and pest-free.

Thyme's origins are in the Mediterranean area where it was much loved by the Greeks and Romans. Use it in cooking chicken, rice, grain dishes, vegetables and casseroles.

Care: Trim back after flowering to promote new growth and stop plant from becoming woody and sprawling in the wrong direction. Leaves can be picked at any time. Take only one harvest. Leave 1- to 3-inch stems.

The rewards of gardening with native plants

by Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener

Why use native plants in your landscape? They are the perfect choice for easy-care gardens. Once established they need little attention.

But the sheer enjoyment defies description! Many are delicate flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees that maybe you have seen on hikes. If you want to learn about these plants that you have seen in the wild, what better way than to try growing them in your own garden. No plants attract the pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds better than our own native plants. Let nature be your guide as to where to plant them in your garden, just observe where they grow in the wild and what grows with them. An added benefit is the feeling that you are cooperating with nature, not amending soils, watering and fertilizing to MAKE something thrive in an alien environment. You can re-create the harmonious communities we see in nature.

Native plants require the art of observing the more subtle textures, forms, fragrances and colors – the are for the connoisseurs. Native plants create a sense of place; you don't have to wonder what state you are in, or even what part of New Mexico you are in. You can read the elevation, moisture, sunshine of an area just by observing the native plants that grow there.

Unlike exotics, native plants maintain an interactive and beneficial relationship with other plants and animals in their environment, as they provide food and shelter for a wide range of organisms. They live in true community – supporting life forms as diverse as mammals, birds, butterflies and other insects, fungi, bacteria and nematodes. They are already adapted to local conditions and thrive within the water available, soil fertility and tolerate natural levels of insect populations and pathogens. You can literally read an area by what grows there – like 4-wing salt bush can be an indicator of organic matter in the soil, like ancient burial sites. Miners could tell where mineral deposits were by what grew there.

Not only do native plants provide edibles for wildlife, but also for us. Many parts of plants are collected for herbal remedies, teas, medicines. These plants have a rich and varied history, telling us a lot about the peoples who preceded us.

So, check out your local nurseries for native plants. Do not collect them from the wild, as they have little chance of surviving being transplanted and we do not want to deplete what grows in the wild. Here are a few try:

Check the Native Plant Society of New Mexico at npsnm.unm.edu for more information. I also recommend the book Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens by Janice Busco and Nancy R. Morin, which includes site preparation, planting, and starting plants from seed.

  • Rocky Mtn Red Columbine
  • Heartleaf Amica
  • Foothills and Wyoming Paintbrush
  • Rocky Mtn Bee Plant
  • Richardson Geranium
  • Scarlet Gilia
  • Rocky Mtn Iris
  • Dotted Gayfeather
  • Spurred Lupine
  • Bergamon
  • Stemless Evening Primrose
  • Scarlet Bugler
  • Crandall, Sidebells, and Rocky Mtn Penstemons
  • Rocky Mtn Townsend Daisy
  • Pine Dropseed
  • Sideoats Grama
  • Blue Grama
  • Fringed Brome
  • Nodding Wildrye
  • Mtn Muhly
  • Indian Ricegrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Rocky Mtn Maple
  • Big Sagebrush
  • Fendler Ceanothus
  • Alderleaf Mtn Mahogany
  • Red Osier Dogwood
  • Littleleaf Mock-orange
  • Wild Plum
  • New Mexico Locust
  • Sumacs: Cutleaf, Grolow, Threeleaf, Staghorn, Scarlet
  • Rocky Mtn Ash
  • Quaking Aspen
  • Narrow Leaf Cottonwood
  • Rocky Mtn Juniper
  • White Fir
  • Oaks: Scrub, Burr, Gamble, Emory, Wavyleaf

  • Golden Currant
  • Serviceberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Blueberry 'rubel'
  • Banana
  • Red & Yellow New Mexico Palm
  • Twisted Leaf
  • Santa Fe Cholla
  • Cow's Tongue
  • Engleman's Pencil Cholla
  • Claret Cup
  • Santa Rita
  • Spineless Prickly Pear
  • Scabra
  • Harvard Perry
  • Americana
  • Spanish Broom
  • Lena's
  • San Francisco
  • Moonlight

Know your plant zones

To determine if a plant is sufficient cold hardy, the USDA created numbered zones indicating winter low temperatures; the lower the zone number, the colder the winter. Santa Fe is rated zone 5, meaning our temperatures don't drop below -10 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some areas around your home, like a sun-free north side, could possibly drop below that number. You should plant the hardiest specimens in these areas. Similarly, some zone 6 plants can make it through our winters when planted in a sheltered, mulched south side location. Any plants rated zones 3-5 will survive our winter temperatures. It's always wise to stick with plants rated for the zone we live in.

Favorite Sun-Loving Plants

by David Salman, Santa Fe Greenhouses

Some of my favorite plants for extreme heat include:


Dasylirion wheeleri
(Sotol) with its sculptural form and attractively toothed blue-green foliage
Hesperaloe parviflora
(Texas Red Yucca) with its arching evergreen foliage and summer long display of coral-red flowers on tall spikes
Agave parryi
(Parry's Century Plant) with its magnificently spined rosette of thick leaves

Note that all these succulents prefer spring planting in Zone 6 and colder climates, as they need the hot weather to establish their roots.

Desert Grasses

Muhlenbergia dubia
(Pine Muhly Grass)
Nassella tenuissima
(Silky Thread Grass)

With their graceful foliage and tawny seed heads, these are the perfect companion plants to the beautiful succulents.

Heat-Loving Perennials

Agastache rupestris
(Licorice Mint Hyssop)
Antirrhinum 'Dulcinea’s Heart'
(Cold Hardy Snapdragon)
Salvia x 'Raspberry Delight'
(Raspberry Delight Bush Sage)
Stanleya pinnata
(Prince's Plume)
Zauschneria arizonica
(Hummingbird Trumpet)

Various varieties of Calylophus (Sundrops) and Penstemon (Beardtongues) are all very cold-hardy natives that bloom for months at a time and love the heat. Several of these are also top-notch for attracting hummingbirds.

Visit www.highcountrygardens.com for more sun-loving plants.