Gardening time is here
The weather’s warming and many of us are eager to get our hands dirty, to get last year’s gardens cleaned up and to plant colorful flowers and good food. Of course, this can be a challenge in Santa Fe County because of the poor soils, relentless wind and sun, rare rains, and plenty of gophers. Fortunately, there are scores of plants that like this environment, and hundreds more that can deal with it if we’re careful about placement, soil preparation, mulching, and watering.
Zoned planting is a well-tested strategy. Native plants are left alone — and perhaps augmented with more native plants appropriate to your location— in the outer fringes of the yard. Closer in, you can add some drought-tolerant exotics; then you can nourish a few thirstier plants in shaded, sheltered “microclimate” areas, perhaps on the east or north side of the house, or within courtyards, patios, and other outdoor-living areas where they can be watered easily and smartly.
If you have questions or problems, there are some great local resources: the Santa Fe Master Gardeners, the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, and the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. The Office of the State Engineer has a number of free publications, including “Xeriscape 101,” “AWaterwise Guide to Trees,” and “The Enchanted Xeriscape.” Find them by clicking the “Use & Conservation” tab at www.ose.state. nm.us, then click on “Water Conservation Program,” then “Home Owners.” Nate Downey’s Harvest the Rain is an excellent handbook to help make sure your landscape plants are nourished by rainwater, always preferable to tapwater.
The Santa Fe Tree Farm( www.santafetree.com) is the city’s youngest nursery, now in its 13th year. The business sells more than 60 varieties of deciduous and evergreen trees. Payne’s Nursery, now 61 years old, has all kinds of helpful information at paynes.com, including how-to articles about soils, composting, mulching, fertilizing, and watering; and a handy plant library searchable by plant type and sun/location. “The big change in our program this year is the fact we have taken over the management of all composting operations at the Caja del Rio landfill site,” said Lynn Payne. “We will be responsible for actually making the compost and as it comes available we will sell it from our soil yard on Agua Fria Street.
“Another new product we will be offering this summer is a collection of about eight of the best lavender plants for our area. They will be marketed in lavender-colored pots under the label ‘Lynn’s Lavender’.”
Payne’s has free workshops at 11 a.m. Saturdays at the 715 St. Michael’s Drive store. All participants receive a 20 percent discount card to use the day of the workshop. On April 9, Lynn Payne has “Gardening for Beginners.” On April 16, T.J. Jones leads the workshop “Growing Vegetables in Containers.” On April 23, Valerie Jones and Mara Lafferty offer “TheWonderful World of Fairy Gardens” and “Designing Your Own Color Pots/Hanging Baskets.” Then onApril 30, Payne speaks on “America’s Favorite Flower, the Rose.”
Newman’s Nursery (newmansnursery.com) has been in Santa Fe for 42 years and also has a valuable web resource. Check out the “Nuts & Berries” link for a fabulous illustrated guide to available apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, plum, nectarine, fig, almond, and pistachio trees, as well as grapes and raspberries (seven varieties each), gooseberries, elderberries, raspberries, currants, and more. Ditto with the nursery’s guides to shade trees and roses.
Plants of the Southwest, founded four decades ago, has what is arguably the most complete, illustrated plant index around. Also at plantsofthesouthwest.com are articles on “How to Plant a Meadow,” “Ants,” and “Eating Bugs.”
Agua Fria Nursery’s website was under construction at press time, so Home decided to feature an interview with owner Bob Pennington. He is a foundingmember of both the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Eriogonum Society, current co-chair of the New Mexico Chapter of the Colorado Nursery Greenhouse Association, former president of the American Penstemon Society, and instructor for the New Mexico Nursery Professional Certification program. Every Saturday at 8 a.m., Bob and his sons, Shane and Mark, host the Bob’s Botanical Broadcast radio show on KTRC 1260 AM.
We always hear thatMay 15 is the safe planting date. What can people do in April?
Bob Pennington: Number one, I’d say that frost-free date ofMay 10 or May 15was largely created by the chamber of commerce, because more often than not we get a frost after that. People can plant all kinds of things. That frostfree date is basically for plants that are frost-tender above ground, such as tomatos, peppers, petunias, and marigolds. But there are many annuals, pretty much all the perennials, trees and shrubs, that the sooner they’re in the ground— once the ground is warm, anyway— the happier they are. They do not want to wait until it’s hot to start growing. Some of them are blooming by then. Are we talking primarily transplants or seeds? Both. You can plant all kinds of seeds now. You can plant lettuce and spinach and kale, all your cold crops, and just about any green or root crop, certainly if you’ve got access to a little row-cover cloth in case it gets bitter cold.
What about cold-stratifying flower seeds? You’re already too late. Typically you do that for two months to 12 weeks and that means moist temperatures below 40 degrees. Of course the refrigerator is the easiest way in theworld to stratify seeds.
Do you advocate using paper towels or a medium of some kind?
We either sow them in flats, simply because we won’t get around to it till later, or a lot of things we’ll just mix with sand and put themin a ziplock bag. Paper towels is just one more step.
Two that we’ve stratified with some success this year are roundleaf silver buffaloberry and the desert peach. Roundleaf silver buffaloberry? Yeah. Silver buffaloberry used to be pretty common here until Russian olive invaded. They’re very close relations and live in the same habitat, but Russian olive is much more successful. But the roundleaf silver buffaloberry does very well here. And desert peach? Does that give you edible fruit? Well, in theory. It’s on the ethnobotanical lists, but the fruit is really small and mostly pit. But it is an awesome flowering shrub, okay in terrible soil and no water, once established, and it has brilliant pink flowers about the size of a quarter.
Overall, seeds are great. I’m told we sell more seeds than anybody else in New Mexico, which is hard to believe, but that’s what the seed people tell us. Santa Fe is a tremendous market for vegies, less so for fruit because look what happens every year. The trees flower too early. They do. The problem is early flowering and normal freezes. The best thing to do now is plant your wildflower annuals, all of your daisies, all the members of Asteraceae, because almost none of them require stratification. Purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans? Just go out and plant those. Even simple things can be difficult propositions out in the county, in Eldorado, with all that sun and wind.
The one thing you have to remember and never, ever forget: Water is the key to life. You probably have towater three times a day. Water your plants before you go to work and if you can’t do it in the middle of the day, cover them with about a quarter inch of mulch, then water them as soon as you get home. The wind will blow the mulch off. Thenmake your mulch gravel, or an eighth inch of sand. Arroyo sand is great. I know where you can get it for free. We’re living in the land of drought. The drought has been really good for [sales of] so-called xeric plants, and native plants probably in another growth cycle: in the 40 years we’ve been in business, we’ve seen the zest for native plants go up and down five or six times at least. Whenever it gets dry for long enough, everybody wants to plant native plants— and of course some people include columbines and aspens, which are native but not the least bit drought-tolerant. And food plants? They were sort of declining and then about the time there were all the food-contamination scares and the time when Michelle Obama planted her garden, it’s been on an upswing ever since. It’s booming, and now we plant vegetables 12 months of the year, including in mini-greenhouses and even in sunny windows.
There’s a big sign in one of your greenhouses showing people where the shishito peppers are.
One day I suppose they will crash but right nowwe can’t growenough. It’s just insane. It is probably the most pro- ductive pepper on earth. They taste terrible raw but if you get them young and throwthemin a frying panwith a little olive oil and salt and just pop them in your mouth, they’re good. They’re easy to grow and easy to cook.
All the vegetables are doing well. We probably sell 40 varieties of lettuce and God knows how many kinds of Asian greens and this year we will probably grow over 90 varieties of tomatoes. Whoa! Why so many? Some people have really good luck with certain types and other people have good luck with other tomatoes. People grow them for different things, fresh-eating tomatoes, drying tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, and all the different colors. How about a recommendation for a good patio tree? You might try the “HotWings” Tatarianmaple. It’s a smallish tree that has little yellow flowers and bright redwinged seeds. The flowering crabapples and plums and pears are all good. You’re not too hot on drip irrigation, if I remember. Well, I don’t knowmuch about it, except I hate it. It’s killed more plants than anything I can think of. It can be a wonderful tool, but you have to know howto install it and use it and maintain it. I really like hand-watering. I recommend it highly. And if you’re worried about consumption, we now sell little watermeters that you put right on the end of your hose and you can see howmuch you’re using. We need more rain, Bob. We do, but we’re doing amazingly well. We’re learning more and more about how to cope with drought and I think we’ll get even better at it. Our plant choices will get smarter and we’ll do things like plant more natives and then we’ll see more birds and bugs— more good birds and good bugs.