Re­store habi­tats with na­tive plants

Home - Santa Fe Real Estate Guide - - THEMASTERGARDENERS - MARTA GYEVIKI

Res­i­den­tial sprawl, en­ergy devel­op­ment, in­ten­sive agri­cul­tural prac­tices, ground­wa­ter with­drawal, and cli­mate change have all taken a se­ri­ous toll on nat­u­ral habi­tats. In our re­gion, grass­lands and wet­lands are among the most threat­ened. In­deed, grass­lands (prairies, sa­van­nas) rep­re­sent the most en­dan­gered and least pro­tected habi­tats on Earth.

Some of North Amer­ica’s largest and best re­main­ing grass­lands can be found in the prairies and deserts of New Mex­ico, west Texas, south­ern Ari­zona, and north­ern Mex­ico. Sadly, over the last cen­tury a great por­tion of these grass­lands have de­graded into mesquite wood­lands be­cause of graz­ing prac­tices, fire-sup­pres­sion poli­cies, and the in­tro­duc­tion of non-na­tive plant species. The loss of these nat­u­ral ar­eas has en­cour­aged ero­sion, re­duced wa­ter­shed func­tion, and de­creased avail­able habi­tat for many na­tive plant and an­i­mal species.

Re­mov­ing in­va­sive species and re-es­tab­lish­ing na­tive habi­tats re­quires deep knowl­edge of the re­gional en­vi­ron­ment and can be a very la­bor-in­ten­sive process. One vi­able tech­nique for con­trol­ling un­de­sir­able veg­e­ta­tion, im­prov­ing wildlife habi­tat, and man­ag­ing na­tive plant diver­sity is prac­tic­ing pre­scribed burns in re­stricted ar­eas. When fire is prop­erly ap­plied, in con­junc­tion with other man­age­ment prac­tices, it im­proves grass­land and wet­land habi­tats by creat­ing a more open area with a greater diver­sity of plant species.

Over time many na­tive plants have adapted to nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring fires, and some ac­tu­ally need fires in or­der to re­seed. Burn­ing helps to elim­i­nate in­va­sive plant species and to make space for the na­tive flora to reap­pear. Early suc­ces­sion- al na­tive species are the first to re­claim such ar­eas. They are hardy and may make good cover crops for more frag­ile na­tive species. Most of the time, the later-suc­ces­sional na­tive species (those na­tive species that ap­pear dur­ing later waves of col­o­niza­tion) are poor com­peti­tors with the in­va­sives we seek to re­place.

In re­cent decades, an im­pres­sive num­ber of restora­tion projects have been ini­ti­ated in New Mex­ico. The River Ecosys­tem Restora­tion Ini­tia­tive has awarded 27 grants to re­store 2,394 ri­par­ian acres and 33 river miles within 17 coun­ties in New Mex­ico, in­clud­ing restora­tion of the Santa Fe River, the Gila River, the big-river habi­tat along the Pe­cos River, the Santa Clara wa­ter­shed, and the Abó Ar­royo ri­par­ian restora­tion pro­ject. The Na­ture Con­ser­vancy has been­work­ing on pro­tect­ing the prairie and desert grass­lands here in New Mex­ico. For years the or­ga­ni­za­tion has worked with gov­ern­ment agen­cies and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to pro­tect these frag­ile habi­tats as well as the tra­di­tional farm­ing and ranch­ing way of life. An­other out­stand­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion is the Santa Fe Wa­ter­shed As­so­ci­a­tion. To­gether with the Ran­dall Davey Audubon Cen­ter, it has helped to re­store and main­tain the Santa Fe Canyon Pre­serve, also known as the Two-Mile Dam area, by re­mov­ing in­va­sive plants and seed­ing it with na­tive grass, wild­flow­ers, and shrubs.

As in­di­vid­u­als with out­door spa­ces around our homes— be they as con­tained as small pa­tios or as abun­dant as acres— we too can make a pow­er­ful dif­fer­ence in re­gional ecosys­tems by in­cor­po­rat­ing na­tive plants. Be­cause these species have adapted to our harsh en­vi­ron­ment, once es­tab­lished they re­quire less care and­wa­ter than do most non-na­tive species, and they play an in­valu­able role in sup­port­ing na­tive fauna. Your back yard may be the only place nearby for mi­gra­tory birds to rest be­fore they con­tinue their jour­ney or for na­tive pol­li­na­tors to over-win­ter. New Mex­ico has hun­dreds of species of plants suit­able for var­i­ous gar­den­ing styles. And as a re­sult of the ded­i­cat­ed­work of­many hor­ti­cul­tur­ists, land­scap­ers, ecol­o­gists, and re­searchers, we have a broad se­lec­tion of nurs­ery-grown arid-land na­tives avail­able to us here in Santa Fe and else­where through­out the state.

For na­tive-plant rec­om­men­da­tions, visit the web­sites of the Na­tive Plant So­ci­ety of New Mex­ico (, the Xeriscape Coun­cil of New Mex­ico (www., the Santa Fe Mas­ter Gar­dener As­so­ci­a­tion (, and the Santa Fe Botan­i­cal Gar­den (www. santafeb­otan­i­cal­gar­

Márta Gyeviki has a Ph.D. in hor­ti­cul­ture from Corv­i­nus Univer­sity in Bu­da­pest, Hun­gary. She was an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor and worked with both Hun­gar­ian and Eu­ro­pean farm­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tions un­til mov­ing to Santa Fe. She spends most of her time rais­ing her two sons, but joins other Mas­ter Gar­den­ers at the Audubon Cen­ter, learn­ing and teach­ing about the net­work of na­tive pol­li­na­tors and plants.

View of the foothills of the San­gre de Cristo Moun­tains from Santa Fe Canyon Pre­serve (Márta Gyeviki)

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