Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gardening at High Elevation, in New Mexico

by Sara Douglas Scott

Gardening at 5000 feet in elevation in Albuquerque, NM presents some unique challenges:
· Negligible precipitation: 7-8 inches on average annually.
· Radical daily temperature fluctuations. A 40 degree swing in a day is normal, but up to 60 degree fluctuations occur from time to time.
· Intense sunlight and heat: summer temperatures of at least 90 to 100 degrees and blinding UV year-round.
· Soil lacking organic matter.
· Fiercely dry winds.
In my experience, grasses take this environment in stride. Not surprisingly, Albuquerque and much of New Mexico were once vast grasslands. Of the 29 ornamental grass genera offered by Bluestem, 20 of them (species thereof) are recommended in our New Mexico-specific gardening books and nursery catalogs/websites (see list below). The remaining 9 require either cool temperatures, significant moisture, shade, or acidic soil, or a combination thereof, conditions that do not occur naturally in most gardens here. New Mexico is a large state with many varied microclimates, however, and the intrepid gardener in a mountain or riparian setting, where it is cooler, moister, and/or shadier, might find success growing these more tender grasses (though some extra TLC could be required).

part of Sara's beautiful garden
With the exception of native New Mexican plants, ornamental grasses are the most reliable and hardy group of plants that I have used in my garden. One must remember, however, that they are not (typically) native and will require more thought as to location in the garden and water needs. Before ordering, be sure to consult local gardening resources (books, websites, nurseries, extension services, etc…) as to the particular species and its use and care. If you provide for the needs of the particular grass, however, you will be rewarded with year-round textural interest, a beautiful visual counterpoint for your perennials, and a lovely performance as the grass dances in the wind.

Ornamental grass genera, species thereof, known to grow in New Mexico or parts of New Mexico are (check local resources on particular species):

Thanks to Sara for submitting this information.