It’s nearly Spring! We are looking around and thinking about planting, but what will require little water and tolerate heat in this Chihuahuan Desert?
Think native grasses. Not only will they fulfill the requirement for little water and tolerate sun, but they will sequester much more carbon than exposed dirt, landscape rocks, or wood chips. However, with moisture, they tend to take over so check out their seeding habits.
- Little Bluestem has blue-green blades early in spring and turns rust in fall.
- Blue Gramma has eyebrowlike seed head and grows to a foot high.
- Big Bluestem is the primary prairie grass of “Amber waves of grain” and grows to 5 feet.
- Side Oats Gramma is a prairie ground cover which, with water, grows to two feet.
- Indian Rice Grass will green up early in spring.
- Sand Love Grass seed heads change in color from purple to amber.
To add some color, intersperse with Flax, Desert Marigold, Desert Zinnia, varieties of Penstemon, Purple Prairie Clover and Desert Four O’clocks. The latter two will bloom all summer.
Some of the following native shrubs and trees are eligible for rebates from the City of Albuquerque.
There are many shrubs native to the high desert. In fact the Chihuahuan Desert is known as a shrub desert.
- Four-Wing Salt Bush features small grey-green leaves which stay green all winter.
- Cliff Fendler Bush has nice bark and flowers in spring.
- Screw Bean Mesquite* has a windswept look and is good for pollinators.
- Honey Mesquite is a fast grower and attracts pollinators.
- Little Curl Leaf Mountain Mahogany is an evergreen with rough bark.
- Native Grey Oak grows to 24 inches and is evergreen.
- Gamble Oak will form a thicket and is deciduous.
- Little Leaf Mock Orange is a fragrant shrub loved by pollinators.
For native trees consider:
- Net Leaf Hackberry * is a slow-growing shade tree which thrives in low water conditions,
- New Mexico Privet has blue berries in fall which birds love.
- Three Leaf Sumac, with its small yellow flowers, is a favorite of bees.
- New Mexico Rose Locust forms a pink flowering thicket.
- Desert Willow * attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies.
These are only some of the native shrubs and trees that will do well here, improving the soil, capturing water, and sequestrating carbon. They will need water in the first year or two to get them started. Santa Ana nursery and Plants of the Southwest grow many of these from seeds and cuttings, so check them out. The latter also has many photos on their website. Other local nurseries carry many of these native plants plus some other shrubs and trees which are adapted to the mid Rio Grande climate.
* These native plants are eligible for a rebate from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.