Planting Opportunities with local tree groups

There’s no doubt: Climate Change is upon us. As individuals, one of the actions we can take is to plant trees. While this action won’t have the large-scale impact that controlling the fossil-fuel industry would, it does make a difference to global warming, as well as making our local environment cooler and more enjoyable.

There have been many agencies and organizations engaging in tree planting in the mid Rio Grande area over the years. Recently, a coalition was formed called “Let’s Plant Albuquerque.” The goal is to grow an urban forest, planting 100,000 trees by 2030. Currently, 11,590 trees have been planted and another 11,957 pledged. The website includes connections to some of the groups in the coalition, including: Tree NM, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Services, The Dakota Tree Project, City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation, New Mexico State Forestry, and Tree New Mexico.

It is important to contact individual organizations to learn what dates they are planting trees this fall and the location of the plantings.

How to Plant Trees

Austrian pines with wrapped roots on tree nursery farm

In our region, September is thought to be an ideal month to plant new trees. The roots will have several months to get established before a freeze and the tree won’t be subject to extreme heat. After you have chosen a Climate Ready Tree (see reference in side bar), you can follow these steps:

  1. Dig a hole no deeper than the pot and 1 1/2 times the radius of the pot.
  2. Remove the tree from the pot or burlap.
  3. Check that the roots are not wrapped around the dirt ball. Gently try to straighten them out if they are. If they are wrapped too tightly, make a cut half an inch deep through the roots and into the root ball at 4 places, evenly spaced, around the root ball.
  4. Place the tree in the hole so the root collar (the bump where the trunk and roots join) is at ground level.
  5. Backfill using the same soil you dug out when making the hole.
  6. Place a couple inches of gravel going out 2-3 inches from the trunk. This will avoid the trunk rotting from moisture while the bark is getting established.
  7. Mulch 2-3 inches deep using wood chips.
  8. Water the area of the root ball well throughout the Fall down to 6 inches. (Push a trowel into the earth and check that the tip comes out with moist earth.) Then follow the Water Utility Authority’s recommended seasonal watering schedule.

But where do we get these trees?

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Tree Planting Advice from Joran Viers, Arborist

From an interview with Joran Viers by Sue Brown

Joran traces his interest in plants and trees to his childhood when he spent a lot of time playing in the woods. He eventually studied botany and organic agriculture. Among other things, he has been a horticulture agent with NMSU County Extension Services and a forester with the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation. He is certified as both a horticulturist and an arborist and now has a consulting business.

Joran took the time to tell me about some of the pitfalls he sees when people select, plant, and care for a tree.

You need to pick out an appropriate species for where you want a tree, i.e., is there enough water and sunlight in that location for that particular species of tree to thrive? Will its mature canopy have enough space to develop?

Honey Mesquite, included in the “Let’s Plant Albuquerque” list of climate-ready trees appropriate for the mid Rio Grande region. Photo: Thomas Farley, Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain.

When you are at the nursery, look for a good specimen. Joran recommends digging the soil off the top of the root ball to look at where the roots take off. Do they flare or are they balled up? Roots which wrap around can strangle a tree. Also, a healthy tree will not have dead branch tips or missing bark.

Site preparation is important, not just the width and depth of the hole but the area all around needs to be prepared. Take a pick or digging fork and loosen (not dig up) the soil so there are good channels for water and organisms to go deeper .         

Mulching should be with wood chips rather than rocks. The latter add heat stress to the leaves and will not break down over time to add nutrients. Joran recommends planting your tree as if it is on a little island. The root crown should be higher than the ground around. The soil can then slope down to form a shallow basin.

But planting a tree is not going to help our community unless it is raised to maturity. In fact, if all we do is plant, let die, and replant, this type of cycle can be detrimental for our community.

Care for a tree begins with adequate water delivered where the tree needs it. In the months after planting you want irrigation to keep the root ball moist. And as the tree matures, every few years the water lines will need to be moved. A guide for putting the outer irrigation lines is to follow out from the trunk to the drip line – the line down to the ground from the tip of the tree’s outer branches. After watering, you can check if the tree is getting enough water by putting a trowel into the ground near the irrigation and see if the tip comes out with moist dirt.

Structural pruning of large shade trees needs to be done in the spring every few years to guide their growth. Suckers and cross overs are removed. Fruit trees are pruned for a weight-bearing structure, paying attention to the angle limbs come off from the trunk.

The ground around a tree continues to need breaking up with a pick or digging fork, moving out farther from the trunk each year as the tree grows. Wood mulch to 3 inches deep needs to be spread out from the tree trunk (but not touching the trunk until it has bark).

Thanks to Joran for sharing with us these tips for a more successful tree planting and for the required caring for any new tree! May we use this information to further green our region.


edited by Paul Hawkin

As the subtitle suggests, this is “The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The 100 scenarios analyze various strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or to sequester carbon. The upfront costs and ultimate cost savings to change behavior is also analyzed. Each strategy is based on global data. Sixty-one research scientists across the globe who have expertise in environmental issues collaborated on the solutions. The narrative on each of the scenarios is 2-3 pages with illustrative photos in each article. All are written in layman terms.

An example of a scenario is Farmland Restoration, ranked 23rd. A study from Stanford University suggests there are approximately one billion acres of land globally which are now abandoned. Ninety-nine percent of this desertion occurred in the last century. Restorative practice (ranked 11th) such as perma-gardening which integrates water saving, soil fertility and companion planting, is an example of active restoration. Such approaches require funding and are labor intensive if done on a large scale. The overall effectiveness of Farmland Restoration is huge. It would increase carbon sequestration by 14.08 gigatons at a cost of 72.2 billion with a savings of 1.34 trillion. It would produce an additional 9.5 billion tons of food.

Nuclear energy is ranked as 20th out of 100 strategies as to effectiveness. The other strategies are listed as “no regrets” while nuclear is the only strategy labelled ”regret”. There is a decrease in carbon impact but also a risk of tritium release, abandoned uranium mines, mine tailing pollution, spent nuclear waste disposal, illicit plutonium trafficking, and the need to guard nuclear waste for thousands of years.

While our current situation is traumatic to think about, the book is hopeful. Each environmental problem is exposed but combined with solutions.

The Soil Will Save Us, by Kristin Ohlson

This very readable book describes how sustainable agriculture can make us healthier, reduce pollution, and counteract climate change. It provides a comprehensive and eye-opening look at how farmers and organizations in several countries use innovative techniques and ancient traditional methods to build soil and provide food in a sustainable manner. 

The author meets and interviews key soil researchers and innovative farmers and practitioners, including Alan Savory (founder of the Savory Institute), Courtney White (founder of the New Mexican organization Quivira Coalition), and Gabe Adams (a successful no-till, cover-crop farmer in North Dakota). She reports on the work of research institutions such as New Mexico State University. She also points out the damaging impact of big money from petroleum, fertilizer, and chemical companies on government agricultural policies, university agriculture departments, farming practices, and ultimately, the nutritional quality of the food we eat. 

Conventional wisdom has assumed that over-grazing by cattle has caused degradation of the land. But Alan Savory’s research shows that putting large numbers of cattle on small sections of land for a short time and then moving them can result in richer and more productive soil. Saskatchewan farmer Neil Dennis found that the benefits of running a large number of cattle “were multiplied by having lots of them there: lots of hooves breaking up the hard surface of the soil, lots of grasses trampled into the ground, lots of grasses being tugged and bitten, causing the plants to pulse carbon sugars into the soil, and lots of nutritious dung, urine, and hair spread around for insects and microorganisms to break down.” (p. 96)

Ohlsen describes exciting New Mexico State University research by Douglas C. Johnson. Planting over cover crops instead of clearing the previous year’s debris increased the soil’s organic matter by 67% and water-holding capacity by more than 30% in two years. There are obvious lessons here for creating sustainable agriculture in arid New Mexico.

The author portrays problems, including difficulties getting research funding that is not from fertilizer and pesticide companies. Despite this, there is much hope in the book. A diverse of people, including farmers, ranchers, hunters, preservationists, and wilderness advocates (all of whom love the land), are coming together to create solutions that will work for everyone.

Reviewed by Linnea Hendrickson, member of Elder Activist Readers ) EAR)

Soil Moisture

In soil, moisture is found in the spaces between the particulate matters of sand, clay, and silt. Loamy soils are a friable mixture of the three types and are able to hold moisture better than any one type alone. Soil is generally 45% particulate matter, 50% pore spaces which hold moisture and air, and 5% organic matter. (In New Mexico, organic matter averages only 1–3%.) A plant’s root system depends on soil moisture to protect it from swings in temperature. As the planet warms, soil moisture decreases and stabilizing existing moisture becomes more critical for plant survival.

Photo: Gabriel Jimenez / unsplash

There is a National Coordinating Soil Moisture Monitoring Network (NCSMMN) with 1,200 stations across the US. They advise farmers and ranchers using mathematical modeling of evapotranspiration and sensed soil moisture from its network. This data can help ranchers manage forage and the number of cattle on a parcel of land as well as help farmers decide which crops to plant and the timing of planting. In general, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and medicinal herbs are more vulnerable to changes in moisture than field crops.

Soil moisture can be measured by high tech using satellites or simply using a trowel or auger in your garden. Drill or dig down six inches and feel the soil – it should not crumble in your hand. If it does, more water is needed.

To learn more about soil in NM, check out NM Healthy Soil. Their premise begins with “Soil is a living ecosystem which sustains plants, animals, and humans.” Adequate soil moisture makes this possible.

by Sue Brown with input from Robert Flynn, NMSU Extension-Artesia


Not much beats mulch for retaining soil moisture in a dry climate like New Mexico’s.

Mother Nature covers the ground under plants with their cast offs, so humans would be wise to leave them there.

So what exactly is mulch? Mulch is often confused with compost, which is the dead remains of living matter that have been digested by microbes, insects, worms, and fungi to create rich soil. Mulch is simply any ground cover. This protective layer could be leaves, straw, wood chips, grass clippings, pecan shells, newspaper, black plastic, or even rocks that are placed around the base of a plant.

Reasons to use mulch:

  1. Slow the evaporation of water.
  2. Cool the ground around the roots in summer.
  3. Prevent the roots from freezing in winter.
  4. Discourage weed seeds from sprouting or finding light.
  5. Decorate or define planting areas.
  6. Keep soil and soil-borne diseases from splashing onto plant leaves during rain or watering.

Factors affecting your choice of mulch material:

  1. Price – what you can access for free or find readily available will be a tempting choice.
  2. Weight – if the land is sloping, a heavier mulch will stay in place better in wind and rain.
  3. Color – a dark mulch will retain more heat than a lighter mulch, and some folks like to expand the outdoor palette or give distinct areas contrasting colors.
  4. Durability – clearly rocks last longer than newspaper, but they’re also harder to get rid of if you change your mind.

Cautions and considerations include:

  1. Weed killers in the mulch (such as in grass clippings) could kill your plants, so know your source.
  2. Overheating of the ground and die-off of soil life may occur when black plastic is used.
  3. Colored dyes in newspaper or magazines rarely contain lead these days, so no worries on that front.
  4. Soil compaction from a heavy mulch such as river rock on clay can block root growth.
  5. Seeds in straw or especially hay can sprout in mulched beds.
  6. Matting of unshredded materials may prevent moisture from penetrating to the root zone.
  7. Weed barrier (aka landscape fabric) sheds microplastics into the soil that plants then take up.

Free sources of wood chips are:

East Mountain Transfer Station, 711 NM-333 in Tijeras, 505-281-9110, open 7am-5pm every day. You can load yourself or pay them $5/scoop.

ChipDrop puts you on a list that tree trimmers will call if they come to your area. You have to take their whole load, which could be as much as ten cubic yards.

—If you or a neighbor has a tree trimmed or removed, you can ask the arborist to leave the chips in your driveway.

by Donna Deitweiler