New Mexico trees. Photo: Garreth Paul / unsplash

Tree New Mexico has 30 years of urban tree planting experience. Their informative website covers the planting and care of trees using easy-to-follow instructional videos. There are also videos on pruning trees and staking them.

The organization also offers a course on urban forestry called Tree Stewards. This 16-week course begins annually in August and covers topics such as tree anatomy, planting, pruning, and watering. The course is free, but you have to apply by May. After finishing the course, participants are encouraged to teach in the community and make themselves available for consultations. Soon there will be up to 75 trained stewards in Bernalillo County, and courses are now available in Cruces and elsewhere in the state.

Another Tree New Mexico program is NeighborWoods. Eighty-five percent of trees in Albuquerque are on private property, so this program focuses on planting trees on private property, with the owner of the property agreeing to care for the tree(s). With the help of volunteers, 100 two- to three-and-a-half-inch caliper trees are planted at a time in a neighborhood. The next week, the participating families are eligible for a gift tree, which has more diverse choices available than the street trees. This program is a collaboration with city councilors who provide funding. Tree NM has on its website a schedule of upcoming tree plantings in September, October, and November.

Dakota Tree Project began in Albuquerque in 2020 as a memorial to Dakota Powell and his desire to serve his local community. In partnership with the City of Albuquerque, the project has evolved into three programs: MemorialWoods for serene settings to remember loved ones; CommunityWoods planting in low income / high heat neighborhoods; and CommercialWoods on commercial properties targeted for improvement. These woods have a varying designs and do not have a set number of trees that are planted at any one spot. Ongoing maintenance is by agreement with city departments for larger plantings and by sponsoring organizations for smaller plantings.

The average cost of a tree is $250.00 and up, so these local not-for-profits rely on donations from citizens and contracts from the city and other sources in order to do their work…and volunteers to do the planting. When planted and cared for properly, these trees have an 85% three-year survival rate, which is considered a successful replanting of our tree canopy.


Living in the desert, we all know how important water is for life. “Aqua es Vida” is the often heard refrain, and it applies to both humans and our whole ecosystem. As we plant trees, shrubs, vegetables, and flowers, there are many techniques for watering that differ according to the time of year, age of the plant, and its species. There is no one way which suits all nor do all the landscape folks agree on the best ways to water. This article provides some things to consider as you perfect your watering technique for outdoor plants.

Drip line spirals to the edge of the root growth zone. Photo by Sue Brown.

First and foremost, when you first put a tree or shrub in the ground, be sure to water at the periphery of the pot line so the roots of your new plant are kept moist for at least the next two or three months.

Drip irrigation means black or brown ¼ inch lines with emitting holes six, nine, or twelve inches apart. In an hour’s time, each hole will emit the amount the manufacturer states, often listed as GPH (gallons per hour). If the irrigation line is placed in sandy soil, the water might penetrate many inches, but if the plant is in clay, much less water will penetrate per hour.

You can get an idea of how far the water has penetrated by pushing a piece of rebar or a three-foot screwdriver into the ground as far as it will go near the emitter. It will push through moist earth but stop short when it hits the dry ground. This works as a test for water penetration for any kind of emitter or after hose watering.

Sprinklers are another way to water. Sprinklers are most often used on lawns, but of course lawns are not recommended in our region because they use a lot of water. An additional problem is that, as the days heat up, water left on leaves is apt to burn the plant. So, even with evening or early morning watering, sprinklers are becoming less of an option.

Irrigation systems such as Netafim are especially for watering trees. Tubing (either black round or brown flat) is wrapped in concentric circles around trees from the drip line out with the holes emitting .9 gallons/hour. The caliber of this tubing is larger so it has to be attached differently to the main irrigation line than 1/4 inch tubing. The first circular placements have to be moved out as the tree grows. Wood mulch needs to be spread over these lines (or any irrigation line) to cut down the evaporation of water. Mulch can be up to four to six inches deep. Again, you can always check the effectiveness of the irrigation line with your rebar/screwdriver tool. You do not need to be able to see drip lines or emiter holes..

It is recommended that plants with the same need for water be planted on the same timer line, but since most yards have been planted over time, this is difficult. Hand watering often has to fill in the gaps. If you need to water by hose, a steady dribble of water for three to four hours is usually enough. If it is a large tree, you will have to move the hose to a few different places.

Another interesting way to retain water in the soil is to construct berms and then plant along them. Berms work well on slopes. Soil is mounded up along contour lines and the trench above the mound catches and holds the water. Plants are planted on the berms and water trickles through to their roots.

Soil sponges are an easy, low cost mothod to increase deposits of organic matter that will retain water. They are less frequently employed but a great way to irrigate trees, according to Kelly White at Tree New Mexico. “The larger the sponge, the more trees and shrubs can take advantage of it.” A sponge can be whatever size you want to make it. Find a depression, which could also be a downhill slope, with water from roof runoff that flows towards it. Dig a hole in the depression and pack it with organic matter such as your junk mail, newspaper, old cotton or wool clothes, branches, logs, paper bags, cardboard, etc. Cover it with soil or mulch. It will sink over time as it rots, so you will need to pile more organic matter on top. Some people put a piece of PVC into the sponge and pour water through it periodically, especially if the depression hasn’t been getting much rainwater. It is best to make a sponge before planting a new tree, but they can be made afterwards – just be careful to dig them well beyond the drip line of any trees.

Sponges are not compost. Compost is balanced, with nitrogen, carbon, and other minerals in the right proportion; sponges are just deposits of any organic matter which will retain water while it rots.

And do you water in the morning or at night? Watering in the morning lets you walk around more easily and see how your plants are doing. Watering at night lets the water sink in with less evaporation as the air is cooler.

Every yard is unique so experiment and note what works and doesn’t work for you. Please share any watering techniques that you have found which work for you in our comments section.


Suzanne Simard grew up in a family well acquainted with trees. For generations, they were loggers in British Columbia, Canada. Her very personal book starts with glimpses of her family’s story and moves into her own as she begins work with a logging company. Her job was to understand why plantations (areas of newly planted seedlings after clear cutting) weren’t growing well. Was it because the lumber company had planted seedlings of a different species which would be more profitable than the original native trees they had cut? Or because the seedlings were planted in grids instead of clumps? Or was it the planting’s timing? Or were the seedlings not getting enough water?

She dug up some of the newly planted seedlings and found their root tips brown and dry. When she dug up same-sized native seedlings which had sprouted through humus at the roots of nearby older trees, she found the root tips healthy and encased in webs of yellow fungus – mycorrhiza, living in a symbiotic relationship with a tree’s roots.

Did the web of threads from the fungus transfer water and other nutrients to this native seedling in some kind of integrated underground system? This became her first question. Her research early on began to challenge the lumber company and Canadian government policies, especially the practice of using massive amounts of glyphosate herbicides to keep other trees from growing near recently planted seedlings of the commercially valuable firs.

Whether trees compete or collaborate became another question. Her data showed that plantings of Douglas fir grew only half as fast without birch trees nearby transferring nitrogen and sugars along mycorrhizal networks. Older trees cooperated with younger trees of the same species and also other species! Yet, foresters were not convinced by her data.

Through many years to follow, including earning her masters and PhD degrees, planting thousands of seedlings, and doing multiple experiments with her students and in collaboration with other researchers, Simard’s work has led to the concept of “mother trees” as hubs in the life and renewal of forest health. Her research is increasingly accepted and better funded. The use of glyphosates is decreasing. She is involved in a huge undertaking with nine experimental forests with various climate and soil conditions across British Columbia. Her question now is: “Which combination of harvesting and planting will be most resilient to the stresses the planet is facing?”

While my mind zoned out reading about the numerous experiments, I admire the creativity, time, and patience her research took. Her writing is crisp, with visuals you can see, such as: “Branches burst with new growth over a fleece of jade needles.” I went on a journey with Simard and ended up totally convinced that Finding the Mother Tree and preserving her and her fungal networks are key.