January 14, 2018

Planting Trees: The Hole Story

Southwest Yard and Garden by Marisa Thompson
  

This 11-year old Arizona cypress died a slow, painful death. Cause of
decline was not known ... UNTIL the tree was removed, and these
severely knotted roots were revealed.
(Image courtesy of Curtis Smith and Judy Nickell)
Question:
Why is it recommended to plant a tree in a hole twice as wide as the root ball and the exact same depth?            
-          Lucas H., Las Cruces, NM
Answer:
Landscape installation is hard work, but a tree is a lifetime investment, and the extra effort becomes a drop in the bucket. The old “pop and drop” method of popping the plant out of the container and dropping the root ball directly into the ground is just not good enough.

It is easy to see that this poor dead tree on the right was planted
using the "pop and drop" method from a container that  probably
looked much like the pot on the left. (photo courtesy of  J. Mexal)

Roots have a tendency to spiral when grown in nursery pots. These circling roots must be cut to avoid slow suffocation, tree decline, and possibly death. Before planting, be sure to loosen the root ball and cut any spiraling roots so that new root growth is trained to grow outward and you are maximizing root-soil contact.
A hole with equal depth and twice as wide as the root ball encourages lateral root growth. If you have relatively loose soil, twice the diameter of the root ball may be sufficient (e.g., a twenty-inch-wide hole for a ten-inch-wide root ball). Instead of backfilling with the soil you removed, you can loosen the existing perimeter of the hole, collapsing in the sides of the hole. If your soil is compacted, you will need to extend that hole out further. Basically, any place you want roots to grow is where you need to loosen the soil and plan to apply water. Roots need water and oxygen.
A major reason to use a hole that is the same depth of the containerized tree is the crucial area where the trunk meets the soil (sometimes called the root collar). There is a slight flare visible there. If you were to push away the soil at that spot, you might see a slight color distinction that marks the soil line. When planting a tree, make note of where that line is on the tree trunk and be sure that the final placement keeps that line at exactly the same spot.
If you dig the hole too deep, that trunk flare will be covered up after planting—this kills trees all the time. Even if you backfill some soil at the bottom of the hole to make it more shallow, that soil will eventually settle, which will cause the root collar to be buried. This is why the hole should be no deeper than the depth of the tree’s root ball. Plus, the goal is to get tree roots to grow out horizontally in the soil profile where oxygen is available and water can be applied. A typical tree develops as much as 95% of its total root mass in the top three feet of soil and 75% in the top foot alone. This means the roots extend horizontally two or more times the total height of the above-ground portion of the tree.
Frequently in landscape settings, you can find trees that have been planted too deep. In these cases, the trunk disappears straight into the soil without any flare visible. Sometimes these are called post plantings, like a fencepost. When planted too deep like this, a tree may technically survive, but deep down it is struggling and will eventually decline. Our water is too precious to waste on dying plants.
Hopefully, we are all on the same page about planting native or adapted species. One benefit of planting such species is the water savings. Judith Phillips, a landscape designer, professor, and author in Albuquerque, calls drought-resistant plants “the camels of horticulture.” Recommended tree species and cultivars for your part of New Mexico:


Another key benefit of native and adapted plants is that they like our soil the way it is (minus compaction—nobody likes that). For native and adapted species, fertilizer or other soil amendments, like gravel or compost, are seldom recommended when planting a tree. We want to encourage roots to grow out beyond the root ball and out into the loosened soil. Amending the soil has been shown to encourage roots to ball up in the amended portion of the soil. You can, however, add a 2- to 3-inch blanket of natural mulch as a “hug” for your new tree. Don’t hug too tight! Mulch piled up at the root collar can strangle a tree.
As with any good rule, there are caveats. So far, we are only talking about perennial plantings—plants that will stay in the landscape year after year. In the case of annual plantings like vegetables, soil amendments may significantly improve performance. And if you have clay soil, amendments may be necessary to encourage water movement through the soil profile. For the most part, though, when plating native and adapted species for perennial use, these rules hold true.

Email me your gardening questions at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or share them on social media @NMDesertBlooms!
For more local gardening information, visit www.desertblooms.nmsu.edu and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.

January 7, 2018

Planting Your Containerized Christmas Tree

Southwest Yard and Garden | by Marisa Thompson

Conifer seedlings are grown in tall cone-tainers to minimize
circling roots at the NMSU John T. Harrington
Forestry Research Center in Mora, NM.
(photo by M. Thompson)
Question:
We bought a live, potted Christmas tree this year. When and how should we plant it in our yard?
-          Tammy Z., Albuquerque, NM

Answer:
What a great way to add a beautiful evergreen to your home landscape and, in doing so, help our urban forest efforts. My backyard growing up in South Carolina had several Christmas trees planted in the yard, each a memory from holidays past. However, when we planted our Christmas Rocky Mountain juniper in Las Cruces some years ago, it did not make it very long. I now know that I was severely overwatering that poor, sopping tree. 😢 It never stood a chance.
To more fully answer your question, I searched the NMSU Extension Publications website (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/) and found Guide H-421, “Buying aLiving Christmas Tree,” which you might find useful as it includes information about planting and general care.
I also called the Albuquerque Parks and Recreation City Forester, Joran Viers, whose first piece of Christmas tree advice was, “Don’t plant the ones without roots.”
Jokes aside, Viers said that it will probably take a few weeks to harden the tree off during the transition from inside to outside. Acclimatize it to outdoor life by taking it outside in the daytime in increasingly sunny spots, and bring it inside each night for a few weeks, until it has gotten used to the cold and the intense sunlight. The longer you keep it inside, the longer you will need to harden it off.
Viers added, “The key to planting potted evergreens is to look closely at the actual root structure as much as possible to find circling roots before you plant. If you see circling roots, find the spot where the root starts to turn and cut it below the turn.” Circling roots are a major problem with the containerized tree industry. At first, they may grow normally after planting, but eventually the knotted roots are likely to strangle each other and may kill the tree. 


After several years of slow decline, this 11-year old Arizona
cypress was finally removed. The culprit: this
severely knotted rootball that could have been
avoided if circling (also called spiraling) roots had been
properly cut at time of planting.
(photo courtesy of  Dr. Curtis Smith)

Exposed root is choking this tree after being container-grown.
(open source photo)

Spiraling root ball of dead Osage orange
tree. (photo courtesy of Dr. John Mexal)

Exposed circling root still in container.
(photo courtesy of Dr. John Mexal)

The roots of this dead tree were so badly knotted due
to being overgrown and root-bound while still
in the container, then planted without any
correction of those circling roots.
(photo courtesy of Dr. John Mexal)
It is important to take good care when planting and maintaining plants in our environment. As New Mexicans, we are well aware of our water limitations. I believe watering landscape plants can be a good use of our groundwater, but if—and only if—we are doing so wisely. Correctly watering a tree that is specifically suited to our climate is great, but watering a dying tree is a waste. Dr. Curtis Smith, retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, advised watching for windy days when plants are more prone to drying out if not watered properly, especially while still in the pot and the first few months after planting. Both Smith and Viers warned, however, that conifers do not like wet feet, so check the soil moisture with a finger before watering. I wish I had known that before drowning my juniper. Check back next week for more on best tree planting practices that might surprise you. In the meantime, start taking your tree outside in the daylight hours.
Somebody please make me a bumper sticker with my favorite tree quote: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today. #climatechange #climatehope

Email me your gardening questions at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or share them on social media @NMDesertBlooms!
For more local gardening information, visit the www.desertblooms.nmsu.edu and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.

January 1, 2018

Black, Red, or Green: Can We Grow Olives in New Mexico?

Southwest Yard and Garden


Olives are different colors because of
when they are picked! Like our chiles, the
green ones are picked earlier when they
are not quite ripe and the "red" ones a little
later. Black olives are picked when they
are ripest. 


Question:
Will olive trees grow in New Mexico?
-        Jeannie O., Truth or Consequences, NM

Answer:
I have also wondered why olives aren’t grown in New Mexico, especially when visiting northern parts of the state, where the vistas look so much like Andalucia, Spain, with rolling hills dotted by olive trees.

Let us quickly clarify so that we aren’t confusing the tree species that produces table olives, Olea europaea, with our native New Mexico olive trees, Forestiera neomexicana, also known as New Mexico privet or desert olive. Forestiera neomexicana, grown as a shrub, tree, or even hedge, is an excellent landscape plant for most of New Mexico. Although from a different genus and species, both Forestiera neomexicana and Olea europaea are in the Oleaceae plant family. Other plants in this family include lilac, jasmine, and forsythia. The dreaded Elaeagnus angustifolia, also known as Russian olive, is from a different plant family and is an invasive weed all over the western United States.

The rest of the column is just about Olea europaea. Currently, all commercial olive production in the United States is in California, except for a few acres near Phoenix. Olives are native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia and Africa. Some sources list Olea europaea as being cold hardy to USDA growing zone 7. In New Mexico that would include Albuquerque and, basically, any place warmer. However, other sources list Olea europaea as being cold hardy to USDA zones 9 or 10, meaning they may not last through cold winters in any part of our state. 

For an interactive map of the USDA cold hardiness zones, go to http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ and type in your zip code. There are some ways to slightly adjust the growing zone in your yard. Within a landscape, strategically placed microclimates can increase the planting zone by a half point, like on the west side of a stone wall. Similarly, the shaded north side of a house can be a half zone colder than the surrounding area.

As far as growing olives in New Mexico, it all comes down to what you want to do with your trees. Olives take 5-6 years to mature enough to set fruit and more to get an actual crop. In New Mexico, that means several winters of gambling with the cold before even a chance of flowering/fruiting. This is why they are not normally recommended for commercial production in New Mexico.  The risk of plant death is high, and the risk of no yield is even higher, depending on where you are in New Mexico.

I checked in with Dr. Richard Heerema, NMSU Extension Pecan and Pistachio Specialist, to get his recommendation. Heerema says, “In backyard orchards in the warmest parts of New Mexico, Olea europaea can grow and produce well. If someone wants to plant in Albuquerque or Truth or Consequences, they should pick a warm, sheltered area and understand that getting a reliable crop will be difficult, even if the tree itself lives through winter. Also, the cultivars available to us in the United States are those better acclimated to southern Europe, but there are native varieties that grow as far north as Russia, so those are likely to produce more reliably in colder parts of New Mexico.”

When you are ready, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources published helpful guides on growing, harvesting, and pickling olives. Fun fact: olives are different in color because of their ripeness at harvest time, much like our beloved chiles.

Email me your gardening questions at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or share them on social media @NMDesertBlooms!
For more local gardening information, visit the www.desertblooms.nmsu.edu and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.

December 26, 2017

Poinsettias: Reblooming Is Fun, But Challenging

Southwest Yard and Garden


Question:
I want to keep my poinsettias alive for next year. What do I need to do with them after the holidays?
-        Juanita R., Alamogordo, NM
Answer:
Poinsettias are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the botanist who introduced them into the United States via stem cuttings from southern Mexico in 1828. In their native habitat, poinsettias are a perennial shrub that can grow as tall as 15 ft.  The different colors of poinsettia plants available commercially today represent different varieties of the same species, Euphorbia pulcherrima. Pulcherrima is Latin for beautiful. They are in the Euphorbiaceae or spurge plant family and are related to the noxious weed, leafy spurge; the common houseplant, crown of thorns; and one of my favorite perennial landscape ornamentals for New Mexico, the donkey-tail spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites).
One reason poinsettias are so popular is that the red color (or whatever color you select) lasts a very long time. That’s because the red parts aren’t flowers, they’re modified leaves, also called bracts. Another plant that seems to bloom forever—but really the beautiful color comes from the bracts—is the bougainvillea. On many other plants, like roses, bracts are green and form the base of the floral structure. The actual flowers on poinsettias are the tiny yellowish structures in the center of an array of bracts. The true flowers do not have a long bloom time, but it is hard to tell because they lack petals completely.
Figure 1. Parts of the poinsettia. The showy part, usually considered the flower, actually consists of the colored bracts. (Image used with permission from New Mexico State University)
Here are the steps for keeping your poinsettia alive and boosting rebloom next year (Warning: it ain’t pretty):
1.     When leaves, including the colored bracts, begin to fall off the plant in the weeks or months after blooming, cut each of the stems down to only about 4-inches in length. This will look bad for a long while, but encourages a bushier, fuller plant instead of being spindly and top-heavy.
2.     Allow the soil to dry between light waterings and keep the plant in a shady spot in the house.
3.     In May, repot the plant with some additional potting soil; move it to a warm, sunny spot (maybe even outside in light shade if all danger of frost is past); and increase water. Soon, new shoots will appear.
4.     Water regularly with fertilizer and continue pinching back the new shoots, keeping a minimum of two nodes per stem until late August. For more details on how to propagate new plants using the cuttings, check out NMSU Extension Guide H-406, “Poinsettias: Year after Year” (http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H406/).
5.     In September, bring the plant inside and keep it in a very sunny location, away from drafts.
6.     Because poinsettias are true short-day (or long-night) plants, light control is essential to triggering bloom. So, starting at the end of September, keep the whole plant in total darkness for 14 hours of every day (5:00 pm to 7:00 am). Interrupting the dark period, even by turning on the lights for a second, can interfere with flowering. Retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, Dr. Curtis Smith, says, “Some people recommend moving them to a closet at sunset and returning them to a window after sunrise. A simpler method is to cover with a cardboard box or put them in a black plastic (garbage) bag every night, returning them to the light in the morning. In the garbage bag, they can overheat if left in the sunshine. In general, if you don’t have a greenhouse, it is easier to have beautiful poinsettias by purchasing them each year. The challenge of reblooming them is fun but difficult.”
7.     Less water is needed at this time, but keep an eye (or finger) on the soil and if the surface is dry, go ahead and drench it without letting the roots sit in standing water.
8.     Keep up the nighttime/daytime routine for eight weeks and then just leave it in the sunny spot. Now we wait. The flowering mechanisms have already been triggered, and as tiny flowers form, the bracts turn from green to red.
9.     Continue fertilizing until the end of December and then start all over again! I am going to try it this year. Who’s with me?
Email me your gardening questions at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or share them on social media @NMDesertBlooms!
For more local gardening information, visit the www.desertblooms.nmsu.edu and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.

December 18, 2017

Christmas Cactus Care


Image result for schlumbergera bridgesii
Smoother edged Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii)
(open source photo)
Image result for schlumbergera truncata
The edges of each stem segment of this Thanksgiving cactus
(Schlumbergera truncata) have tooth-like indentations, also called
crab cactus. Not a true Christmas cactus. (open source photo)

Question:
How should I care for my new Christmas cactus to ensure long-term health and rebloom next year?
-        Wendy H., Las Cruces, NM
Answer:
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), a hybrid plant and member of the cactus family, is known for blooming during the holiday season here in the northern hemisphere. The showy flowers are induced by long periods of uninterrupted dark. If your plant routinely blooms early, you may have a different species, Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), which has different requirements for the number of dark hours and therefore blooms at a slightly different time. Thanksgiving cactus has stem segments with more pronounced indentations and is also called “crab cactus.” Easter cactus is a different genus altogether.
There are a few key things you can do to encourage a longer blooming period and return bloom next year. I mined archived columns for the best tips:
Let the soil dry slightly between waterings. Surplus water should drain away, leaving the soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Avoid drafty locations near open doors and heater vents. These locations speed the drying of the soil and plants. Keep the plants in a cool location. Cool air slows the aging of the flowers, so they last longer, but do not let the temperature drop below 50°F. Temperature-wise, they are not as fussy as some other seasonal houseplants, such as poinsettia (check in next week for poinsettia dos and don’ts).
Maintain these plants in a brightly lit location. If there is sufficient light, the plants can photosynthesize and manufacture food to sustain the plant and flowers.
Do not apply fertilizer during flowering. Wait until spring, when new growth appears, to fertilize and replant.
Once buds set, don't move the plant around too much. Flower buds are likely to drop off if the plant is moved or suddenly exposed to temperature changes.
In the spring when the plant is actively growing, you can prune your cactus by cutting between stem segments using clean, sharp shears that do not tear the plant tissue. Flower buds develop at the distal edges (ends) of each stem, so by pruning, you are encouraging branching and therefore maximizing flower potential next season. Those cuttings can be easily propagated by letting stems of 2–3 segments in length dry for a day so the wound callouses over and then replanting them in new soil, taking care not to place stems upside down in the new soil. 
Next fall, be sure to keep your Christmas cactus in a spot where it gets a full dose of dark time (10–12 hours per day) so that flowering is induced all over again.
Retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, Dr. Curtis Smith, says, “I have always found that people are surprised to learn that Christmas cacti are tropical epiphytes. In their native habitat, they grow on trees rather than in the soil to get above enough foliage to get enough light. They can also be lithophytes, growing in cracks and crevices in rocks and cliffs. In both locations, their growing medium is decomposing organic matter—compost. In these environments, it dries rapidly, but in the rainforest there are frequent rains. In pots, we have to be careful not to overwater them, and as cacti they can tolerate significantly more drying than other plants.”
When buying new plants, I select Christmas cactus specimens with plenty of closed buds because I like the bright surprise of new blooms and I want the color to last as long as possible at home. You can estimate maturity of individual flowers by examining the petals. Wrinkly petal margins and fine pollen dust mean the flower will not last much longer before it droops and falls from the plant.
Post photos of your happy/blooming/not-blooming/struggling Christmas cactus on social media and tag me @NMDesertBlooms!
Image result for christmas cactus
Google images popped up this photo when I seached "Christmas cactus",
but the serrated stem segments look more like a Thanksgiving cactus
 to me! (open source photo)
Email me your gardening questions at desertblooms@nmsu.edu.
For more local gardening information, visit the www.desertblooms.nmsu.edu and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505- 865-7340, ext. 113.

December 9, 2017

Same Depth, Less Frequent: Irrigating in Winter

Question:
Now that winter is here in Las Cruces, I'm wondering what the frequency of watering should be and the best time of day or night to have the water come on?
-        Rob M., Las Cruces, New Mexico


Answer:
It seems #itscomplicated is a hashtag I could use every week. Knowing how much water to apply in your landscape is hard enough in the summertime when demands are high, but it can be even more difficult to know the right amount of water needed when many plants are bare and it can be easy to forget.
Most plants need less water in colder months. This is partly because dormant plants are not actively growing. Lower temperatures also reduce transpiration of water through plant tissues. When deciduous plants drop their leaves, photosynthetic rates also drop, as do water requirements.
That does not mean, however, that no water is needed at all. In our high desert climate, warm winter days, along with cold, drying winds, trigger some transpiration, which further dries the soil. Plus, many plants, like rosemary and pine trees, do not lose their “leaves” at all, so they continue to transpire, even if at a slower rate than in hot summer temperatures. Mulch is key! Mulching helps insulate plant roots and maintain soil moisture in both winter and summer. Not to mention, mulch makes a great weed barrier.
The most widespread rule of thumb is to water less frequently in the winter months, but always water to the same depth. If you water landscape plants for, say, 30-minute intervals once a week in the hottest months and then back off to only 10-minute intervals once a week in colder months, roots will die back. This invites stress-related symptoms like insect problems, diseases, diminished performance, and even plant death.
But hold on, there is a caveat. While always watering to the same depth is the best rule for irrigation efficiency, one drawback is the possibility of salt buildup in the root zone, which can be damaging. (Someone please send in a question about salt toxicity and tolerance, so I can cover that another week.)
Judith Phillips, a landscape designer and garden writer in the Albuquerque area, pointed out that plant irrigation needs in winter depend largely on when they were planted. Even desert-adapted plants will need more frequent irrigations if they were installed this summer or fall. The following watering guidelines are from the Arizona & New Mexico Getting Started Garden Guide by Mary Irish and Judith Phillips and are geared toward desert-adapted, established plants (more than 1 year, or 3 years for trees). December through March, water trees, shrubs, and warm-season grass every 45–60 days; groundcovers and vines every 30–60 days; cool-season grass every 30 days. Annual plants tend to have smaller root systems, so water every 10–14 days during bloom. The recommended watering depths, which should be kept constant throughout the year, are 24–36 inches for trees; 18–24 inches for shrubs; 8–12 inches for groundcovers, vines, and annuals; and 6–10 inches for turf.
Determining how long your irrigation system or watering hose needs to be on in order to get the correct moisture depth is up to you. One way to do this is to push a long screwdriver or piece of rebar down into the soil. It will move easily in moist soil and stop when it reaches dry soil.
As far as the best time of day to water in the winter, it seems that the biggest concern is with damage to irrigation systems, which are more likely to freeze overnight if not drained completely. Standing ice is also a hazard issue, and ice violations can be grounds for fines. I hand-water perennials in my garden once every 6 weeks or so on warmer days by setting a timer and moving the hoses from one planting area to another.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page (@NMDesertBlooms)
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/

December 8, 2017

Growing Figs in New Mexico: How to Get Fig Fever

'Kadota' fig tree in Albuquerque
(photo submitted by Sharon C.)
Question:
Two years ago, I planted a ‘Kadota’ fig thinking that it would be a tree. Both growing seasons it died back to the ground completely and sprouted new shoots each spring. The first year it only produced a few figs, but this year I harvested more than six dozen. What now? Should I prune out the old shoots that died the first year, if so, when?
-        Sharon C., Albuquerque, NM
Answer:
The common fig (Ficus carica) is in the mulberry family and is native to temperate zones of Asia and the Mediterranean. Other Ficus species include several popular tropical houseplants that do not produce edible fruit, like the ficus tree (F. benjamina), fiddle-leaf fig (F. lyrata), and rubber plant (F. elastica). All of these species, including the common fig, generate a milky latex fluid that oozes out when the plant tissue tears, like when picking fruit. Some people find the latex to be caustic, so you may need to wear gloves when picking or pruning Ficus plants.
Like many fruit trees, it is best to prune figs when they are dormant. That is, after leaves have dropped and before buds begin to swell in the early spring. However, branches that you know are dead can be pruned at any time.
Although they are called trees, figs tend to have a more bushy form, especially if they die back to the ground each winter. Luckily, figs are grown on their own rootstock, so the variety stays “true” even with the new season’s shoots. There are many varieties of common figs. Some are better equipped to withstand the winter temperatures common in our desert climate.
In an archived Southwest Yard & Garden column from 2001, Dr. Curtis Smith, retired NMSU Extension Horticulture Specialist, said, “While figs will grow in New Mexico as far north as Albuquerque, that is pushing their limits. Albuquerque is in hardiness zone 7 as determined from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's hardiness zone map. I am not aware of figs growing further north in New Mexico. However, in a protected courtyard, it is possible that they will grow in colder climates. In zone 6 a protected location shielding the tree from the coldest weather and where the soil doesn't freeze would increase the chances of the tree's survival. It may freeze to the ground many winters, but if it is a variety that bears on the current season's growth, it will still produce figs. There are other varieties that produce on older growth. These will not produce figs if they freeze to the ground. In colder growing zones, ‘Brown turkey’ and ‘Chicago hardy’ are better suited.” The ‘Kadota’ variety, among others, can grow well in New Mexico, especially in the southern parts of the state. For more information about growing figs and other fruit trees in New Mexico, check out NMSU Extension Guide H-310, Fruits and Nuts for New Mexico Orchards, at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H310/welcome.html.
20+ year old fig tree (left) in Albuquerque garden
(photo submitted by Matt Cohen)

Same fig tree in winter
(photo submitted by Matt Cohen)

I’m a fig fan, myself. I think I get it from my grandmother, whom I remember rapping on the kitchen window to scare the birds away from her treasured fig tree in San Antonio, Texas. Her mother, Mammaw, served figs sliced, soaked in milk, and poured over oatmeal. She’d also serve them fresh, but would warn my dad and uncles to leave some pink flesh near the stem to avoid the latex, and thereby avoid “fig fever.” I asked “Uncle Google” about fig fever, but apparently that’s an affliction caused by liking figs too much, not by ingesting the latex. Do you have a fig tree in your yard? Got fig fever? Write me about it! Send emails to “Miss Figgy” at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, and please include details like size, tree or shrub form, productivity, and variety, if you know it.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook page (@NMDesertBlooms)
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/