Green with Tomato Envy - 2020 edition

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa ThompsonReprinted/updated column from October 2018

Answer: I first answered this question way back in 2018. And here we are again, with first frosts snapping across the state and gardeners sharing photos of final harvests, many with green tomatoes piled high. The same questions keep coming up: What’s the best way to ripen them, and then what can be done with them?If you’re a seed saver, you may want the fruits to ripen to maturity. The difference between a fruit being mature and one that’s ripe is that “maturity” refers to seed viability and “ripeness” is the most favorable state for consumption or use. Ripeness, then, is partly dependent on personal taste and the intended market. Many fruits, like grapes, pomegranates, and citrus, get more flavorful and achieve higher quality if allowed to ripen before being picked. Others, like bananas, pears, and avocados, are often picked when they’re technically mature but not completely ripe so that fewer…

A Pain in the Grass: Protecting Cold-sensitive Plants Over Winter

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson
-Les Bender, Northeast Rio Rancho (6,000 ft) Answer: I understand this conundrum. Conflicting horticultural advice is often an indication that there’s no single correct answer. You’re right that purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum') is perhaps “marginally hardy” in your area, and is listed by several sources as being cold hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8 and 9, which means this species can make it through winters with temperatures reaching as low as 10°F and still grow back in the spring. The next step is to determine the USDA Hardiness Zones in your yard. According to, you’re likely to be in USDA Hardiness Zone 7, with average annual extreme minimum temperatures (from 1976–2005) of 0 to 10°F. But it’s not quite that simple because 1) average temperatures have gone up, even in the past decade, and continue to do so; and 2) you may have microclimates, like up against a low west-fa…

Herb Appeal

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson, with Sage Advice from Mora County Extension Agent Suzanne Cole
Our most recent NMSU gardening webinar for the “Ready, Set, GROW!” series was on herb gardening in New Mexico. Extension Agents Suzanne Cole of Mora County and John Garlisch of Bernalillo County gave informative presentations that covered distinctions between herbaceous versus woody herbs, growing them both indoors and out, and tips on how to preserve and use them in your kitchen. We received great questions from several of the over 80 attendees. For this week’s column, I’ve selected just a few of the questions and answers that I found interesting.Question: I have heavy clay in my garden, and amending the soil doesn't seem to help. What can you recommend?Answer: Poor drainage is a problem for lots of plants, and herbs are no exception. Clay soils can hold moisture for too long and prevent oxygen from reaching the roots. Luckily, many herbs grow very well with potting s…

Virtual Extension Events: Join Us Online for Engaging Webinars

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa ThompsonI'll keep adding event links as I get them... so please email info to me directly: - Thanks, MarisaFrom peaches to pests to tomatoes and more, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service offers all sorts of online educational opportunities in the coming months. Photo credits M. Thompson.Question: I missed your “Ready, Set, GROW!” classes. Are there any other online classes or videos this fall?
-Linda A., Las Vegas, NMAnswer: Thank you for reaching out. Good news times two: 1) you only missed the first two of the "Ready, Set, GROW!" webinar series that runs twice a month through March 2021, and 2) each webinar is being recorded, so you'll be able to access them if you can’t attend the live sessions. For years I’ve been inspired by the many people who show up to attend the various NMSU Cooperative Extension Service presentations and workshops we give across the state. In response to COVID, we’re now transiti…

Late-season Notes on the Western Grape Leafhopper with Extension Viticulturist Gill Giese

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson 
with Guest Contributor Dr. Gill Giese, NMSU Extension Viticulture SpecialistThe blotchy, speckled surface on this grape leaf in Placitas (left) is a classic symptom of leafhopper damage, and the culprits can usually be found by looking under the leaf with a magnifying lens (right). Photo credits M. Thompson.Question: We bought a small vineyard and have noticed that the whitish-yellow speckles and blotches on our grapevine leaves are looking worse and worse.                                            -Barb B., Placitas Answer: I had the pleasure of visiting this site in Placitas a few weeks ago, so I examined the grape leaves up close—very close. Using a hand lens and looking very carefully under the leaves, I took photos of tiny white insects, some of which had red spots on their backs. To me, the insects combined with the leaf damage symptoms point to a common pest in our area: grape leafhoppers, likely the western grape leafhopper in …

What To Do When Wind Damages Trees

Southwest Yard & Garden by Dr. Marisa Thompson
I lost about 1/3 of my crabapple tree and probably more than 1/2 of a mimosa tree in the wind storm on Tuesday. Is there anything I should do to try to help them?  -Laura P., Albuquerque
Answer: Great question! The short answer is, "No, at least not urgently, and there’s no need for any type of wound sealant." For now, in case it helps you rest easier, imagine what your trees would do if they were all alone in the forest and were damaged by wind gusts. They'd just sit there and be fine. That is, unless there are any immediate risks, like a car parked underneath or an area of high pedestrian activity nearby where a partially broken limb could fall and hurt someone. 
Aside from considering bodily harm and property damage, the next step mostly depends on how bad the damage was. How thick were the branches that were broken? How many branches, approximately, per tree? And are they within easy reach from the ground?