winter landscape maintenance

winter gardening
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winter gardening
pine needle mulch
winter gardening
winter garden

by Ben Ikenson

keeping the garden healthy for a beautiful spring

For many New Mexicans winter is a time of holidays, home-cooked feasts, and toasty fires glowing in the hearth – a cozy season of indoor retreat. For gardening enthusiasts, however, it may be a restless interruption of outdoor joys. But it shouldn’t be.

“One of the delights of living in New Mexico is that we can actually enjoy winter outside,” says Linda Churchill, co-founder of design-build landscape company Green Forward and longtime head gardener for the Santa Fe Botanical Gardens. “We do get cold temperatures, but the cold is rarely so bitter for so long that we cannot venture out to enjoy the crisp air and crystal blue skies of our enchanted winter land.”

According to Churchill, winter is an ideal time to ensure your garden arrives at spring’s doorstep ready to thrive. Her top suggestion– watering. “Particularly after a long, warm autumn such as we’ve had this year, it’s important to keep enough moisture in the soil for the roots of your plants that will continue to grow through early winter,” says Churchill. “This is especially important for plants planted within the past year, since their root systems are still small and have less of an underground network to support them.”

“One of the delights of living in New Mexico is that we can actually enjoy winter outside.” — Linda Churchill, co-founder of Green Forward

Noting that New Mexicans should be conscientious about water usage in our desert climate, Churchill suggests watering once weekly in early November, then once every 10 to 14 days in late November and December; modified as necessary based on the plants, their location and the weather. But, she says, “when you do water, soak deeply so the water can penetrate to the roots.”

Continue watering regularly through the winter, thoroughly soaking root systems every two to four weeks, “unless we have a heavy, wet snow around the time you’d water,” Churchill advises. “But don’t depend on snowfall to provide enough moisture.” Also, to avoid overwatering while the ground is frozen, “wait until the soil thaws enough for water to penetrate.”

Fertilizing is another important consideration, and Churchill suggests having a soil test to determine the correct balance of beneficial minerals needed; though without one, there are some good general dry fertilizer products available (Yum Yum; Kelp Meal).

Late winter is often an ideal time for pruning most woody plants. Churchill recommends taking advantage of gardening classes offered by your county’s extension services and master gardening programs, or by the Botanical Gardens in Santa Fe or Albuquerque, either in person or online.

“Take photos. Keep a journal. What worked and what didn’t?” — Beth Adams, Yellowstone Landscape

Another important consideration during the winter months is debris accumulation. “Mother nature created falling leaves with the intent of improving soils and retaining moisture,” explains Beth Adams, an Albuquerque site manager for Yellowstone Landscape who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. “A blanket of leaves or pine needles can be effective mulch through winter, insulating against the cold, then slowly decomposing to better support our native soil.”

However, this natural debris accumulation can also harbor overwintering pests and disease and is often less than favorable when it amasses over fabric, which inhibits natural decomposition. “If you elect to remove the leafy debris accumulation, contributing it to a healthy compost pile may be the ticket for active gardeners,” says Adams.

Another constructive winter activity, Adams suggests, is to reflect, ponder and imagine. “Take photos. Keep a journal. What worked and what didn’t? How do you want to utilize your outdoor space?”

The possibilities are countless, Adams offers. “Theme gardening might include a Shakespearean collection of plants, or heirloom apple trees. Children’s gardening can be rewarding. Do you want to attract hummingbirds and butterflies? Need room for a horseshoe pit or spaces to entertain? Natural privacy screens? Ambient sound from a water feature? Lighting, fragrance, color, sculpture, art display – all can be significant considerations in your plans.”

“Above all,” says Adams, “Have fun with it!”

Green Forward
Yellowstone Landscape