There are many articles out there discussing Xeriscaping in general terms, but here it will be more specific about choices for Xeriscaping plants in New Mexico, and even more specifically, Albuquerque. For someone who is thinking about changing to a more water conserving landscape it is sometimes frustrating to read information on the subject but still be none the wiser as to what the new garden will look like. It’s all good and well saying that there will be blooms and textures, but what exactly are we looking at? Described herein there will be a selection of popular favorites and discussion why choose them, but be mindful that this is not a comprehensive list.
Just a quick word about trees because the question is always being asked what is a good choice for Albuquerque. Of course we have the trusty Live Oak (Queues Virginian) which does very well despite its susceptibility to oak wilt. If you are in an area that is diseased or might become diseased a better choice would be the Monterey Oak (Queues polymorphs) which is resistant. Both are semi-evergreen, dropping leaves in the spring as new growth emerges. Prune to shape or raise the canopy in the winter – note that the insect that carries oak wilt is inactive during the hottest and coldest parts of the year so it is safest to prune at those times, but always make sure to paint the cuts you make as an extra precaution against infection. A smaller tree is the Lacey Oak (Queues lacey), also oak wilt resistant, with bluish-green foliage and interesting bark texture.
When we think of Xeriscaping plants we think of shrubs and in Albuquerque, the heartier the better! When it hasn’t rained in two months and it is 100 degrees in the shade you need a plant that will smile and say “is that all you got?”
The Lantana just needs to be cut back in the winter to keep under control. Otherwise leave this plant alone to do its thing and it will supply year after year of yellow and orange blooms throughout the late spring and summer. It grows like a weed in places, but if left unattended for years it can get thorny. It is more of a ground cover and like the New Mexico variety needs to be cut back in the winter to get rid of freeze-damaged parts and to keep it under control. It supplies white or purple blooms throughout the warmer months, and has been known to bloom all winter if it is mild enough. A wonderful choice for the lower part of a flower bed.
Even though Esperanza (Tacoma stuns) or “Yellow Bells” is deciduous and most times freezes back it still delivers robust woody growth and a profusion of yellow flowers from spring through fall. It can get up to 6 feet across and 8 tall so give it plenty of room. This is one of many gardeners and homeowners personal favorites and it is a native to Texas.
These die back in the winter, but they don’t look nasty like most other plant types would. They look stately and make a sweet sound when the wind rustles them. At the end of the winter trim them back and they will sprout forth in the spring. Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is not a New Mexico Native but does well. The burgundy foliage and plumes are eye-catching and it is a great choice for foundation and accent. Plant in multiples for better effect. The native Wiregrass (Nacelle tenuissima) is smaller and more delicate, but no less desirable. It has an elegant, sweeping form, cream colored seed heads and is drought tolerant. The wispy pink seed heads of Gulf Mushily (Muhlenberg capillaries) are quite ethereal and add a dash of drama in the fall. It can get a couple of feet wide and the same height is drought tolerant and looks fantastic!
Plants to Avoid Planting
Finally, any article about Xeriscaping plants wouldn’t complete without a quick mention of those you should avoid! Trees like the Mulberry, Chinese Tallow and Chinaberry have shallow, destructive root systems, and in the case of Chinaberry’s they fall on to your truck and dent the roof – at least that’s what happened to me. Shrubs like Photopia, Lustrum, Nanina, Elaeagnus and Privet are water-hungry and have no place in the Xeriscaping landscape. And for Heaven’s sake, never plant any Bamboo!