PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fire Resistant Plants

I culled these from a variety of sources. New Mexico doesn't have much in the way of information resources available (yet, but can't be long now) for landscaping for fire safety. California, Colorado, Oregon--google their fire programs for more in depth info. Obviously, I deleted plants that weren't suitable for our growing environment. We're mountainous/high altitude, cool and very dry--if you're not, you'll have more choices.

Plants that are considered fire resistant are--deciduous/hard wood, or succulent, or non-resinous, or evergreen, or native, or short/dense. Again, plants need to be hydrated, and kept free of dead or dry leaves, etc.

Mountain Gardens carries most of the plants on the list, and many are available at other local nurseries. If you have questions about plants you may have that aren't listed, check with your local forestry or extension offices; they should be able to find the info you need. Please don't start ripping out your landscaping until you have good info--and remember that many plants can be retained if they're kept well pruned.

Here are a few links to some revealing photos and info--homes that survived wildfire due to maintaining the defensible space strategies in these last few blogs.

Antennaria rosea Pink pussytoes
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Kinnikinnick
Aubrieta deltoidea Rock cress
Cerastium tomentosum Snow-in-summer
Delosperma cooperi Purple iceplant
Delosperma nubigenum Yellow iceplant
Dianthus species Dianthus, Garden carnation, or Pinks
Fragaria species Wild strawberry
Lamium species Dead nettle
Phlox subulata Creeping phlox
Sedum species Sedum or stonecrops
Sempervivum species Hens and chicks
Thymus praecox Creeping thyme
Veronica species Speedwell

Achillea species Yarrow
Allium schoenoprasum Chives
Aquilegia species Columbine
Armeria maritima Sea thrift
Artemesia species
Aurinia saxatilis Basket-of-gold
Campsis radicans Trumpet vine
Coreopsis species Coreopsis or Tickseed
Delphinium varieties Delphinium
Echinacea purpurea Coneflower
Epilobium angustifolium Fireweed
Eriogonum Eriogonum raggaii or jamesii
Eurotia spp Winterfat (.)
Festuca Glauca—Blue Fescue
Fendlera rupicola Fendler brush Antelope brush
Gaillardia varieties Blanket flower
Geranium cinereum Grayleaf cranesbill
Helianthemum nummularium Sun rose
Hemerocallis species Daylily
Heuchera sanguinea Coralbells
Iris hybrids Iris, tall bearded
Kniphofiauvaria Torch lily or Red-hot poker
Lavandula species Lavender
Linum perenne Flax, blue
Lonicera species Honeysuckle
Lupinus varieties Lupine
Mirabilis Four O'clock spp
Oenothera species Evening primrose
Papaver orientale Oriental poppy
Penstemon species Penstemon or Beardtongue
Ratibida columnifera Prairie coneflower or Mexican hat
Salvia species Salvia or Sage
Stachys byzantina Lamb’s ear
Yucca species Yucca
Zauschneria Hummingbird Trumpet
Zinnia grandiflora Rocky Mountain zinnia

Shrubs—broadleaf evergreen
Arctostaphylos—Manzanita, kinnickinnick
Cotoneaster apiculatus Cranberry cotoneaster
Daphne x burkwoodii var. ‘Carol Mackie’ Carol Mackie daphne
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon grapeholly
Mahonia repens Creeping holly
Acer glabrum Rocky Mountain maple
Amelanchier species Serviceberry
Caryopteris x clandonensis Blue-mist spirea
Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ Dwarf burning bush
Forestiera neomexicana New Mexico olive or privet, or Forestiera
Perovskia atriplicifolia Russian sage
Philadelphus species Mockorange
Potentilla fruiticosa Shrubby cinquefoil
Prunus besseyi Western sandcherry
Rhus species Sumac
Prunus tomentosa Nanking cherry
Ribes species Flowering currant
Rosa species Hardy shrub rose
Rosa woodsii Wood’s rose
Salix species Willow
Shepherdia argentea Silver buffaloberry
Shepherdia Canadensis Russett buffaloberry
Spiraea douglasii Western spirea
Symphoricarpos albus Snowberry
Syringa species Lilac
Viburnum trilobum Viburnum, Compact American
‘Compactum’ cranberry

Larix occidentalis Western larch
Pinus ponderosa Ponderosa pine

Acer ginnala Amur maple
Acer grandidentatum Big tooth maple
Acer negundo Boxelder
Aesculus hippocastanum Horsechestnut
Alnus rubra Red alder
Alnus tenuifolia Mountain alder
Betula species Birch
Catalpa speciosa Western catalpa
Celtis occidentalis Common hackberry
Cercis canadensis Eastern redbud
Crataegus species Hawthorn
Fagus sylvatica European beech
Fraxinus virginiana Green ash
Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis. cvs Thornless honeylocust
Gymnocladus dioicus Kentucky coffee tree
Juglans species Walnut
Malus species Crabapple
Populus angustifolia Narrowleaf cottonwood
Populus tremuloides Quaking aspen
Prunus ameriana Native plum
Prunus virginiana Chokecherry
Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert’ Canada red chokecherry
Quercus gambelii Gambel oak
Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Purple Robe’ Purple Robe locust
Robinia neomexicana New Mexico Locust
Sorbus aucuparia Mountain ash

Eschscholzia californica California poppy

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Sustainable Hoophouse

I suspect it would take all the fingers of one finger to count the number of dedicated gardeners I've known who didn't want a greenhouse (hothouse, cold house, hoophouse, high tunnel--cold frame please???). Mountain Gardens has seven, two heated in the winter, five cold for our dormant perennials. We're adding another in a couple of weeks to improve our success with fruit trees. Now you'd think we'd be fairly competent by now, but we have a lot of questions, the nuts & bolts kind of things that aren't usually addressed in the two page "manual" that comes with hoophouse kits. As luck would have it, CNM's Workforce Training Center (WTC) was offering a one day course on Sustainable Hoophouse Technology. Perfect!

Our class was taught by John Nelson of Mananica Farm in Algodones. John grows organic vegetables--you'll usually find him at the Los Ranchos farmers market. Not only does John have his own hoophouse, he's worked on a variety of other both private and university projects, garnering experience with different building techniques, and materials. John has a building background himself; he knows level.

Our presentation included the expected discussions--of materials--greenhouse poly, aluminum frame vs pvc, row covers--and how they're used in (or on) a hoophouse.  But it was John's sharing of tips and tricks like his home built jigs that really resonated for us. How do you drill through an aluminum (or pvc) pole, then repeat it in the next, and the next...at the same height, in the same plane so that the connecting pieces line up nice and straight!? Now we know. We know how to bend two twenty foot pieces of 2" pvc into a twelve foot arch. We know what a 'weazel clause' is (ask me later). And that the grey pvc cement stays pliable longer, and is stronger. And that a carborundum blade cuts pvc cleaner and faster.

John has worked with the folks at Las Poblanos, with Extension, with Del Jimenez (a true expert) of NMSU's research station in Alcalde. He helped put up houses at East Mountain Organics, and has corresponded with Dr. Reines at Ojo Sarco, and many others.  There is a host of ideas on the best size and materials for, and ways of operating a hoophouse.  Experimentation is a big part of the process.

We enjoyed the informal nature of the class; the small size let us be comfortable chiming in and asking questions. We all ate lunch together continuing the discussion. It's always a such pleasure to spend time with a group of like minded gardeners. Thank you John, and kudos to the WTC.

So what are we going to do? We have a trench wide enough and deep enough to hold 150 5 gallon pots. In coming days, we'll insulate the bottom and sides of the trench, lay in water pipe that's connected to a pump, a water reservoir, and solar panel. The pipes will get covered with several inches of soil before the pots are set in. We'll cover it all with plastic over hoops just wide enough to cover the trench. When the trees arrive, and are set in, we'll cover the pots with manure, sun warmed water will circulate under the pots, et voila, warm roots and cool tops. Experimentation. Perfect.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fireproof Houses

Ok, ok--anything will burn if it gets hot enough. Concrete and rock will crumble or shatter, glass and metal will melt. But...as per my previous post, there are strategies that can  make you almost fireproof especially if you incorporate them from the beginning.
Rastra wall

 Masonry and concrete are the materials of choice (see Fire Safe Building Design, Structure Mag). There are new and affordable building materials like SmartBlock, precast, and rastra--beams made of recycled styrofoam and concrete. We've used rastra ourselves, and find it sustainable, durable and easy to work with. You can cut it with a hand saw, mortar it with foam, and coat it with earthen plaster. It's surprisingly light, and a relatively large beam can be lifted in place by hand. Once in place the channels can be poured with concrete or packed with clay.

Old materials like adobe and strawbale are surprisingly fire resistant when coated with three or more inches of mud.. Stucco is better than wood siding but under high heat it can shatter and allow fire access to interior framing. Double pane windows have a huge benefit, resisting shattering where single glazing would break and allow fire entry (keep flammable materials away from windows for this reason). There is heat reflective glass! Steel framed windows are the best, then wood and aluminum. Vinyl melts, so even if the glass is intact.... This Old House has a great list of fire resistant materials, too, including tile and metal roofing, paints and more.

In the design and building process, make sure simple things like fire blocks aren't overlooked. Use roof vents instead of soffit or eave vents which can give fire ready access to attic and roof spaces. Since embers can pile up dramatically, you should use masonry, concrete or stone on the first two feet of foundation, and columns for porches and decks should sit on two feet of concrete piling. Keep wall and roof designs simple--embers pile up in those picturesque angles, cubbies, and corners. Reconsider upper story wood decks or balconies for the same reason--blowing embers can pile high and ignite them rapidly. Especially dangerous are wood decks that face a downhill slope. Fire climbs slopes rapidly. If you have an existing deck consider walling it in underneath with cinderblock, or building a stone or masonry wall as a firebreak. If you use wood columns, heavy timbers resist fire much longer than framing wood.

Global warming projections call for increased wildfire in the southwest, and if we don't get significant relief from current drought conditions, here in the East Mountains that may be sooner than later. Combining these building strategies with a plan for defensible space (our previous blog) will go a long way toward making you safer in the event of wildfire.

There's a lot of material available online (beyond the scope of this blog although I promise to get my fire resistant plant list up soon). I urge everyone who eyes every dark smudge on the horizon with anxiety to do the research, and implement some of these changes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Things we would do differently next time (this would be next lifetime since we're getting a little old for major changes now)--put all doors and windows on the east side of the building. That way, when the wind gusts (always from the west) over 50 mph (frequently enough) and the double flaps on the doggy door go horizontal as the maelstrom boils in (very cold maelstrom too) we wouldn't have to rig the rube goldburg contraption pictured above. This year's version of our doggy air lock tunnel features hay bales, plastic sheeting, an old door, a second freestanding doggy flap, a window, and lots of weights (bricks, cinder blocks, rocks, etc) formed into an elegant bow designed to allow the dogs free access to the yard while keeping the wind out. One day we'll get the kinks worked out, and we'll mount something permanent (and cosmetically appealing.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fire Safety in the Landscape

If you've been listening to the news this last week, you've heard that fire season is starting early--for a variety of reasons, it's almost upon us--news to make any New Mexican nervous, especially after this last year, the worst fire season in New Mexico history. With this in mind, I'd like to present highlights from a class we had last summer on Landscaping for Fire Safety.

First, if you haven't attended one of Forestry's Firewise seminars, you should. ASAP. Until then, there are many things you can do to help make your home safer in the event of wildfire--to the structure, and in your landscape. And still have a lovely garden, not just a field of rock with one or two puny plants.

Establish zones around the building--in the immediate area around the house consider establishing a no burn zone--use paving or rock, and succulent groundcovers within a few feet of the foundation. Think Tuscany--terraces, a fountain, pretty pots (that can be moved if necessary),  Foundation plantings, trees and shrubs very close to the house, make it more susceptible to catching fire. Fire climbs--don't plant trees or shrubs under eaves, soffits or vents that give fire a ladder into the structure. Surround the house with walkways or terraces. Put your planting beds in mulched island berms no closer than 10 feet from the foundation. Plant low growing shrubs, groundcovers and perennials. No trees within ten feet of the house, and trees and shrubs well spaced within thirty feet or so. Fire climbs--trim limbs 10-15 feet high, and prune dead material out of shrubs. Choose plants that have low flammability like sumac, mountain mahogany, ponderosa, etc. (while most pine are highly flammable, ponderosa has thick, fire resistant bark.) Irrigate this immediate zone to keep plants well hydrated. Use small mulch; it holds moisture better than large bark, and feeds the soil as it breaks down. Living soil holds moisture. If you feel compelled to remove all cut grass, etc, consider composting it, and returning it to the soil. Living soil sustains a plant community that can withstand the vagaries of an arid environment. Remember the dust bowl.

Use hardscaping like walks, low walls, and drives to block the path of the prevailing wind; windblown cinders can be strategically blocked or deflected (cinders can be driven against a house in piles--burning it even when the fire is a mile away). Fire climbs--if your home is upslope from prevailing winds consider using hardscape to make a fire wall. The steeper the slope, the faster the fire climbs. Plant gradually, using a mix of low growing, fire resistant plants. Gambel oak has tenacious roots, and can be pruned low to keep fuel load down.

Keep flammable material cleaned up and away from the house--gutters, firewood. Solvents and other chemicals must be stored safely.

You've created a defensible space. This is mandated by code in parts of the country like California where wildfire has been a terrible problem. These simple strategies have had amazing results there, and here in New Mexico too.There is a lot of material about this out there, and some conflict. Do some reading, carefully consider your own situation, and make informed choices using common sense.

I'll try to find some photos, and next post I'll talk about some structural things that you should think about. I also have a nice, big list of fire resistant plants that work well here if I can just but find it....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November 5, Snow Again

They said we'd get wind, and boy, we've already had gusting well over 50 mph, and into the 60's possible. Rain, grapple, sleet, snow.  All the little gaps in the insulation are showing! But the work we got done earlier in the fall has made a difference. The kitchen is much warmer, and we're burning less wood. When the wind drops, we'll cut the wind generator back on. So far the power is good but we'll probably have to fire up the diesel generator sometime today. Ah, life off the grid...

The real downside to this storm is that my warm, sunny greenhouse is cold and dark just when I really need to be working in there. My plug shipment came unexpectedly, and those plugs need to be repotted soon. We're expanding our selections of Plant Select material.

The Plant Select program is a collaboration between the Denver Botanical Garden, CSU, and growers to produce plants especially suited for Rocky Mountain growing conditions. At our altitude, we've found these plants to be exceptional performers, and better choices than many plants that grow well in Albuquerque or Santa Fe. The program adds new plants to their palette every year--we've selected nineteen, some new, some old favorites.

We love the Diascia, Coral Canyon, because it goes on heavily flowering into November despite freezing weather. The agastaches are drought tolerant natives that take our clay, are wonderfully fragrant, and came back for us after -30, despite their zone 5 designation. We'll have Sinning, Coronado Red, and Sunset.

Lavendar Mist is a perennial osteospermum. In addition to penstemons Pike's Peak, and Red Rocks, we'll off Bridges and Shadow Mountain. The Denver Daisy rudbeckia is new for us too, as well as a buckwheat, Psdowns, and Kintzley's Ghost honeysuckle. More about these later...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

November 2, 2011

So, it looks like the whitefly predator, the encarsia formosa, has hatched. I guess we'll just have to be patient, and wait for results. These critters are nearly impossible to spot without a microscope. That's the downside. I'm finding aphids and desperately want to spray, but don't want to kill my predators too. If I've got a plant that I'm pretty sure won't have them, I can try the SucraShield. It'll knock down any softbodied mite, aphid, whatever, and can be used even on veggies right up to the day of harvest.

Looking at blogs from other organic growers, I can see we're having many of the same issues. We are personally committed to organic methods (certified or not), but have to produce plants that can compete with plants that are bombarded with chemical pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. We are looking at baskets from local wholesalers that look like something from Disneyland (yes, they are luscious!), and wonder--are we cheating if we bring them in? We know they would sell, but still....