Surviving the New Mexico summer of 2011


It’s the first day of fall with the arrival of the fall equinox (equal night and equal day length as summer officially changes to fall) Without question, the spring and summer of 2011 were the most traumatic I’ve ever had to deal with. I’ve been remiss in posting my blogs. But, as someone who lives and breathes plants, gardening and my business, I was in the dumps, mired in depression about all the climatic and economic bad news.

We started 2011 in the iron grip of La Nina which pushed all our winter moisture to the north leaving NM , AZ, TX and surrounding Southern Plains high and dry. Spring was windy and parched but the winds continued 6 weeks longer through the end of June, often providing us with sustained 30 MPH winds for days at a time. It was like trying to garden under a hairdryer. By early summer it was declared that we’re in a one hundred year drought according to weather records keep since 1893.

Then the forest fires started. Huge fires in eastern AZ started up in May charred nearly a million acres of forest and grasslands. The smoke blew east and covered us for weeks, Then came the Pacheco fire in the mountains just east of Santa Fe. Returning from a speaking trip to Salt Lake City, I could see the fire just getting started, burning up toward our watershed. Nearly a week later the largest fire in NM history, the Las Conchas (over 150,000 acres scrorched) started above Los Alamos, in our direct view just west of Santa Fe. Many ancient trees and beautiful mountain forests that I and so many others loved were incinerated. It is a deep hurt, a lingering hurt, like a death in the family. With accelerating climate change and the worsening droughts in the SW, many of these areas will never re-grow to their former glory.

As if it were not possible, my outlook darkened even more when what looked like an early start to the monsoon rains in late June (which supply at least 60% + of our annual precipitation) fizzled and the temperatures just got hotter and hotter. Albuquerque has had the hottest August on record! Finally 7 weeks late the rains finally began to fall around Santa Fe but have mostly bypassed Albuquerque. I’ve measured only about 5” for the year to date at my house and less at the Greenhouse. The storms have been sporadic not giving us our usual statewide soaking, but at least some parts of NM and AZ have finally turned green. These Maximilian Sunflowers are bringing joy to all who drive past the Greenhouse, strutting their stuff this week after only a couple of soaking late August storms.

The monsoons have come to a close as they always do in late September. A temporary reprieve in what appears to be a continuing drought, but at least for the fall the prairies around Santa Fe are green and the rains have brought some much needed life to my gardens from the sky. And for the moment, I feel like writing again.

4 thoughts on “Surviving the New Mexico summer of 2011”

  • Linda Leeper
    Linda Leeper 10/01/11 at 7:16 am

    I know this sounds awful, but I was glad to hear that someone else feels as sad and pained as I do! Here just outside of Las Cruces, on the west side of the Organ Mountains, it has been catastrophic; three, -14 degree mornings in a row in late winter, less than 3" of rainfall so far this year and winds sometimes exceeding 50 miles/hour.

    1. Three Mexican Elders on my patio--20' to 30' tall--are being cut down to half that size with surviving tiny sprouts which often don't survive the big winds that come in the middle of the night. In the course of trimming, the columbine which surround these trees has been badly trampled. (Also smooshed, my HCG plumbago,which was particularly gorgeous this year.)

    2. Dead Palo Verde trees taller than my house, but with (now) 3-4' sprouts--still haven't figured out how to cut down the dead wood without total destruction of surrounding plants and also removal from inside my 5' walls on my patio.

    3. Bulbs, plants, seeds that are blooming at odd times (like now!)--I don't know whether to call some of my iris re-bloomers or just slackers!

    4. Big water bills and the ensuing guilt resulting from my non-conservation hogishness.

    My front and back gardens are filled with your plants. Having gardens in Kentucky, Florida and California, I had a lot to learn about gardening in a xeric environment. Your online info and healthy plants have contributed to a crowded, cottage-style garden with a rotation of blooms and beautiful leaves that I didn't think would be possible in this climate. I'm broke, but happy (with reservations this year, however). Thank you!

    • David Salman

      This has definitely been the most challenging year of gardening I've personally ever experienced. Damage from the extreme cold extended north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The drought conditions that followed were just insult to injury. But, yes using the right plants can make your gardening efforts worthwhile. Hang in there. As we eternally optimistic gardeners say. "there is always next year".

  • the invisible gardener
    the invisible gardener 11/17/11 at 2:55 pm

    even here in Louisiana we've had a drought that put my water bill at $150.00. the bright side- i just planted over 200 agave in my yard.

  • vince

    Dave, I live in metro Detroit and we have had the 2nd rainiest year in 300 history of Detroit we've had 46 inches !! our normal rain fall here is 32 inches. I lost a beautiful E. Reichenbachii I've had for 5 years I never seen so much rain here in Michigan if I could I would send some rain your way.

    thanks always for your help


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