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Ready for spring

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Snowflakes and raindrops have pretty much been absent this winter and that means challenges for gardeners as spring approaches.

The lack of moisture – Albuquerque has had only one measurable but meager rainfall in more than four months – has led the local water authority to craft some drought specific watering tips to help diminish the long-term impact.

Despite warmer than usual temperatures, one deep watering should be sufficient this month, according to Albuquerque Bernalillo Water Utility Authority’s recommendations. Increase watering to once a week in March, twice weekly in April and May then three times a week in the summer. For now, the Water Authority doesn’t anticipate the need for mandatory restrictions or higher water waste fines.

“Thanks to decades of successful conservation efforts and the use of surface water, we have plenty of water ‘banked’ in our underground aquifer to ensure that we won’t run short – as long as we continue to use water responsibly over the long term,” said Katherine Yuhas, the Water Authority’s Water Resources Manager.

When planning your deep watering, it is important to ensure that trees on your property get a good drink.

“When the soil gets so dry as it has this winter, trees are really threatened,” said certified master arborist Bryan Suhr, president of the nonprofit Think Trees New Mexico.

Albuquerque and other New Mexico cities have experienced extensive tree loss in the past few years. Trees need water in the soil to grow the roots that power their spring flush of leaves.

Suhr advises watering as widely around the tree as possible. The height of the tree gives a good indication of how far out the root system stretches. Make sure the water penetrates to at least a depth of 12 inches. Check by poking a screwdriver into the ground. If the soil feels moist to the touch, there’s no need to water.

After watering, put down a 2-inch to 3-inch layer of mulch to hold in the moisture. Wood chips from a garden store will do, said Suhr.

Mick Gorospe, Hubbell Farm manager, leads a workshop on tree care and plant propagation. (Courtesy of Bernalillo County Open Space)

Bernalillo County Extension Service Horticulture Agent Sara Moran-Duran recommends spreading a layer of compost over flower beds. Remove weeds as they pop up, you don’t need them competing for the scarce water resources.

Bernalillo County Open Space Coordinator Colleen Langan-McRoberts said replacing high-water-use plants with native plants that are well adapted to dry conditions will help reduce the overall amount of water needed on your property.

Although the National Weather Service has predicted the dry weather will continue, installing rain barrels is a good way to capture precipitation when it finally comes.

She said property owners can also be more water efficient by constructing berms or swales on their land to direct any rain that falls toward trees and plants they want to water.

Bernalillo County Open Space is offering a free five-part series of workshops that teaches how to landscape your yard or garden in a way that is sustainable for this climate and local soil conditions.

The Landscape for Life: Spring Series consists of three-hour workshops from 9 a.m.-noon every other Saturday from Feb. 24 through April 21 at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House, 6029 Isleta Blvd. SW. Participants who attend all five sessions will receive a certificate and have a chance to win a free rain barrel or other items.

The workshops, based on a national program, cover topics such as the role of soil in a sustainable garden, harvesting and managing water, selecting plants and materials for sustainability.

“This has been a great program,” Langan-McRoberts said. “The homeowner can go back to their own yard and assess their own landscape and decide how to incorporate what they’ve learned.”