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Spring won’t wait: Help available online, by phone for New Mexico gardeners

An Echinocereus cactus displays its beautiful blooms. (Courtesy of Ralph Peters)

Many New Mexicans have taken to their yards to de-stress through gardening.

It is also the time of year when local plant and flower societies normally have their annual shows and sales that have now been canceled to observe social distancing. But thanks to technology, novice and advanced gardeners can seek help from various societies through their websites, social media, telephone and email.

Helen Crotty of the Albuquerque Aril and Iris Society is taking phone calls from people who have questions regarding the specific flower types. She can be reached at 281-2136. The society’s website is albuquerquearilandirissociety.com. The society had to cancel its iris show scheduled for April 26 and hopes its iris rhizome sale goes on as scheduled on July 11 at the Albuquerque Garden Center.

Crotty recommends waiting until August or September to plant iris rhizomes.

An Arilbred Iris Bold Awakening shows off a bright and exotic blossom. (Courtesy of Helen Crotty)

“Now is not the time to plant bare-root iris rhizomes, but potted irises would be good if you can find them,” Crotty said. “Now would be a good time to prepare a bed for irises. You need good drainage (a raised bed is desirable) and at least six hours of summer sunshine. The soil should be acid-neutral or slightly alkaline, which most New Mexico soil is. Mushroom compost is a good amendment.”

Crotty suggests digging up irises and dividing the clumps every three years. When irises are crowded, they stop blooming because the rhizomes climb over one another.

“One thing they don’t like is too much water, so they’re a good plant for New Mexico,” Crotty said. “They want good drainage and not too much water and sunshine. You can pot them temporarily, unless you have a big pot. They’re not too happy in the pot. It keeps them alive. They will bloom, but they really want to be in the soil. They’re not an indoor plant normally.”

Indoors orchids are a great way to brighten up a home.

“From a personal aspect, being self-quarantined, or whatever they’re calling it these days, is it lets you spend a lot more time with your own plants,” said Keith Mead of the New Mexico Orchid Guild. “It’s a perfect time to clean up your growing area and repot and all the things that you never seem to find time for.”

Mead suggests starting out with a Phalaenopsis, also known as a moth orchid.

“They’re easy to take care of,” Mead said. “(Trader Joe’s) always have a great selection, and they’re inexpensive, so that’s a good place to start. It

A delicate orchid dazzles with vibrant lilac-and-white petals. (Courtesy of the New Mexico Orchid Guild)

would certainly brighten up a house for a while. That’s what we recommend for beginners.”

Two members of the New Mexico Orchid Guild have their own commercial orchid businesses: High Desert Orchids in Albuquerque and New Earth Orchids in Santa Fe. Orchids can be ordered from their websites. Information on caring for orchids is available on the New Mexico Orchid Guild’s Facebook page and at nmorchidguild.org.

The New Mexico Orchid Guild usually has its show and sale in the spring but decided to move the date to the fall. The event will take place in October at the Albuquerque Garden Center.

Outdoors or indoors, there is a cactus or succulent that will adapt. Ralph Peters of the Cactus and Succulent Society of New Mexico has a few suggestions for people looking for flowering cacti.

“If they have some room and they like a plant with really big flowers that bloom two or three or four times a summer, there’s a group of plants from South America that you have to take inside in the winter called Trichocereus,” Peters said.

Another group Peters recommends is Echinocereus.

Cactus and Succulent Society of New Mexico had to cancel its sale and show scheduled for April but will have many of its plants on display during Labor Day weekend at the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden. For now, people can visit the society’s Facebook page and website at new-mexico.cactus-society.org.

“We will be quite happy to help people,” Peters said. “There’s also a Facebook page called Cactus and Succulent Society of New Mexico, and we have people on there all the time asking questions. … If you have what you consider an off-the-wall question, you will probably find someone who grows that plant or knows something about it.”

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