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Mystery plant could be sand verbena

Q. We get this lovely plant year after year growing in our backyard, as it reseeds itself. It grows fast and really well in our sandy soil. Could it be sand verbena? I’ve searched sand verbena, but the pictures don’t look the same as what we have. … It’s a mystery plant! – JM, Rio Rancho.

A. Years ago, while I was working at Rowland Nursery, a customer brought in a sample of the exact plant your photo references. We asked the in-house Tracey Fitzgibbonlandscape designer, Penny Genter, if she had a clue as to what the plant was. Without skipping a beat, she said it was sand verbena.

Looking in the “Western Garden Book,” we found sand verbena, or Abronia villosa. Searching online for Abronia villosa, the pictures don’t match – especially the foliage – but if you can click on a botanical drawing of the Abronia, the similarities are marked, especially the winged seedpod and the bloom spike before they fade.

Yours is so upright in the way it grows, I’m not truly confident that’s the plant you have. A mystery indeed!

Because of habitat destruction, sand verbenas are not common, so I want you to treasure this delight! For all the poking about and recall I have, I’m again not confident, but will say you have some variety of sand verbena.

I did find a website,, that lists the Abronia as available, making me even more convinced that you have a rarity growing in your world.

Q. I was given a tomato plant that is long and leggy right now. Several weak and lazy sets of leaves are along the stem, with a larger concentration of growth nearing the top. Is there anything I can do to it to make it a bit more healthy and manageable? – G.V., Albuquerque

A. There are a few things you can try.

If you’re growing it in the ground, try this. First, snip off several of the sets of the lazy leaves growing below the main concentration of growth. Do this at least 12 hours before continuing with the rest of this project.

Allow the plant to get a bit on the dry side so it’s more droopy and pliable. Next, have a trench dug next to your plant. Your aim is to tilt the tomato, so it is lying in the trench with some of the stem and the concentrated growth able to be “turned” so that part is above ground level.

That’s why you want the plant droopy and pliable. You are going to manipulate it – very gently – so the majority of the stem/stalk is in the trench. You bend, or rather urge, the healthy part of the tomato upward.

Once the plant is lying down, cover the naked stem with soil. You can pin it down with landscape pins if needed. Cutting up a wire clothes hanger and making U-shaped pins will also work. I wouldn’t set a rock or anything heavy along the stem to keep it in the trench.

Once buried, the stalk will root all along that stem, growing a sturdier way for the tomato to support itself. I’d also recommend using a tomato cage.

You can essentially do the same thing if the tomato is growing in a pot. Making sure the pot is quite deep, bury the leafless stem/stalk to give you a shortened plant. Make sure that it’s planted in a space that offers enough sunlight but doesn’t get cooked. I hope that helps.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to