When I first started gardening in Santa Fe twenty years ago, we had an awesome nursery in town…

The gardening nursery with, in my opinion, the BEST educational opportunities for the public, was called Santa Fe Greenhouses, owned by David and Ava Salman.

Gardeners, landscapers, and gawkers could learn anything and everything about landscaping and gardening in Santa Fe at David and Ava’s nursery. Eventually, they chose to give up the greenhouse business and, instead, focus on David’s developments for High Country Gardens.

Santa Fe Greenhouses offered a series of ten workshops for $100 and I signed up for ALL of them. There were great topics: Gardening for bees, bringing color into the garden, rainwater harvesting for drylands, designing with nature, etc. I got to meet some of the top people in landscaping like Judith Philips, Brad Lancaster, and Nate Downey. I would use the information in the workshops in my own garden and later apply them to friends’ gardens and to the general public’s gardens.

I learned a lot from David and his deep passion for plants during the gardening workshops in Santa Fe.

Among the things David taught me: Do not try to hand water! “Most people do not have the patience to stand there for as long as it would take to do a proper job. If you’re not going to use an irrigation system, then get a sprinkler, set the timer for 20-30 minutes, and then move the sprinkler.” (With ADD I am infamously guilty of underwatering when I try to do it by hand.) He may have changed his advice since then, but, it offered me a good backup watering guide.

When it comes to choosing a watering system, make sure you know what kind of soil you have. Clay soil can hold water for a really long time, which is great, but sandy soil doesn’t hold onto much. Sandy soils will need to be watered more frequently. Then consider your plants’ individual needs. Some plants, like lavender, don’t like their feet wet.

Our soil, whether clay or sandy, is very hydrophobic. This means that if the soil is dry, there is a crust that water will roll right off, especially initially.

If you ARE hand watering and you notice that plants aren’t coming back, here are 9 things you can do while you stand there for 20-30 minutes at a time.

  1. Call a relative.
  2. Put on the headphones and sing.
  3. Memorize a poem (Remember doing this? My 102-year-old friend, Alice, recites poetry and I love it!)
  4. Learn/compose a new joke.
  5. Talk to a plant or tree that has been struggling and listen.
  6. Listen to your favorite podcast or something new you’ve heard good things about.
  7. Invite a friend over for a garden work exchange.
  8. Choose a mantra, prayer, or affirmation, and see if you can recite/believe it the whole time!
  9. Practice a meditation while you stand still and nourish your plant friends.

I spend most of the fair weather outside, now much more protected with sunscreen than I used to be (my dermatologist is quite pleased with me) and do moisture probing in my vegetable gardens.

What is moisture probing and why is it important to learn for gardening in the Southwest?

For vegetables and perennials, you want to make sure that a day after watering, the water has penetrated to 12” for established vegetation. The simplest thing is to take a dry stick and be sure the soil is fairly penetrable. If the soil sticks to the stick, then you’re good for a while.

Clay soil is notoriously dense, so, breaking up your soil, initially, and regularly, is a must. The benefit is that clay soil holds onto moisture for up to 30 days 12” down. This varies, of course by the local vegetation.

In permaculture, where you’re trying to create a guild of plants, the approach will be very different. When you’re ready to step it up a notch by living more closely with the land, plant selections should be based more on habitat and food production. Eventually, watering with only rainwater and growing what works best in our soil will be the ultimate reward. Humans and local wildlife will join you in your garden party!

Vegetables in your garden need frequent watering and irrigation systems need to be frequently recalibrated to the changing needs of the crop.

The most frequent error of high desert gardening is underwatering. The other frequent error is overwatering.  I initially made the latter error. I babied my plants too much. My goal now is to use only plants that will naturally exist after the irrigation systems are no longer available.

That’s the toughest bridge my field needs to cross. How can we get people to use our precious drinking water at least three times before it goes underground? Greywater systems, and cistern catchment are a great resource. Look to your downspouts to see where water naturally collects.

What a wonderful time to live and adjust! As you learn, don’t be too hard on yourself! Gardening can be really tough in this climate where water is even more precious!!

Post your gardening watering tips here in the comments!

My grandma used to say that there were 100 ways to skin a cat. That sounds gross, but you get what I mean. Let’s share more about what we’ve all learned!

When all else fails, set an alarm and do something else while your plants get a good deep drink.

Happy gardening!