I am living up on the West Mesa in Belen, NM. The wind howls here a lot, usually from the southwest and there is not a huge amount of water. Got ideas for plants that will not break my pocketbook or well?
sorry I would love to be helpful but I know nothing about the desert other than what i have read. however, Gaia's Garden had a few sections on desert plants and so does Bill Mollison's Permaculture Design Course..avail on scribd for download
Bloom where you are planted.
Hi Schwahalla, I grew up in Los Lunas and live in Albuquerque now
I'm not an expert on windbreak species here - by any means - but I would maybe think about our native species that seem to do OK on their own. Ben Haggard (mentioned in the book Gaia's Garden for his work on a low-water use site in Los Alamos) wrote a paper on Pinon-Juniper guilds: http://www.permaculture.org/nm/images/uploads/Pinyon_Jumiper_Guild_Associations_by_Ben_Haggard.pdf. A PJ guild would be pretty short so not sure how tall you need (there are equations you can look up to determine height based on how far away the windbreak is from your house and other areas).
In general though, don't expect to establish trees on mesa land without help the first couple of years. Some watering, deep mulching, run off contouring, and something like mulch pits (holes dug near new trees and filled with absorbent materials like paper, compost, etc that you fill when watering trees to help give roots a longer lasting sponge to draw from).
That book also details some plants used in a site near Santa Fe. The extension offices may also have some good advice for you.
We finally used the euforbiacaea showed in Bill Mollison´s Global Garderner film ( in Africa), but it is tropical.
In drylands we normally try to combine four different types of plants: cactuses, Euforbiaceas, Agaves, and Bromelias. They all help to improve soil, are good companions for trees and most dryland regions have their own versions. They can make good thick windbreaks, and some can be planted rather large, so there can be instant effect.
Schwahalla, you should call Mike at Trees that Please. It's in Tome and he's permie-ish and super-knowledgeable tree guy. They probably sell whatever you need and he can help you plan for establishment.
my best suggestion is that you do a survey of plants that grow well in the vicinity in which you live..that would work for windbreaks..drive through the nearby towns and villages and hike through the wildernesses nearby and see what grows naturally without any extra work or irrigation.
and use those plants.
if you can, find some that will also do dual duty (as that is what permaculture is all about) maybe that provide food, or fuel, or forage, or shelter for wildlife..etc.
if you can mix your hedgerow with many different plants that you find in your area you will be hedging your bet so to speak against failure of all the plants, if just one species fails.
i always am amazed at when i find a new item to grow on my property cause i've seen it thriving in our neighborhood..i remember one plant that i grow here now that is very rambunctious, i saw growing as a hege near our town and stopped and asked about it, i was invited to take seeds and i did, and i grew them the next year, they grew huge and now have provided stability to a lot of areas of our property..sometimes a little more so than i would like
Bloom where you are planted.
An important consideration when choosing windbreak species:
The more it moves in the wind, the more energy it absorbs, and the more effective it is.
I might keep an eye out for trees that move a lot, that are currently doing well in your surroundings.
Maybe something in a mesquite?
The permaculture design manual also suggests building up vegetation in something of a wedge shape, with a row of tall species next to a row of medium-height species.
"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men. They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Okay, yes, I do have ideas. I have lived in & around Abq for about 10 years, including the West Mesa. Very familiar. I have done permacultural landscaping on my own & professionally.
There is a bunch of stuff you could get free, or very cheap.
It depends on a several factors:
How close will this windbreak be to your house? Will it be near an eave that will drip water on or near the plants? The closer the better, generally.
What side of your house will it be on? Plants on the South or West side of your house will really have a hard time with the reflected sunlight.
Will it run North-South, in some other direction? You can use one plant to shade the next, if you space them right. That way, the southern or western-most plant may need a lot of water, but the rest not as much.
In what direction does your land slope (even if slightly)? If you're on the West Mesa, I will assume it slopes down toward the east. If you can put a low berm to the east of your plants, you will create a natural swale that will catch water as it runs toward the river.
Call some local tree-trimming Companies in the Yellow Pages & ask if they will bring you some FREE wood chips. Many do, because they have to pay to dump them otherwise. Try Baca's Trees (though they are in the North Valley). They'll put you on a list, & deliver them when they're in your area. Be prepared for 8-12 cubic yards. Put it 2 to 6 inches deep everywhere you can, especially around your trees & in swales. It'll eventually break down & make the most amazing soil, which will help your windbreak plants grow roots everywhere. DO NOT till it in.
With those things in mind, I will reccomend some plants, going from most hardy to least.
1. Cholla. (Choy-ah) Check or post to Craigslist for it. People are always happy to give it away. Yes, its a cactus. A mean one, & our local species will grow from broken pieces laid on the ground to about 5 feet high. But it'll thrive where ver you put it, & makes an effective security fence. As a matter of fact, you can have all of mine. Please come take them.
2. River cane (Arundo Donax) Most people just think this is Bamboo. It's been planted all over Albuquerque, but doesn't seem to be invasive (like the species below) in our area. Tough to kill, & tougher to get rid of. If you see it growing in someone's yard, chances are they'll let you have some if you ask. Keep the roots wet till you plant it. It will live anywhere, but will grow best under your eaves or within a swale.
3. Siberian Elm - Yes, the hated elm. Most people have one or 10 in their yards here, & are happy to part with it. Take some small ones, they are often sold as hedge plants in catalogs. If you plant them close together they will keep each other small (& hedge-like) due to competition.
4. Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus Altissimus) - Another hated tree that will grow anywhere. Not quite as suited to a windbreak, but plant a bunch close together & they'll suffice. Again, free. You can literally pull them out of the sidewalk & plant them. Also, they smell bad.
5 Russian Olive. They might pay you to take these out of the Bosque. Very, very invasive in ripuarian areas here. I would rather you just left them to rot, but I have heard they provide exceptional habitat for some endangered bird species. I feel evil just mentioning it, but there's so many of them here it'd be like spitting on a fish. At least put em on the mesa where they have to struggle.
Those are the easy ones - the least amount of care, quickest route to creating a micro-climate in which you can grow something decent. In fact, once you have something decent established I would rip them out.
5. Juniper & Pinon - These are our native evergreens. They don't transplant well, which is why I reccomend setting up a microclimate to get them established. Again, I have too many on my property, & you are welcome to them. However, these are both subject to disease, especially if you plant them too close. If you're going to have them in a row, alternate pinon/juniper/something else, with at least 15 feet between 2 of any species.
That's the end of free. Everything else costs some money.
7. Tree New Mexico http://www.treenm.com/index.html used to sell trees from the Forestry Dept., & does give them away, but you have to plant them in a public right-of-way. I think they might have special deals for members.
What follows is a list based off the Forestry Dept.'s, ordered by suitability for your environment:
RUBBER RABBITBRUSH (CHAMISA)
- These two above are probably already growing in your yard, but the roots are so spread out you can't really transplant them from the wild. This is the sagebrush that grows on the mesas, but it might be too low to be called a "windbreak".
- These two above might be good to alternate with pinon/juniper.
LITTLE LEAF SUMAC
NEW MEXICO FORESTIERA (NM Privet)
Though not in the NM forestry list, & certainly more expensive, Oaks are the very best windbreak/hedge/scrub tree of coolness you can get for where you are. 200 or so years ago the greater Rio Grande Valley was an Oak savannah, before overgrazing & lack of fires allowed sagebrush, cholla, & pinon/juniper to take over.
So if you can spare $25-100, go down to Plants of the Southwest on 4th N. of Osuna & pick up as many
Wow, Lodhur, lots of great information. Since I made that post, I have been taking the Permaculture Design class in ABQ and realize all the basic prep. (sheet mulching, sponging, digging swales) I need to do first before I plant anything. I just realized that I missed the fall Dept of Forestry trees and shrubs, but I plan on ordering for spring, potting up what I get and letting them grow through summer, then hopefully I will have enough sponge areas set up by next fall to start planting like crazy.
One of the instructors in my class suggested I create some windbreak walls from something that is quite plentiful on the mesa--old tires. Aesthetics is not something that I'm all that worried about.
I'm not desert savvy either, but I would suggest wandering around and seeing what bushy type trees are thriving in your area and go with those..you probably could beg some cuttings off of some neighbors or find cuttings in the wild or maybe even baby plants or seeds..
You may have to protect your babies for a while with a fence or some type of barrier from the wind and maybe sun, and also supplemental watering to get them started...and of course as much mulch as you can come up with..maybe a gravel mulch..might also put the starts in a shallow trench filled with gravel, as the gravel might gather condesation at night to help water them and keep animals from digging them up
Bloom where you are planted.
Scott is still running it and has presented a couple topics. Michael Reed, Christian Mueli, Leslie, Zoe and Bart, Jen Zawaki have all taught classes in their specialty areas. It has really been an amazing experience. Totally worth the time and money invested. It's a great community to be a part of.
Thank you for the offer of the plants. Once I get some sponges dug, and some passive water harvesting going, I will take you up on your offer.
That is a really big piece of pie for such a tiny ad: