We are living in a time when our climate is going through rapid changes. Winter days have gotten warmer, and very cold nights are decreasing in number. The decrease in snowpack and early snowmelt that volatilizes before it soaks into the soil are creating drier watersheds, which are vulnerable to fires that can affect our water quality. Reduced snowpack affects streamflow. In order to take care of our Albuquerque landscapes, we need to rely on groundwater. When there’s a lack of precipitation, groundwater recharge is adversely affected. Less precipitation also means drier soils with little reserve moisture to maintain existing vegetation. Even if precipitation amounts don’t diminish, warmer temperatures affect evaporation rates from plant leaves and add to water stress. Supplemental irrigation demand is going to surge to maintain healthy landscapes. We need to implement adaptation strategies, like proper plant selection and smart watering methods, to make climate-ready landscapes a reality in Albuquerque.  

We can prepare our landscapes for hotter summer daytime temperatures and warmer winters by following these strategies:

  1. Shade surfaces: Plant trees and large shrubs against walls and near concrete to buffer sunbaked paving and cool walls that absorb heat during the day. By doing this, temperatures can be reduced by five degrees in urban areas.
  2. Capture rainwater: Design paving to capture rainwater that can be diverted to plants using the passive rainwater harvesting method.
  3. Choose desert-friendly plants: The plants we choose need to be adapted to a broad temperature range and grow well with less moisture. Choose rain water only or low-water plants found on the Xeriscape Plant List.  
  4. Plant climate-ready trees: Check out the Climate Ready Tree list. This science-based list of trees that are most likely to survive our changing climate was put together by a diverse group of plant professionals. In mid-century, Albuquerque is projected to become as hot as El Paso, Texas. By the end of this century, our climate will become like present-day Tucson, Arizona.
  5. Mulch everything:  Mulch insulates plant roots from both heat and cold, reducing moisture loss from the soil by evaporation, feeding beneficial soil microorganisms that enhance plant growth and improving soil health. Install 3-4” of mulch over bare dirt to reduce weeds, to enrich the soil and around all new plants to retain the moisture.
  6. Remove or reduce turfgrass lawns: Lawns require 40 inches of water a year, compared with the 8 inches that Albuquerque gets. The greatest value of a cool- season turf is its resilience as a play surface, so if you aren’t regularly using it, consider removing it or installing a low-water grass or meadow.
  7. Incorporate smart irrigation practices: Smart irrigation devices like smart controllers adjust the watering times based on local weather, thus saving water. Drip irrigation delivers water directly to plants. Efficient rotary spray heads reduce water use by 30% or more compared with regular spray heads.

By using these climate-ready practices, it will take less water to create a greener city, support wildlife and keep our community cooler.

Learn more by checking out these other useful drought articles:

How to care for your winter landscape this season.

Harvest Rainwater in your Yard

Make Getting a Xeriscape Rebate your New Year’s Resolution

Author: Judith Phillips, owner of Design Oasis, landscape designer, and garden writer with 30 years of experience designing arid-adapted and native gardens in the high desert.  Have a question about the article? AskAnExpert@abcwua.org