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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Demonstration Tree Plot to Promote Drought- and Pest-Resistant Species

SANTA FE-As drought and bark beetles devour northern New Mexico landscapes, the City of Santa Fe and New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service are teaming up to replace dying trees with drought- and pest-resistant species.

Fabian Chavez III from Santa Fe Parks and Recreation and Extension agricultural agent Patrick Torres examine two shumard oak trees for planting in a new demonstration tree plot in Santa Fe. The plot, next to the city's Marty Sanchez Golf Course, will have about 40 varieties of drought- and pest-resistant trees. (08/25/2003) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Kevin Robinson-Avila)

Santa Fe County Extension staff and Parks and Recreation Department personnel are planting a demonstration tree plot with dozens of varieties of moderate to fast-growing native and nonnative trees. Starting in spring 2004, residents can tour the plot to learn about species that are well adapted to northern New Mexico's climate but not commonly planted in local landscapes.

"It will be a permanent demonstration garden with drought-tolerant trees that have strong resistance to diseases and insects," said Patrick Torres, Extension agricultural agent. "We hope it encourages people to plant these species around their homes and businesses. They grow well in local conditions, and they're beautiful trees."

Torres and project partner Fabian Chavez III, integrated pest management manager for Parks and Recreation, aim to repopulate local landscapes with trees that help conserve water and reduce pesticide use.

"Our landscapes are crowded with trees and shrubs that consume a lot of water and are vulnerable to disease and insects," Chavez said. "That's not sustainable in a high desert climate like ours where we're probably facing another 20 to 25 years of drought. There's a lot of native and nonnative species that can survive well in these conditions, so we need to promote them."

Some of the species chosen for the demonstration garden are native to the Southwest, including big tooth maple, osage orange and three types of oak-sawtooth, shumard and burr-Torres said. Others come from high desert climates in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, including Japanese lilac, canyon hackberry, Manchurian ash, dawn redwood and golden rain.

Native species, particularly the oak trees, grew abundantly in New Mexico in the past, but over many generations, settlers cut down stands for firewood and other purposes and introduced nonnative species, Chavez said.

In addition, many homeowners and landscapers mistakenly believe oaks and other drought-tolerant native trees are slow growing, so they plant other trees, Torres said.

"It's a misconception," he said. "These native oak varieties grow much faster than oaks in other parts of the country. Within 6 to 8 years they can have a pretty substantial canopy on them."

Shumard oaks, for example, are long-lived shade trees that can grow quickly once established, Chavez said. "Shumard oak transplants will sit the first season, but then they can put on 4 or 5 feet per year," Chavez said.

Torres and Chavez will plant up to four samples of each tree variety on a 1.5-acre plot next to the city-owned Marty Sanchez Golf Course in northwest Santa Fe. Transplants range from one-half inch to 1.5 inches in diameter, and about 3 to 5 feet tall, Chavez said.

City workers already tilled and mulched the soil. Planting will begin in late August, with at least 50 to 60 trees in by late September, Chavez said. Within 2 to 3 years, the plot will have about 140 trees with some 40 different varieties.

NMSU's Water Task Force provided $5,000 to buy tree starts and other materials under the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, a joint project with Texas A&M University to study and teach about water conservation and quality along the Rio Grande corridor. The city is contributing another $5,000 in materials and services, including plot maintenance.

All water for the plot will come from the Santa Fe Waste Water Treatment Plant, which has direct pipelines to irrigate the golf course. Torres and Chavez will track water use and tree growth. They will make the data available to visitors at an information booth on the plot, Chavez said.

All trees will be under drip irrigation to show how those systems conserve water and demonstrate proper installation and maintenance, Torres said.

Next year, Extension and Parks and Recreation will team up for another demonstration project to compare water use and growth of three different drought-tolerant turfgrasses-buffalo, blue grama and zoysia-with the traditional, cool-season "park mix" grass currently used in landscapes. The plot will also show how subsurface irrigation saves water compared with sprinkler systems, Torres said.

Extension already has two water-conservation projects in Santa Fe financed by the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, Torres said. One is a demonstration herb garden at the county Extension office that shows how drip irrigation and mulch help save water and reduce weeds. It also demonstrates local adaptability of about 30 varieties of culinary and ornamental herbs.

Next spring, Extension will offer three-week classes on installing and maintaining drip systems in home gardens and landscapes, Torres said.

To visit the demonstration herb garden, or for more information about the classes and other projects, call Torres at (505) 471-4711.