Gardening in the Desert of Southwest New Mexico

Living in the dry high desert of New Mexico brings all kinds of challenges and recently the challenge was gardening.  The Painted Pony Resort was originally built as a private estate with 225,000 square feet of landscaping.  Running from the north side of the guest house south to the hanger and from the west side of the property to the runway there are several hundred watering heads in 6 zones controlled by 2 irrigation controllers and keeping everything running properly takes some effort.  There are a number of pine trees on the property as well as many individual planters scattered around the 3 main buildings and the pool.  Unfortunately, no information about the watering system was provided when the estate changed hands.  The irrigation was not functioning and several trees were dead as well as a number of empty planters.  Getting the irrigation restarted took some time but after draining and cleaning one of the water storage tanks of sediment and cleaning clogged irrigation lines everything appeared well.

The combination of strong rains last monsoon season and good winter rains resulted in a profusion of poppies this year, so it came as a surprise when as spring approached a number of trees began losing leaves and the perennials in one large planting area did not return.  Yet at the same time other trees on the property were leafing out.  The last major hand watering had taken place about a month ago when a number of plants were fertilized so this unexpected die back had been postponed. Investigation into the mysteries of the irrigation system started with testing water flow at the solenoid valves.  The first step was manually turning on each zone and checking for flow at the valve then walking the property looking for evidence of water.  Positive results were obtained for several zones but not all and some closely space planters were not all receiving water.  Next the irrigation heads were inspected, since many irrigation heads were originally clogged this explanation seemed a likely possibility for the lack of water.  Recovering the locations of irrigation heads is still an ongoing process but those recovered did not appear clogged nor were the drip lines.  Some irrigation heads had metal installed and could be located with a metal detector unfortunately most did not.  The next step involved deduction, what is the irrigation pattern?  What zones deliver water to which planters? This process involved back flushing from each watering head to the solenoid valve.  It turns out that all the zones meet on the west side of the property and a number of closely spaced planters receive water from different zones, explaining the lack of water at some irrigation heads when manually testing.  Working out the planter/zone relationships is ongoing and a map will be completed.  Finally, testing each zone from each controller revealed several solenoids that had stopped working or were working intermittently.  So new solenoids were ordered and hopefully this will solve the problem.  The best bet for desert gardens are drought tolerant low water water plants like Yuccas and other native desert adapted plants and avoid high maintenance species.

recovering perennial

Yucca in bloom


  1. That watering system seemed pretty confusing when I came by to you a week ago. The Yucca sure looks nice!

  2. Yes, everything I thought I had figured out about the system was incorrect, but everything is greening up nicely around here and all the trees are leafing out. It will take another couple of weeks to find the rest of the watering heads (digging up around each planter) but I'm making progress. And the pool is between 80 and 85.

  3. This looks amazing wow, good set-up. So glad I don't live in a desert, looks like so much more work

  4. Thank you. With over 250 irrigation heads scattered about the property, making sure everything is in working order takes a significant amount of time. But the results make it worthwhile, an oasis in the high New Mexican desert.