zone pushing in Santa Fe, NM
This message is partly in response to all of the amazing threads I have been reading about growing things like palms in Albuquerque, for instance. I really applaud those who are doing it. I'd love to hear about people's experiences in Santa Fe too!
I am relatively new to Santa Fe and am enjoying growing all kinds of things from seed (like yuccas, agaves, mesquite, palms, etc.) both in the house and garage. I intend to try some of these outdoors one day (once I own a home) and am constantly noting the types of things I see planted around town.
Although at the nurseries they refer to Santa Fe as zone 5, nearly all of the newer books clearly show us in zone 6 (more accurately 6a). Looking at the weather data from the past 30 years, the latter is clearly more appropriate. Just because -18 was reached at some point in the last century (and could happen again) does not mean THE AVERAGE ANNUAL MINIMUM temperature is in the -10 to -20 range.
In any event, for anyone who's interested, the following plants cane be seen in Santa Fe, many are very common, and all are often listed as hardy to zone 7 or so (I realize they are very very common in Albuquerque so this may not be interesting for folks from there)
Palm Yucca (all over the place, all sizes, rarely in warm microclimates)
Soaptree Yucca (and look-alikes, I haven't sorted out species yet)
Unknown LARGE Agave, not one of the above
Calla Lily (west facing wall of friend's courtyard)
Barrel Cactus (no protection, flat ground)
So I guess my first question is, why is there such conservatism when it comes to zone ratings for plants? Even something fully suited to a particular zone has a chance of dying in a given year due to any number of things.
My next question is, are there people in the Santa Fe area (or any nearby similar zone) growing any unusual plants? I would like to see some more lower desert species, such as mesquites, large agaves, large cacti and many others incorporated into the landscapes here, especially for their beauty and drought tolerance. I love the "natural" landscape look of most of residential Santa Fe, where the native vegetation is left virtually intact at the expense of lawns and such, but if you must plant something, it might as well be of particular interest.
As a side note, I'm wondering if anyone in the area has tried a "seasonal greenhouse" for in-the-ground tender plants, in which a temporary wall (of straw bales for instance) is constructed on the north, east, and west sides, and plastic is stretched over the south during the cold months? I've noticed my unheated, uninsulated garage, which is separate from the house, has maintained above-freezing temperatures so far all winter due to three small south-facing windows and a good deal of thermal mass in the floor.