En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - July 26, 2010

From: Albuquerque, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like, Vines
Title: Fast-growing vine for cinder block wall in Albuquerque
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Albuquerque, N.M. and have a cement/cinder block wall and was wondering if there is a vine I can plant which will be easy to grow, grow fast and cover my wall without any type of help like a trellis? Would prefer something not too invasive. Thanks Mr. Smarty Pants.


Albuquerque, in Bernalillo County of New Mexico, west central New Mexico is very arid and the USDA Hardiness Zones vary from 6b to 7a, because of canyons and mesas around the city. We are going to go to our Native Plant Database and search on "vines" for New Mexico. You didn't say how much sunlight the plants would have, but growing there against a cement wall, the heat would be pretty intense. We just flew into and then out of Albuquerque, and coming down from 8500 ft. in a ski resort was a big shock with the heat and dry air.

Okay, we're back from our Native Plant Database, and we struck out. There are not many vines native to New Mexico, and most of them are pretty unattractive.  What few vines were a possibility were definitely going to need support, as in a trellis. They are all deciduous, and we are pretty sure you want something that will soften that cinder block wall and not scraggly vine canes. So, let's try a different approach. 

First, clean the wall up and clear out any weeds or debris around it. Then, buy a can of masonry paint tinted a nice warm color; in Albuquerque, we would personally like an adobe color, but it's also a good place for sky-blue or bright pink or whatever suits your fancy.  When that's all done and dry, work a little compost into the soil where you are going to plant, in front of the wall. You can purchase compost in bags at any nursery, or build your own compost pile, but that takes a while. The compost will add nutrients to the soil, and make nutrients from the soil more available to plant roots. And since your soil is most likely caliche, you will give the new young roots a break before they have to dig into that. 

What we are going to suggest for that space is ornamental native grasses. Some of them will be attractive all year, and hold their place in front of the wall. These are not mowable lawn-type grasses, but tall prairie grasses. Most of them will hold their place all year, require low watering and maintenance is cutting them back to about 6 inches in early Spring. All of them are native to your area and adapted over eons to the conditions in the environment. Follow each plant link to learn projected size, light requirements and habits.

Native Grasses for Albuquerque:

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana (silver beardgrass)

Chloris virgata (feather fingergrass)

Elymus elymoides ssp. brevifolius (squirreltail)

Hordeum jubatum (foxtail barley)

Muhlenbergia arenicola (sand muhly)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Andropogon gerardii

Sporobolus compositus

Chloris virgata

Elymus elymoides ssp. brevifolius

Hordeum jubatum

Muhlenbergia arenicola

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans





More Compost and Mulch Questions

Brown leaves on possumhaw holly in Grandview TX
July 02, 2009 - What would be likely causes for brown leaves on possumhaw holly? We have 2, one was planted in spring 2008, and a slightly larger one planted late winter/early spring this year. Most of the leaves a...
view the full question and answer

Stubs of Texas Star Hibiscus in Abilene, TX
March 26, 2009 - We have cut back our outdoor Texas Star Hibiscus for 4 years and now have a large number of old stubs that the new growth must navigate around. Will it kill the plant if we dig up the old stubs? At so...
view the full question and answer

Are Eastern White Pine suitable for Waxhaw NC
February 13, 2011 - Pinus strobus ( White Pine )- I wish to plant four of these evergreens along our property lines as a screen. Our county is selling one foot plants in a container. Our soil is clay. Are these t...
view the full question and answer

Desert willows not doing well in Navarro County, TX
May 16, 2009 - Planted 3 new desert willows , 3-4 ft.in February. Live in East Navarro County and soil is clay with slight slope to Richland Chambers lake area. Had a wet spring. These plantings appear not doing we...
view the full question and answer

Area needing soil amendment in San Diego
December 02, 2009 - I have a dirt area in the corner where my fence comes together. The dirt is clay-like and during the winter the area gets very little, if any, sun and during the summer it gets 4-6 hours of sun. Wha...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center