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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





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