I received this question from the contact tab on our website yesterday.

Question: Say your brother had some land on the Pecos River and wanted to plant some trees on a “shelf” in the river. That is, the water level would only be a few feet below the surface.
What should he plant? He wants to do fruit trees, but I think it may be too salty. How would he check?
Cottonwoods are another thought, but he claims that only seedless cottonwoods are sold in NM now, and they are not the great majestic trees that we love in the bosque.

Answer: Planting trees on the flood plain of the Pecos should not be a problem. Once the roots reach the water table the trees will never need supplemental irrigation so that’s advantageous. Fruit trees should work well because they are relatively shallow rooted. Certainly, people living in the flood plain of the Rio Grande in the North Valley seem to have no problem with fruit trees or any other kind of tree and I don’t see that the Pecos is any different. A friend of mine in Corralles has a successful apple orchard with 57 different varieties and the water table is very close to the surface.

He could talk to the Master Gardeners at NMSU Cooperative Extension on Rodeo Road (by the rodeo grounds) for advice regarding salinity issues on the upper Pecos. Also, check with the Santa Fe County Extension Agent at NMSU in the same office. Both the Rio Grande and the Pecos increase in salinity in their lower reaches but the upper reaches in Northern New Mexico are not salty to my knowledge.

Talk to the Master Gardeners as to which fruit tree cultivars perform best in that area. Also, chat with adjacent landowners and find out which cultivars work well for them. Apple cultivars that bloom late might avoid late spring killing frost, for example, and provide better yields. Planting the wrong cultivar can lead to major disappointments.

Regarding cottonwoods. All cottonwood species have male trees that produce pollen and female trees that produce seeds. They’re dioecious. It’s the cottonwood seeds produced by the female trees that float about in the air on the fluffy cotton attached to the seed. It is now illegal to plant female trees because they produce so much cotton. All the cottonless cottonwood trees are just male trees. All the great majestic trees that we know and love in the bosque are either male (cottonless and legal) or female (illegal). The trick is to get the right species of cottonwood. There are many different kinds of cottonwoods. Look for Populus fremontii. Local nurseries may carry other species or interspecific hybrids and they may or may not know the difference. Plants of the Southwest, in Santa Fe, will have what you want and it will be correctly identified and properly labelled.

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