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The Xeric Zone > Foundations :: Landscape Climate Zones: Albuquerque area




Landscape Climate Zones: Albuquerque area
David Cristiani


When selecting plants for a successful, sustainable landscape, it is important to know the climate. While no two places are 100% identical, there are locations sharing enough common factors to be zoned together:

1.              Local climate (temperature and precipitation extremes and patterns, frontal movements, etc.)

2.              Native indicator plants and associations

3.              Topography and soils

It is always far more accurate to let an association of plants and their climate dictate a particular zone; not make up ones’ mind about a zone first and then skew the plants and climate to fit that zone.


This system responds to errors with existing climate zoning systems. USDA zones are common in the east, but basing plants on average annual extreme cold temperatures alone means little. Sunset Books’ zones are based on more factors, but their system often lacks accuracy east of the west coast states.


In the Albuquerque area, between the Jemez Mountains and Socorro County, a number of different factors meet (see map). This results in several landscape climate zones, having either above or below freezing winters:


Mesothermal Zones (coldest month mean temperature averages above 32F)

a. West Mesa and Heights Zone

The thermal belts above both sides of the Rio Grande valley and east of I-25; up to the Sandia foothills; some communities included are Rio Rancho, UNM, Uptown, and the warmest sections of Belen and Placitas. This is a semi-desert or in marginal areas, true desert. Native and adapted plants are mostly of mild winter origins, such as desert willow, honey mesquite, or agave

b. Foothills Zone

The foothills on the west side of the Sandia / Manzano Mountains, along with the southern Jemez Mountains, below about 7000 feet elevation; some communities included are Four Hills, Carnuel and points west in Tijeras Canyon, High Desert, Placitas, Sandia Heights, and Tent Rocks. This area, receiving more moisture is a mix of semi-desert, interior chaparral, and woodland. Native and adapted plants are similar to the West Mesa and Heights, but conditions permit additional species of milder winter origins including those from the Mexican Highlands, including evergreen oaks.

c. Valleys and Major Arroyos Zone

The Rio Grande valley floodplain and the larger arroyos that drain into the valley; some communities included are Albuquerque’s North and South Valleys (including the Country Club area), Belen, Bernalillo, Cochiti Pueblo, and Zia Pueblo. Native and adapted plants are similar to the above zones, except conditions often rule out those needing well-drained soils or that are tender to nighttime cold.


Microthermal Zones (coldest month mean temperature averages below 32F)

d. East Mountain Zone

The communities on the eastern side of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, which are far more exposed to cold fronts than the west side of the central mountain chain, including Cedar Crest, Sandia Park, east of Carnuel and points east in Tijeras Canyon, Tijeras, Tajique, and Mountainair. Native and adapted plants are often different than the first three zones, such as Gambel oak, ponderosa pine or viburnum; they are typically of cold winter origins including those from the lower Rocky Mountains, High Plains or Great Basin.

e. Eastern Highlands and Basins Zone

The plains and undrained basins at the eastern base of East Mountain areas, which are also exposed to plains fronts, but are lower and far enough from the mountains to have heavier soils, less moisture, higher daytime temperatures, and colder nights. Native and adapted plants are also of cold winter origins and limited moisture.




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