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Gardening with Laurie: Sweet peas offer variety for your landscape

Nov. 23, 2011 at 5:23 a.m.
Updated Nov. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

Laurie Garreston

By Laurie Garretson

One of my favorite flowers of all time has got to be sweet peas. Their butterfly wing-shaped flowers and their heavenly fragrance can easily make these beauties the star attraction of any garden. Wonderful as cut flowers, they will add a delicious scent indoors that is never overpowering.

You don't often see sweet peas growing in many landscapes. Pansies are usually the most popular cool-weather annual selection. I don't have anything against pansies, but sometimes, it is nice to have a bit of variety in the garden. I think one reason many people don't grow sweet peas is because they need to be grown from seed. Most gardeners today plant their gardens with transplants. We all like that instant gratification, and few care to wait for something to grow from seed.

For some reason, sweet peas have gotten a reputation of being hard to grow, aside from having to seed them. I think the secret to growing them is all in knowing when to actually plant the seeds.

To grow this cool-weather plant in our type of climate, where the summers are brutally hot and the winters are typically mild, you should get your seeds in the ground October through November. During this time of year, your seeds should germinate and develop strong root systems, but won't produce much top growth. Warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours will cause the plants to grow quickly. If you don't get a chance to plant seeds now, you can still plant them in mid-January through mid-February. There is a very short window of opportunity for us to grow sweet peas here with the hot weather, so now is the time to take action to get them started.

Before planting your sweet pea seeds, let them soak in a solution of diluted liquid seaweed overnight. Seeds need to be planted in a very rich and well-drained soil. That means lots of good compost and organic fertilizer. Planted in an area that gets afternoon shade and good air circulation will help to keep your sweet peas happy and blooming longer. Water when the soil is dry. That means when you stick your finger in the soil, the soil is dry up to the first joint. Fertilize every couple of weeks.

Sweet peas can be prone to a couple of pests: snails and aphids. Keep watch for these bad guys and treat as soon as they are noticed.

Expect healthy sweet pea plants to bloom for a couple of weeks to a month, depending on how soon the weather warms up. To encourage frequent blooming, cut bouquets of the flowers. As long as the temps stay cool, you'll continue to get more blooms. Expect the stems to become shorter as the season warms up.

If you want to save seeds, leave the plants in the ground until the flower pods dry and the seeds are ripe.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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