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But one thing you don’t want to forget is to plant those sweet peas now for a spectacular spring show.
Sweet peas in the fall? Absolutely! In mild-winter climates, where the soil doesn’t freeze, these seedlings grow best when they can enjoy the warm sunny days along with the cool night temperatures. Cool temperatures allow the plant to establish large and deep root systems throughout the winter so once spring arrives the plant is ready to jump into action, rewarding you with bushels of the sweetest smelling flowers to grace your garden.
To help you remember this yearly task, pick a consistent day that you’ll plant the seeds each year. For me it’s Halloween, though Thanksgiving would work just as well. The point is to try and get into an annual routine since spring will sneak up on you before you know it.
Here’s how I get started:
First, I choose which variety I want to grow (my favorite part, next to actually picking a bouquet). There are so many colors and growth habits to choose from, I always try something different so I can experience them all. One of my favorites is this delicious variety by Renee’s Garden, appropriately named ‘Watermelon’. While this variety grows tall and stately, there’s also mid-sized sweet peas as well as window-box varieties, perfect for gently draping over the sides of a window box or container.
After I’ve purchased my seeds I give them a head start by nicking them gently with fingernail clippers. Why? These seeds are hard as rocks, and while they’ll germinate on their own I speed up the process by breaking the outer layer. By doing this I not only speed up the germination process by a few days, but it helps them absorb water faster and increases the amount of seeds which will germinate. The result is earlier and larger blooms.
But be careful when doing this, as you only want to nick through the brown outer coating of the seed, not cut into the tender part of it!
Once you’ve prepared the ground by adding healthy, rich soil and compost, you’ll want to plant your seeds 1” deep and lightly cover them with soil. Keep your seeds moist until you see their little leaves pop up.
At this point you need to be very, very careful as birds love to snack on these tender seedlings. You’ll need to protect them until they’re about 4-5” tall. I use those green plastic strawberry baskets as ‘cage’ around the seedlings. Not only are these cages the perfect size, letting in plenty of sunlight and rain, but I always love the chance to re-use something normally headed for the landfill. U-shaped bobby pins help secure the basket to the ground should a determined bird try and tip it over.
Throughout the winter you won’t see much action from your sweet peas, but rest assured their roots are growing by leaps and bounds underground. This is important, as once the warm days of spring arrive your plants will have the strength to jump into action much faster than spring planted seedlings. Sweet peas with a deep root system have an added advantage of surviving dry spells longer than spring planted plants with their shallow root systems. Hot temperatures are the worst enemy of sweet peas, causing them to ‘bolt’ and stop blooming.
One of the reasons I love sweet peas so much (besides their heavenly fragrance) is the fact that they actually want you to pick their flowers. The more you pick, the more they’ll bloom! So no more guilt about picking huge bouquets for your house since you’re really doing the plant a favor, right?
So when you’re getting ready for Halloween or Thanksgiving this year, don’t forget about spring! Spending an hour with your sweet pea seeds now will pay off in a few months with weeks and weeks of fragrance and beauty.