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Winter Garden Tips: How to Grow Sweet Peas

The heady fragrance of blooming sweet peas is a distant memory in the thick of winter – yet now is just the time you should begin planning for their arrival in your garden. While sweet peas can be planted successfully at various points throughout the year, putting them in the ground in very late winter or early spring– about a month before the last frost date– is ideal in climates that receive a cool winter. For Americans, this means USDA zone 7 or below. Consider planting your sweet peas this month to get the best results from your flowers come late spring and summer.

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Sweet peas are fabulous additions to bouquets and liven up garden walkways and arches with their unique hues and overpowering scent. As ornamental peas with Sicilian origins, they have long been prized for their strong honey-jasmine-orange aroma. Sweet peas were particularly favored during the late-Victorian era, providing a touch of color and sweet fragrance to gardens. Today you can experiment with several varieties to mix and match your yardís color/fragrance combinations. Try an heirloom variety such as the ‘Old Spice’ collection from Sicily, known for its mix of colors and traditional fragrance, or go patriotic with the sweet scent of ëAmerica,í a red and white-striped beauty.

Preparing to plant in the next few weeks? Here’s what you’ll need to do

  1. Pick your site. Sweet peas grow best when exposed to full sun, planted in basic/alkaline soil that is well-drained. Choose an area next to a fence or trellis, or create support by using chicken wire or brush. Sweet peas should have at least 6 feet of space to climb upwards.
  2. Provide proper nutrition. Add some finished compost or aged manure to the soil before putting down your seeds, working it well into the ground (about 2 feet).
  3. Dig a furrow. Create a trench about 1-3 inches deep. Spaces your seeds about 3 inches apart in pockets of soil about the size of a pencil tip. Before placing them in the ground, nick your seeds with a nail clipper to breaker the outer shell, which facilitates water absorption and encourages germination. Once seeds are in soil, press down and cover completely with earth to block out all sunlight.
  4. Water! Shower your seedlings with a gentle spritz of water from a can or hose attachment.
  5. Protect your plants. Keep birds away with netting. Ward off insects like slugs and snails with a product such as Sluggo.
  6. Keep up with spring maintenance. Seeds will germinate 7-15 after planting. As they begin to sprout, fill in your trench with more soil. Once they are well-established, add mulch to maintain a cool, moist environment.
  7. Enjoy! Sweet peas typically bloom in May or June. Try taking a stroll through your garden in the morning, when dew is still clinging to the blossoms. Pick a few of your sweet peas and take a whiff of their perfume – it’s strongest in the early hours of the day. Try using these blossoms to put together a gorgeous spring bouquet!
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