In response to an earlier post, Kim left a comment asking when I planted my Sweet Peas here at the Ranch, and if it's too late to plant Sweet Peas now (at the end of February).
Kim, good morning. I planted my Sweet Peas in 1999, but not to worry: you still have time (but just barely).
One of the great gardening surprises of the Desert Garden is that this most beloved of cottage-garden flowers will thrive here, and not only thrive, but given the chance will re-seed and come back year after year. I planted Sweet Peas here at the Ranch in the Autumn of 1999, and they've come back every year since, wandering around the landscape and sprouting wherever they find a congenial patch of soil and sufficient water.
We plant Sweet Peas in the same season we plant the edible, or English, garden pea: late September through the end of February. Peas, both Sweet and English, are cool-season plants, meaning they germinate and start their growth in the Autumn, Winter, and early Spring. Depending on the weather in a given year, either end of that planting season may be lengthened or shortened; if you still want to try Sweet Peas for this year, plant now, or forever hold your peas (OK, not forever, but at least until early October).
The growing and blooming season is short, so look for short-season and early-blooming varieties to plant. There's no need for the elaborate digging and trenching regimes of traditional Sweet Pea planting; just dig in a good amount of compost or other organic matter, plant your peas, and provide the little guys something to climb on. There's a chance that this late in the season they will fail to germinate, but don't worry about that: the seeds will just hang out in the soil all Summer and then start growing in the more comfortable Autumn weather.
Whenever your Sweet Peas sprout and flower, the keys to keeping the blossom going for a long period are to not let them wilt from lack of water, and to pick the blooms daily. Snip them with scissors, leaving a long stem, and place the blossoms in a small vase indoors. Or, better yet, pick small bouquets and give them to your neighbors. As soon as the flowers begin setting seed in the garden, the plant will begin to stop blooming.
That's why I've had volunteer Sweet Peas here at the Ranch for 10 years; at a certain point each season the flowers just get beyond me and I let them go to seed. The pods ripen and explode, flinging seed around the garden, and settling in to grow again in the Fall. It's a bit chaotic, but all chaos should smell so sweet.
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