Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Friday, February 27, 2009

From the Inbox: Sweet Peas

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.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tyler! ~kim

Anonymous said...

Well, Tyler, I went to three nurseries this morning and couldn't find any Sweet Pea seeds :-( Oh, well, there's always next year! I did get my regular peas planted, though.

Tyler Storey said...

Not finding the Sweet Pea seeds right now is disappointing, but not too surprising, given the time of year. Don't wait until next year, though: start looking for the seeds - or order them by mail - in late Summer or early Autumn of this year, and get them in the ground then. Short-day or heat-resistant varieties are the way to go. If you get them in the ground in the Autumn, by this time next year you should be picking bouquets for the house.

Unknown said...

Hi, I noticed on the Maricopa vegetable calendar that melons should be planted in March from seed. Since I've never grown them before, I'm wondering what conditions they need: lots of water; mulched soil; partial shade or direct sun; protection from bunnies, etc.?

Nice blog, by the way.

Kristen in Carefree

clairz said...

I am so glad to read this post! I have missed having sweet peas in my garden since moving to the high desert. I'm going to give them a try for next year, thanks to you.