• Beautiful, fragrant spring flower gardens start now. For example, early fall is the perfect time to plant sweet peas. They love a sunny spot but need vertical support for their fast-growing vines. For best results, plant in well-cultivated soil, rich with composted manure.
• Sweet peas can be difficult to germinate. Try these tips from Enchanting Sweet Peas farm in Sebastopol: Start with clean, fresh seed. Soak seeds overnight in room-temperature water before planting. To hasten germination, any seed not swollen after soaking may be “chipped.” Use a razor blade to chip, or break through, the pea’s skin to give the sprout a little room to break out of its hard seed coat.
• Use manure tea to turn off aphids. Once the seeds sprout, feed the tender green sweet pea shoots by spraying them with diluted fertilizer. Foliar feeding of plants with a weak manure tea will make the leaves distasteful to aphids. It also stimulates plant growth and keeps them a healthy green. In particular, guard against aphids, as they may transmit disease to sweet pea plants. This method also works on edible peas.
• Plant seeds for many other spring flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturium, nigella, poppy and portulaca.
• Set out cool-weather bedding plants, including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.
• Put tulips, hyacinth and other spring bulbs in the refrigerator for six weeks of chill time. But keep apples out of the fridge during this process; they can cause the bulbs to rot. Daffodils don’t need to be pre-chilled.
• In the vegetable garden, plant seed for bok choy, mustard, spinach, radishes and peas. Plant garlic and onion sets.
• Transplant seedlings for lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale.
— Debbie Arrington