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Sweet pea success starts in autumn

Start growing sweet peas now for fragrant bouquets in March and April.
Start growing sweet peas now for fragrant bouquets in March and April. Bigstock

Happy autumn! Now start thinking about spring.

That may seem like a big leap in calendar jumping, but early fall is the best time to plant many spring flowers.

The secret to sweet pea success? Get them started now for fragrant bouquets in March and April.

Sweet peas 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. For maximum sweet pea success, try these tips from Enchanting Sweet Peas (www.enchantingsweetpeas.com) of Sebastopol:

▪ Sweet peas can be a bit fickle to germinate. Use 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.

▪ Once the seeds sprout, feed the tender green 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.

▪ Now also is the right time to plant seeds for many other spring flowers directly into the garden, including cornflower, nasturtium, nigella, poppy and portulaca.

▪ Put tulips, hyacinth and other spring bulbs in the refrigerator for six weeks of chill time. They’ll be ready to go into the ground or pots in November. But keep apples out of the fridge during this process; they can cause the bulbs to rot.

▪ Set out cool-weather bedding plants including calendula, pansy, snapdragon, primrose and viola.

▪ In the vegetable garden, plant seeds for bok choy, mustard, spinach, radishes and peas. Plant garlic and onion sets.