With some of the boldest colors this side of a Pucci print and the most spectacular fragrances found outside a perfume bottle, sweet peas are an ephemeral spring pleasure not to be missed. And like most annuals, they're easy to grow -- even just one packet of seeds leads to loads of blossoms.
To enjoy sweet peas to the fullest, find the right variety for your climate, follow a few simple steps for planting and growing, and be sure to stock up on vases for displaying cuttings!
In the coldest climates, soaking seeds indoors overnight or nicking the seed shell with nail clippers will speed germination. In warmer climates (or during late spring in colder regions), sow seeds directly into the soil by planting them 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. You can also plant seeds in nursery flats or peat pots.
Transplant when night temperatures remain above 40º F. Sown or transplanted, growing seedlings should be thinned to 6 to 8 inches apart. Be sure to sow a second row about 3 weeks later for more weeks of blooms.
Select an area with full sun to partial shade. Prepare well-draining soil to a depth of at least 1 foot, adding plenty of rich compost or aged manure. Sweet pea vines reach 6 feet tall, so staking is a must. Almost any vertical support works; we used branches from just-pruned trees and shrubs.
• When possible, select seeds by individual color. Strong blocks of color make for the most beautiful gardens (and cut flower arrangements), so plant in rows for easy cutting.
• For every two packets of tall sweet pea varieties, plant one knee-high. (Try 'Cupid,' 'Patio,' and 'Little Sweetheart.')
• Don't relegate sweet peas to one area; mix them with your perennials. Plant taller varieties, like 'Spencers' and 'Grandifloras', on supports set into beds of spring-blooming bulbs. Also, combine sweet peas in front of spring-flowering shrub borders.
• Mix early-, midseason-, and late-flowering varieties for nearly three months of blooms.
When most of the garden is still in a dormant sleep, primrose awakens with a burst of spring color. There are more than 400 varieties of this showy perennial, ranging in color from crimson red to yellow and white. Buy seedlings at nurseries in the spring and plant them in rich, well-drained soil with partial shade. Yellow varieties have the most fragrant flowers.
Light: Shade to partial shade
Moisture: Keep the soil moist, as they do not tolerate drought.
Size: 6 to 18 inches tall
One look at its stunning heart-shaped pink or red flowers and you'll know how this perennial got its name. The delicate blooms hang like jewels below arched stems that extend outward from fern-like foliage.
Light: Shade to partial shade
Moisture: They like moist, organically rich soil.
Size: Plants take two years to mature to 2 to 3 feet.
When spring is just beginning, daffodils hardily sprout from the ground. They are adaptable to most climates, and increase in number and bloom better year after year. They make fine cut flowers, but be sure to give them a vase of their own. Freshly cut stems release a substance that wilts other flowers.
Light: Full sun or dappled shade
Moisture: Water newly planted bulbs well.
Size: 12 to 18 inches tall
The sweet fragrance of its spring blooms is reason enough to include Viburnum in your landscape. But this easy-growing and versatile shrub continues the show with clusters of bright berries that appear after the spring blooms fall. There are over 150 species of Viburnum that grow from Zones 2 to 9.
Light: Sun to partial shade
Moisture: They tolerate some drought.
Size: Shrubs range from 2 to 10 feet tall.
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