What unusually warm weather we have experienced!
Through March, the temperatures averaged about 20 degrees above normal. Some sources have reported that last month was the warmest March recorded.
The higher temperatures definitely stimulated the growth of bulbs, plants trees and shrubs that we typically do not see until late this month or in May.
Warm weather can really stir the gardening instincts in many of us and I have to admit to putting in lily bulbs that I would normally wait to plant in May. But, since they will be several inches under the ground, which will protect the bulbs from cold damage, and because they will not produce tender growth above ground for a while, they should be all right.
The normal “safe planting” time in Northwest Ohio is in mid to late May but there are a number of plants that can be safely planted in April.
One of these is an old-fashioned, sweet, spicy, clove-scented beauty that also happens to be the April flower of the month. This fragrant bloom is the sweet pea.
Sweet peas come in such an array of delicate hues from soft to medium to deep pink, pure white, multiple shades of lavender, peach and coral, and yellows and creams. Sweet pea blossoms look like fluttering, fringed butterflies and the stems of the plant have an unusual folded appearance. Standard sweet peas are climbers and grow gracefully against fences, trellises, bamboo tri-pods, or they can grow on other non-blooming shrubby plants. There are also dwarf and short, bushy varieties that do not climb.
The three basic varieties of sweet peas include the old-fashioned type, which is a very fragrant climber; the Spencer type, which has many colors but is not as fragrant and the Bijou type, which is the dwarf variety.
In the last few years, sweet peas have enjoyed a revival of popularity among gardeners worldwide. They are very easy to grow and, although classified as an annual flower, they are better categorized as a hardy, re-seeding annual. This means that they will grow back from year to year from the seeds they produce each year. My sweet peas were planted about five years ago and have come back beautifully year after year.
I grow my sweet peas against a picket fence near my vegetable garden because the spicy, sweet flowers attract bees and pollinating insects to my vegetable plants.
Sweet peas prefer to grow in a sunny location in fertile soil. They need regular watering during the growing season and a monthly application of high-potassium fertilizer will keep them happy and healthy. If you want to use your sweet peas as cut flowers, a monthly dose of blood meal will help the stems to lengthen.
Sweet pea seeds need to be sown in April. The seed coats are hard and tough and should be soaked overnight before planting. Any seeds that do not swell after soaking should be “nicked” with a file or razor before planting. Plant the seeds about one inch deep and mulch around the young plants when they are about three to four inches tall. When in bloom, pick the flowers frequently to encourage heavier blooming.
Heirloom varieties of sweet peas are very hardy and some of the easiest to grow. Some of these unique types you may want to try are Cupani (developed in the 1600s), Painted Lady (a pink and white bi-color developed in the 1700s), Mrs. Collier (a butter yellow type developed in 1906), Miss Wilmott, King Edward VIII, Lord Nelson, and Captain of the Blue. These are varieties that flourished and adorned English and American cottage gardens in the Victorian era when these fragrant beauties were a gardening sensation or, should we say, a “scent-sation.”
Sweet peas are making a comeback and, with their abundance of scent, color, form, utility and ease of growing; it is easy to see why.
April garden tips: Vegetable gardeners can plant spinach, cabbage, kale, Swiss chard and pea seeds and trees and shrubs can also be planted this month. If you did not have time to divide daylilies, sedums and asters in the fall, they can be divided this month. Clean, sharpen and repair garden tools now to have them ready for work in May.