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Cool Weather Annuals: Fall Planting

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If I want to see some good sweet pea foliage in spring, I’ve got to start it now.

This may come as a surprise to those of you who think of sweet peas as an early-spring-planting flower. And if you live in a climate where springs are mild and winters are harsh, they are: under those circumstances, an early spring or late winter planting (sweet peas can take snow and a fair amount of freezing) gives the sweet peas time to develop the roots that support abundant, beautiful flowers.

For those of us who live in climates where spring goes from cool to broiling in 30 days, it’s another story: fall’s the time when cool-loving plants can develop their roots.  So late summer or early fall’s the time to get in the seed. The best sweet peas I’ve ever had got several inches of vine growth before they went dormant for the winter. The next spring they went crazy, flowering long and lusciously.

Since sweet peas can take freezing, this technique may work in climates much colder than my zone 8, where freezes are usually (but not always) light.  You can use the same technique for edible peas.

Until now, I’ve planted only peas and sweet peas this early. For other cool-weather plants, I’ve waited until the rains come, which is when I plant the perennials and wildflowers. Waiting for the rains makes keeping up with the seedlings easier, and, of course, by then the weather has cooled down.

But it’s just occurred to me that the same late-summer growth that does peas and sweet peas so well might give me a better display with all those cool-weather annuals that usually shrivel away before they have time to thrive. Maybe I got the inspiration from my food-farming neighbors, who are already setting out their cool-weather seedlings: cabbage, broccoli, and greens.

This year, I’m going to try planting my larkspurs and asters and agrostemma and other cool-loving annuals at the same time as the sweet peas. Growing them out earlier will be more work, but it might give a lot happier plants, and more of the flowers I love.

Do any of you have a system for getting the best out of your hardy annuals?

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{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Bond September 3, 2009, 6:37 pm

    No system here because our winter climate just doesn’t support it. But I can’t wait to see those sweet peas. :)

  • Susie September 3, 2009, 10:12 pm

    Sounds good to me, I tried China Peas in my garden this past spring…but it soon became too hot. I think I will try them this fall.

  • Charlotte September 4, 2009, 8:32 am

    Have to say that we have the same problem here as Nancy – our winters wouldn’t allow this! But will wait to see your results.

  • Barbee' September 22, 2009, 8:50 am

    Mmmm, sweet peas, I can just smell them!

  • Aly October 24, 2015, 11:36 am

    Cecilia,Thanks for your question. We rcmnmeeod that you wait until late winter/early spring to cut back roses, since you will almost always get some die-back in our zones (5-6). The only exception to this would be to cut back any long stems that might be broken by winter winds. Perennials can be cut back any time. If you want the perennial bed to look neat and tidy all winter, then cut them back when they begin to look bad in the late summer or fall. If that isn’t important to you, then leave them until early spring. Keep in mind that the birds will use the seed pods of many perennials as a food source in the winter months.

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