Were in the grip of below-normal temperatures, and theres no sign of a let-up in the near future.
Still, its time to think about spring.
One flower that takes some forethought and preparation for growing is sweet pea.
These delightful flowers have, or should have, wonderful fragrance. Sometimes breeders are looking for something else, and lose fragrance in their quest for unusual colors or disease resistance. So note whether your future flower is identified as fragrant or not. If it doesnt say fragrant, dont expect it.
These are cool-weather flowers, so start seeds indoors, early. If you cant find a gardener whos grown these before and can advise on the best time to start seeds, plant them indoors this month. They should be started six to eight weeks before transplanted outdoors. The plants will quit blooming and fail when the weather turns hot.
Think about where youll plant them. They should run north to south in a site thats well-drained and protected from harsh wind, and theyll grow up to 6 or 8 feet.
Dont plant these annuals near hedges or trees that will compete with the roots for water and nutrients. If you didnt prepare a bed last fall, you can do this now, but if you love sweet peas and want to grow them again, prepare the bed in the fall so youre ready to the following spring.
Before starting germination, check the seed packet to see whether chipping the seed is necessary for sprouting. Some varieties have such hard coats you have to chip a tiny piece of the covering off, opposite the eye end of the seed. You can use a sharp knife or a file to nick the seed, but do not damage the seeds white tissue.
If instructions on the seed packet do not call for chipping the seed, soak them overnight in tepid water. Then the easy way to germinate this seed is between damp paper towels (about four on top, four on the bottom), nestled on an old cookie sheet. Put the sheet in a warm place, such as on top of the refrigerator, and check daily to make sure the paper towels are still damp and whether the seeds have germinated.
A newspaper (several plies thick) placed over the top will prevent premature drying of the towels.
Once you see germination of any seeds, plant just those in individual pots, two-and-a-half inches square or larger. I prefer plastic pots to pressed peat or manure, because the peat will wick moisture away from your plants if the pots dry out.
Stella Schneider and I tried growing in the cow manure pots last spring. My plants in those pots froze and had to be replaced. Hers, grown alongside plants in plastic pots, lagged far behind her plants in plastic pots. Theoretically, the plants in pressed manure plants should have been ahead.
Once youve planted in pots, these sweet pea seedlings must be moved into strong light to prevent their growing leggy. If you dont have a greenhouse or sunroom, you could use a fluorescent fixture with one 4-foot kitchen or bathroom light tube and one daylight tube with capability to raise the lights as the plants grow. The lights need to be as close as possible to the plants.
If you use a timer for the lights, set it for 14 hours on, or if outdoor temperatures permit, put your pots of plants outdoors, sheltered from wind. Bring them in nights, if cold is forecast.
If you have an unheated greenhouse, these plants will withstand some frosts. If the temperature is to drop lower than about 25 degrees F, Id bring the pots indoors overnight. If they freeze anyway, let them thaw on their own outside. Sometimes you lose them, sometimes you dont.
Plant them outdoors in March.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.