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Sweet Pea Time for Florida Gardeners

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by Tom MacCubbin
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Sweet Pea
Picture: Tom MacCubbin

Mention sweet peas and many thoughts could come to mind. Some might have images of a nice container of fresh shelled peas harvested from the garden and ready to eat. Others think of snapping peas in the garden and eating the pod and all. Then there are images of the sweet peas growing up a trellis with colorful flowers. We can grow any of these peas at this time of the year but what I have in mind are sweet pea vines with beautiful fragrant flowers.

Peas gardeners might want to grow are of the same legume family but different genera. They each can take nitrogen from the air with the help of soil bacteria and both like cool temperatures. But, one we eat and the other we enjoy in bloom.

Flowering sweet peas have a big secret to success in Florida. You need to find a variety that blooms in winter or during short days. These will say this on the package. If you obtain the wrong sweet pea it may not flower before it is affected by the hotter weather. So look for sweet pea packets that say blooms under short or winter days and then do the following,

Find a sunny location and improve sandy soils with organic matter.
Plant the seeds about 4- to 6-inches apart and up to an inch deep.
Keep moist to prevent the soil from drying during germination and during growth.

Feed once lightly after the plants are growing with either a liquid or slow release fertilizer.

Apply a light mulch over the root system.
Provide a trellis as most sweet peas are climbers – even the short ones.
Harvest cut flowers to keep the blooms coming.
Protect from the really cold weather - a chill or light frost is normally fine.

Some gardeners are sure to remember the sweet peas of Lake Eola Park, in Orlando. Well, you can have them too but you have to start these sweet peas soon.


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