Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sweet Peas by Irene Shonle

An annual plant I love to grow in my mountain garden is the sweet pea.  I love the fragrance, and it appreciates our cool summers, flowering all season long, often attracting hummingbirds.

Probably again due to our cool summers, I find that they don’t tend to bloom very early in the summer unless they are started inside.

I usually start mine in mid-late March, growing them in a pot, which I will then put outside on my porch, twining it up the post for a nice fragrant welcome home.

My welcome home....
This year, I forgot to nick the seed coats (which aids in germination).  I was dismayed to see only ONE pea germinate out of two pots.  Doh!
Doh! Only one seed germinated because I forgot to nick the seeds.

I quickly got more seed out and nicked them with a fingernail clipper before replanting.  I hope to soon see many more emerge from the soil, and hope they'll catch up, even though they're about three weeks behind.
Nick sweet pea seeds with a fingernail clipper to help with germination

During the summer, I never let a sweet pea go to seed, because seed set will prevent new flowering.  I pinch off all the old flowers.  However, as August arrives, I let some go to seed, so I can save some for the following year.    Wait until the “peas” are completely brown and starting to split open before harvesting.  The seeds should be dry and dark brown.

 A note of caution – sweet peas are poisonous, so never eat them, and teach your kids to never eat them.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


When we moved into our home at 8800’ 25 years ago, we immediately transplanted a bunch of aspen, lodgepole and ponderosa, as well as some native current and serviceberry - all bare root.   The good news is they have all done pretty well, but the star performer was the largest – a lodgepole (about 15’) that we pulled out of the ground without saving any soil. Bare root planting can be very successful. 

1. WHERE?  Locate the plant in a place where it will get the right amount of sun, natural water or runoff and wind protection for the species.   Follow current fire mitigation guidelines – don’t plant too close together or too close to your home.

2. WHEN?   Plant when the shoots are dormant, before buds break and the leaves begin to grow. Roots do not go dormant as the shoots do: they grow when planted in soil temperatures above freezing, and soil moisture is available.  At high altitude, usually April - May.
3.  HOW? 
·         Plant immediately or place plants in a trench. (For the trench, cover roots with loose soil and keep the trench moist.)  Roots, especially root hairs can dry out in minutes!   If the roots are dehydrated, soak them in a slurry of water and a shovel full of soil (or a few tablespoons of polymer) for a few hours before planting.
·         Dig a hole 3x wider than the existing root system.  Roughen the sides of the hole with a spading fork.  Amending soil is not necessary as roots will not want to leave the amended area!  Adding some polymer can retain moisture for an extra day or 2.
·         Make a small mound  - or cone - of soil in the bottom of the hole to support the roots.  Carefully spread roots over mound and loosely put soil in, around, over and under roots.  When the hole is half full, fill with water (to naturally tamp soil) and complete backfilling the hole. Gently tamp soil to remove air pockets, avoiding damaging roots and compacting soil.
·         How deep?  Root collar (top of root system/base of trunk) should be at same depth as it was in its previous location. Plant high enough to allow for settling.  If you plant too high or low, the plant can become stressed and die.

4. WATER  Under or over watering will kill the roots. Keep soil moist for first 2 weeks. Form a low 2' diameter soil ring around the plant to create a watering basin. Water slowly to wet the soil thoroughly.  Regularly check soil moisture 12” down.  Water when dry – even in winter.
Fertilizing is not necessary until the 2nd year.

·         MULCH: about 3” to control weeds and slow evaporation.  Don’t let mulch touch the trunk.
·         STAKING: Stake the plant only if it cannot stand up by itself under normal wind conditions. Stake as low as possible down the trunk with flexible, unabrasive ties.  Not too tight!
·         CRITTERS: Protect young bark from rodents with screening or chicken wire. A fence around the plant will deter deer.

Read more:
·  Details on ‘How To Plant Bare Root Stock’
· An interesting study on ability of polymers to save water  (or not!)