Binetti: Time for planting crops and trimming shrubs

March 5, 2014 

It’s cool-season crop time. The beginning of March is a good time to plant peas, sweet peas and lettuce.

It also is time to buy hellebores in glorious bloom and prune roses and ornamental grasses if you have not done so already.

Pruning early flowering shrubs such as forsythia, flowering plum and cherry can yield fresh flowers for the house. Just add the cut stems from the budded branches to a vase of warm water and watch how easy it is to fool Mother Nature.

A few reader questions answered:

Question. Why when I plant a row of peas — up to 50 seeds — do I only get four of five that actually sprout? I even buy fresh pea seeds and don’t use the leftover seeds from last year like my penny-pinching father. Yet all his peas sprout and we plant at the same time and live nearby. I am very frustrated! — T.R., Olympia

Answer. I have two guesses about your pea-planting failures. Either your soil drains more slowly and you are planting too early (the peas stay too wet and rot) or you have hungry mice or crows that help themselves to your crop before it even sprouts.

Try this: Scatter the pea seeds onto a damp dish cloth and wrap it up. Leave the peas indoors for a few days in the damp cloth and then plant outdoors after they have sprouted. Pre-sprouting peas will keep them from rotting in cold soil. Then cover the area with light netting to keep out the crows and place a mouse trap in the row under a bucket or pot slightly propped to keep out pets but allow mice inside. Wait until mid-March to plant your peas and you can expect better results.

Q. I love sweet peas and want to grow my own cut flowers this summer. I have an area that gets only half a day of sun. Can I still grow sweet peas? G. Email

A. Yes, sweet peas will sprout and bloom with 4 to 5 hours of sunshine, but they still need to have well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.

Here is a planting tip to get sweet peas to bloom earlier and stay in flower longer: Dig a trench 8 inches deep and fill the bottom with 2 inches of well-rotted manure and one inch of soil on top. Add the pea seeds.

Once they sprout, add another layer of soil then more manure. By putting manure in the bottom of a trench, the seedlings will have warmth and nutrients right when they need it.

Once you harvest a few stems of sweet pea blooms keep on cutting. Sweet peas continue blooming as long as you keep harvesting the flowers. Snip the stems in the morning when they are full of moisture for the longest lasting cut flowers.

Q. I went to the Northwest Flower & Garden show and admired a very pretty, bell-shaped flower growing in several of the display gardens. It had purple and white markings on the petals that looked just like a checker board. I have lost the name of that flower. Do you know what it is? L.M., Enumclaw

A. Yes, the checkered lily or Fritillaria meleagris is one of the few spring flowering bulbs that will thrive in damp soil or even in meadows that get flooded by spring rains.

That makes it a great early spring bloomer for damp sites where other bulbs would rot. The markings on the petals really are extraordinary so remember to cut a few blooms to bring indoors and admire up close.

You can enjoy this bulb in your garden now even if you didn’t plant in the fall. Local nurseries have potted Fritillaria meleagris plants in bloom now ready to add to the garden or for display in porch pots and window boxes.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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