sweet pea and pansies during winter

anchita(Bay area, CA)November 15, 2006

Hi, this is going to be my first winter after I've started really gardening, and unfortunately, I'll have to be away for a month and trust my plants to my husband, and then to friends when he is away too. I have a couple of questions about some cool season annuals that I have.

I've grown sweet peas from seed for the first time, and they are about 6-8" long right now. They're in 4" nursery pots. Would they be better off in the ground for the winter (including the period that I'm gone) with mulch and weekly watering, or should I put them in a bigger pot and cover it with frost-cloth/burlap? Or should they absolutely must be brought inside during freezes to survive and flower next spring?

I was planning to have some pansies in large pots (12-14") with bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths underneath. I intend to put mulch on the top and cover these pots with burlap before I leave. They will also receive weekly watering. Will this arrangement be safe enough for them to survive, or should I put them in the ground or in larger pots?

I can place these pots in a somewhat protected location on my patio, but they'll also receive less sun there.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions/advice. My travel is unavoidable, but I also don't want to lose my plants to the winter!

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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

If the place where you live has a roof overhang on the south side - and some garden underneath, then in the ground, and with a trellis frame behind, would be fine for the sweet peas. They thrive in rich soil with added lime and need reliable watering over dry spells.

If they are standard sweet peas then planting them out into an eighteen inch depth of well-fed soil should give you plants six to eight feet high and a mass of flowers. The wall and roof overhang will give a microclimate. If the frosts are really tetchy - cover them with fleece. (If you can set up the climbing frame to make this easy you'll save yourself lots of shivers later on.)

If you planted little bijou sweet peas then you can plant them into a biggish hanging planter where they will drape rather than climb. Feed them weakly weekly for good results. A feed that's not excessive with nitrogen for preference. If you have a suitable porch, covered patio area, well-lit carport, sun room, plant stand, then those would be suitable provided that the air is not too dry and the temperatures are plant friendly (40-65F).

If you plant into the ground then some form of staking would be useful to get the best from the flowers.

What I noticed this year was the way the peas inched their way into growth until we had some spring warmth. Like a semi-dormant spell. With something like a gro-tunnel to keep the temperature above freezing, and keep them protected from hard freezing, they'd probably lurk safely until spring sets them going again.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 1:24AM
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anchita(Bay area, CA)

Hi vetivert8! Thanks for the useful and detailed info here too :-) I think the sweet peas I planted were regular ones. The problem with somewhat protected nooks around my apartment is that they don't get much sun, and the ones that get sun are, well, not so protected from the cold. Also, the little ground area I have has its soil amended only upto 6-8", under that is black clay. So I'm thinking my best bet is to plant these vines in a biggish container with a trellis/cage sunk in. In this way, I can move it around into the sun and back into protection during the really cold times. I will have to rely on my husband to do this after I leave, and after he leaves as well, he can put the container inside in a sunny window with the temperature of the house between 50-60 degrees.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 3:45AM
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hopflower(z8/z15 CA Sunset)

Sweet peas can suffer from too rich soil. Avoid nitrogen as they are fixed. They should be in the ground at 6-8 inches tall, or they will not develop strong root systems in time for spring flowering. They can take light frost; the danger is in fast thawing. I would not plant as early as you have in Texas if you are in a frosty area or one that gets snow. Wait until spring next year to get them in.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 10:28AM
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Hi Anchita,

For the pansies, just make sure your pot can freeze and thaw -- in other words, it's not ceramic or terra cotta -- Skip the burlap. You're good to go. Pansies bloom all winter there as long as they have water and some light. The frost doesn't bother them except to make them limp, but they perk up again when the weather warms up.

One consideration about taking my advice with a grain of salt is that way up here, anything that is green, growing, or even looks like it might have a flower is considered pretty in the winter. You might have different standards down there with more to choose from.


    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 12:59PM
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anchita(Bay area, CA)

Thanks for your replies, hopflower and limequilla.

I wanted to keep the sweet peas in a container (maybe a big one? 14" or so..) because it'll be easier to protect them from the freezes. I could plant them out into the ground next spring. Or, if they absolutely need to be in the ground now, I guess I can take my chances and plant more in the spring. Which option would be considered better?

Good to know that the pansies will do okay. I wasn't expecting them to be at their peak through the season; just the fact that they'll survive and be around in spring when they might flower better is good enough for me!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 5:16PM
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You don't need to protect Sweet Peas from Freezes or frosts -- Here in the north, we plant sweet peas on St Patrick's Day, and we have plenty of freezing cold weater for a month or longer after that...say, down to 15 degrees?

I doubt you get down to 15 degrees too often in DFW, or do you? That's pretty cold. Just slip the pot into the garage (not the house) on those days/night when it gets that cold, or use 20 degrees if it makes you feel better. I know for a fact it's not freezing (32 degrees).


    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 6:11PM
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anchita(Bay area, CA)

No, we don't get down to 15 degrees too often, Lime. The info that you gave eases my mind a whole lot!

Thanks so much,

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 7:55PM
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my 2 cents is: if you have more sweet pea seeds, sow them in the ground now. They should pop up in January or February, then they will kinda sit there until it warms up at which point they will take off.

The ground sown ones will be your insurance policy. Here in CA I sow my sweet peas around the first of November. You are a zone colder, but sweet peas are actually pretty cold-hardy.

I have never been successful growing sweet pesa in pots. In the ground they are fool-proof, which is probably why I have been successful : )

    Bookmark   November 17, 2006 at 12:07PM
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anchita(Bay area, CA)

Hmm... you're tempting me, deep_roots. I do have some seeds, but I was apprehensive about sowing them in the ground now because I'll be leaving town for a month in a few days. And I'm not sure how well my husband will be able to take care of those new plants. But I guess I can plant a few from my stash, give him some instructions and stay hopeful. I think I might do that, and see what has happened when I'm back.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2006 at 8:33PM
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hopflower(z8/z15 CA Sunset)

Yes, unfortunately you do need to protect them from snow and hard frosts if it goes on for weeks. Overnight, well that is a different story. The danger is really in a fast thaw, but do protect sweet peas from extended hard freezes. I have been growing them each year for many years; there are a few freezes here in No Cal, but they do not last; so prevention from snowfall is not necessary. They are cold weather hardy it is true, which is why they do so well in England; but they do protect them there from snow in cold frames. By all means, move them into the garage if you wish to; but keep it cool in there, too. They are best kept outside in the cold as long as you can, but if you are worried about snow, then the garage is the right place. They benefit most from long slow root development, so getting them into the ground asap or as soon as you can, is the goal.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2006 at 9:23PM
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Nell Jean

Sweet peas are fairly hardy. Mulch them with some pine straw or oak leaves, in the ground.


    Bookmark   December 18, 2006 at 9:28PM
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Your pansies will be fine in containers unless there is a rare cold snap with temps below zero, and those are rare in the Metroplex. They should bloom all winter, but will be at their best in late February and March and possibly into April until the heat does them in.
Watering at a set interval (say once a week) isn't the best approach. Better to water when the plants are thirsty. (That is, when the soil is dry below the surface.) It may be every 3 days, or it may be every 3 weeks if we should be lucky enough to get some rain after the drought we've been enduring. Water on the pansy blooms can cause small spots on them, so that is one reason to not water unless it's necessary.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2006 at 3:36AM
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