The Q&A Archives: Sweet peas wither and die before blooming

Question: I've grown sweet peas for 20 years without problems. However, for the last few years some plants have withered and died before blooming. The problem has gotten worse and worse. What should I do? Raymond Lutwitzi Ironwood, MI

Answer: It's probably a soilborne fungal disease, says Lisa Crowning, staff horticulturalist at Thompson Morgan Seed Company, specialists in sweet pea varieties in Jackson, New Jersey. When sweet peas are grown continually in the same area, they can develop a number of root rotting diseases such as fusarium and Aphanomyces root rots. It's hard to tell which disease it is without seeing the plants, but the symptoms are similar: the flowers bloom poorly each year and then not at all, and the vines die back prematurely, says Crowning. Preventive steps should control these diseases. Wait three years to plant sweet peas in that bed again. In the future, don't plant any beans or peas more than three years in a row in the same location, says Crowning. Don't apply fresh manures, which could harbor some of these disease. Instead, increase soil fertility with a few shovelfuls of compost per bed each year, she adds. Sweet peas like cool weather, so plant early and grow a variety adapted to a hot climate, such as the Butterfly or Jet Set series, recommends Crowning.

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