Plant of the week: Sweet pea bush shrub - East Valley Tribune: Home

Plant of the week: Sweet pea bush shrub

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Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 5:30 pm | Updated: 12:00 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Hold on - this is not the fragrant annual sweet pea flower you remember from home (I'll write about those gems in a future article). This plant is an evergreen shrub producing vibrant violet/purple flowers that resemble sweet peas.

The plant: Hold on - this is not the fragrant annual sweet pea flower you remember from home (I'll write about those gems in a future article). This plant is an evergreen shrub producing vibrant violet/purple flowers that resemble sweet peas. If you are a sap for sweet peas, like me, this bush provides another way to indulge your addiction. The sweet pea shrub is not well-known here in the Valley, but is becoming popular in California, especially the San Diego area. The sweet pea shrub hails from South Africa, and like other South African native plants it will survive in our low desert gardens. Its leaves are grayish/green and appearing spring to fall are flowers similar in appearance to the beloved sweet pea, but without that plant's intoxicating fragrance. Don't let that stop you from enjoying this deserving beauty in your gardenscape - it's a repeat bloomer that will delight you year-round.

Growing guide: Light/partial shade exposure

Plant of the week illustration of Sweet Pea Bush, by Gabriel Utasi/TRIBUNE
Plant of the week illustration of Sweet Pea Bush, by Gabriel Utasi/TRIBUNE

Barn Goddess tips: If you want to create a cottage garden large or small, this plant is a perfect pick. Use it as a foundation plant at the back of the garden, or along a fence. I like to combine it with black hollyhocks, blue bell larkspur, heirloom roses, Goodwin Creek lavender, lambs ear and compact myrtle. For a vibrant tropical garden, plant sweet pea shrub with tropicanna canna, purple queen bougainvillea and San Diego red hibiscus. Monrovia has cultivated a compact variety called Petite Butterflies (Polygala fruticosa "MonMal") that grows 3 feet to 4 feet tall. Look for the sweet pea shrub at nurseries selling Monrovia plants.

Maintenance: Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to encourage development of a deep root system. Water can be reduced once plants are established. I recommend feeding plants each spring with an organic fertilizer like bat guano, blood meal, fish/seaweed emulsion, feather meal or an all-purpose organic fertilizer blend. You can add mulch, keeping it away from the plant's base, during summer to retain moisture.

Cultural notes: Plant sweet pea shrub from transplant in well-drained soil in the spring. It grows to a height of 4 feet to 5 feet. Prepare soil for flowering plant cultivation. This plant is cold-hardy to 20 degrees. Once established, it can become a bit leggy, so consider planting low, bushy plants in front of it. A hard pruning in late winter will promote more compact growth.

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