Time to get those peas pre-sprouted and ready to go | THE COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER

It is still too early to plant other cool-season crops like lettuce unless you have a hoop house or cold frame that protects new seedlings from the weather.

Marianne Binetti will be speaking at the Northwest Flower and Garden show at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, on “Weed Wars: An American Revolution on how to win the battle with weeds without harming Mother Nature.”

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show kicks off spring at the Seattle Convention Center Feb 17-21. A new event at the show is a live competition between teams building an instant garden.

“Garden Wars” will bring peace to local charities at 1 p.m. every day of the show. You can learn a lot about gardening in a very short time by cheering on local celebrities as they compete on either side of a screen to create the best garden. The winning team will be awarded $1,000 for their favorite charity (the loser wins money, too) but as the garden war consultant for the contestants, it is my job to make sure everyone in the viewing audience gains design inspiration and some new plant knowledge just by watching the battle.

For me, the best part of this competition is that I’ll also be giving away door prizes to audience members – from nursery gift certificates to cool garden tools. You may go home with a prize just for cheering on your favorite celebrity. Let the garden battle begin!

The middle of February is time for early bird gardeners to start peas. Sweet peas and garden peas should be pre-sprouted by soaking them overnight in warm water. In the morning, spread the pea seeds on a cookie sheet between layers of damp paper towels. When the seeds sprout you can bury them in well-drained soil following the instructions on the seed pack.

It is still too early to plant other cool-season crops like lettuce unless you have a hoop house or cold frame that protects new seedlings from the weather.

Slugs and snails will be emerging from winter slumber this week so be sure to protect any new seedlings or primroses you set out into the garden.

Q. I have a hydrangea shrub that blooms beautifully in the summer with balls of blue flowers. Unfortunately, it has grown too large for the spot next to the house where it is thriving. Can I prune my hydrangea back now for a more compact plant this summer? R.P., Tacoma

A. The easy answer is no. Huge hydrangeas cannot be kept dwarf and compact by pruning. Hard pruning can prevent flowers the following summer. The better solution is to transplant that hydrangea this spring to a spot where it can spread out its branches and bloom year after year with no pruning required. There are new hydrangea hybrids that are more compact (look for the Cityline series like “Rio”) and also hydrangeas like the “Endless Summer” varieties that flower on both old and new wood so they can handle a haircut every spring.

Better to move a shrub to a new location than to fight Mother Nature and control the size of a woody plant determined to spread and grow. Early spring is a good time to snip off the faded blooms of last year’s hydrangea flowers and to thin out any wayward or broken branches.

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