Sweet pea flower plant

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I love to grow Sweet Peas, they are essential in my garden. Their sweet perfume is a delight that cannot be surpassed. I grow them all through the Summer but I get started early in Spring from seeds.

How to Grow Sweet Peas in your garden.

Sweet Peas are a fragrant and a super easy flower to add to your flower garden. These are the annual type and not the perennial.
Perennial Sweet Peas are not fragrant and can become horribly invasive in some areas.

I started my love affair with Sweet Peas back in 1990. I worked for a family that owned a cherry orchard manning one of their cherry stands. It was located in Escalon, California and was on the highway that leads to Yosemite. (you would not believe the people I met from around the world headed for Yosemite)

The owners son had worked for a seed company the year before selling seeds and he had tons of Sweet Pea seeds left over that Fall. She had opened all the packs and tossed them along a fence on the edge of their cherry orchard.

That Spring during cherry season they bloomed by the thousands! She brought huge bouquets to the cherry stand that scented the air and I fell in love.

I have grown Sweet Peas ever since. Now the Valley where I lived then had very different growing conditions than I have now but I have learned how to grow them in both climates.

PIN for later…

My Zone

We live in USDA Zone 8 with snowy winters and dry Summers.
In Zones 7 and above where winters are milder than in other areas of the country you can sow Sweet Pea seeds in the Fall, around October but in other zones it is best to wait until late winter/ early Spring about 6 weeks before you last frost date.

Though I am technically in Zone 8 I have to be a bit tricky about my Sweet Pea growing. I have had them reseed themselves and sprout and still winter over to bloom in Spring but I have also endured late hard freezes that killed all my Sweet Peas in one fell swoop.

So I start half early on in February and I save some to start later on, just in case.

Starting Seeds

Sweet Pea seeds look like this but turn into the sweetest scented blooms you have ever smelled.

Anniversary Sweet Pea is very fragrant. The pink edges are so delicate.
It is claimed that soaking the Sweet Pea seeds may hasten germination but I don’t always bother. I used to until I observed many reseed themselves in my garden, that assured me that it was an unnecessary step when I seed early. Some recommend scarifying as well which is scratching the seed surface to aid germination, again I don’t waste my time on that. I have read but not tried rolling them on some sand paper can do this less tediously than trying to scarify one seed at a time.

Here is an example of how easy they can germinate, I found this little pea shoot starting from a seed I dropped accidentally in a pot next to a Sempervivum.
It sprouted while sitting on top of the soil. I had to use an arrow to show you, it kind of blends in.

Somewhere along the line this past Fall I dropped a seed and it sprouted where it landed. We have had a brief warm spell this month and it thought it was a good time to sprout!

When to Start your Sweet Pea Seeds

February is a good time for me to get Sweet Peas started in my greenhouse, many other places March is an excellent time to start. (Please Note: once it warms up outside I sow them directly in the ground) They prefer soil temps of 50 to 60 degrees so you may need to shade the area if it has already warmed up.

If you live in warmer zones you can start yours in Fall. I have had some reseed themselves sprout then overwinter in a sheltered area to bloom in Spring.

Starting indoors

I use regular potting soil or compost and 3 or 4 inch pots. Pour the soil into the posts loosely. Poke the seeds in just a bit, not far, about half an inch. I put in 2 seeds per pot. (Some prefer using peat pots or poo pots so as not to disturb the roots when transplanting out in the garden)

Don’t press the soil hard, just firm them in. Water the seeds in and that will help tamp the soil down.

Pinching

When seedlings are about 4 to 6 inches tall pinch out the central stem just above a leaf joint, leaving about 2 or 3 leaf nodes, this will promote branching.

These below need pinching back.

You can snip them back to with pruners or just use your fingernail.

These are the seeds I potted up today. High Scent is a very fragrant variety and well worth growing. I love them as much as the Anniversary Sweet Peas.

A great selection for heat tolerance is the Old Spice Blend.
I grew some of these by my greenhouse in a barrel alongside a rose and they did just fine even though it gets quite hot in this spot. Here you can see they have reseeded themselves.
They are a little beat up as the snow has been covering them for weeks and more snow is on its way but once warm weather is here for good they will get strong and crawl up the trellis.

I stopped cutting my Sweet Peas in September so they could go to seed and replant themselves and I collect some to pot up in the greenhouse.

A great variety just for cutting is Fairy Tale Blend. They have long stems great for floral arrangements but pick from all of your Sweet Peas.

Keep Them Growing All Summer Long

Cutting the Sweet Peas frequently, every 9-10 days will get continuous bloom all Summer long. If you don’t cut they will go to seed and that is it for the plant, no more blooms.
This is especially important when it gets hot and dry.
I keep a soaker hose at the feet of my sweet peas for consistent watering, we don’t get summer rains.
Adequate water is one key to success when you grow Sweet Peas.

Grow Sweet Peas in full sun with some afternoon shade, if you can. Where it is very hot, afternoon shade is good for them but not absolutely necessary.

Plant where the soil is rich and has good drainage or amend to make it so. They don’t like soggy feet. (for a post on how I keep my soil rich and loose see my Lazy Gal Garden guide)

Provide Support

Provide support, these can climb well above 6 feet and will wrap themselves around whatever they need to go up! I planted some seeds in one of my pots of Bamboo, they will be happy as clams clamoring up the canes and I will enjoy their lovely perfume on my back deck all summer.

Disease

Sweet Peas are susceptible to powdery mildew. This doesn’t really do much harm to mine and I just keep picking the flowers, and many times the mildew disappears. Good air circulation is key to keeping the mildew at bay and a healthy well fed plant helps it to fight through it. As I stated before we have dry summers, very little humidity, you may find you have to battle mildew more if you grow sweet peas in a humid environment.

Feed, feed, feed

Sweet Peas are heavy feeders so be sure to fertilize. A good soil drenching with a diluted organic liquid fertilizer every week should be good. A blend of fish emulsion and liquid kelp is highly recommended but I have used worm casting tea as well with success.

Aphids love Sweet Peas too but since I garden organically I have a large amount of Lady Beetles that live here so they take care of them for me. If they get out of hand I do spray the Aphids off with my water hose.

Plant your seedlings out in the garden around the time of your last frost. Set them about 4 to 8 inches apart and close to a trellis or support. You may have to tie them up depending on the type of support. I grow sweet peas by a cattle panel trellis and I just wind them up it as they grow. If I get more than one coming up in my pots I just plant them all together.

Have you tried Sweet Peas in your garden?

More garden articles you may enjoy:
How to Grow Delphiniums from Seed
How to Start Roses from Cuttings
How to Propagate Zonal Geraniums

I wish you Happy Gardening!

Click on photos for larger view

1. You may choose to nick your sweet pea seeds before planting. Nicking the seed with a nail clipper breaks the outer coat of the seed so it can absorb water immediately. By doing this a larger percentage of your seeds will germinate and they will sprout a few days earlier.
Here’s how: Hold a seed between your thumb and forefinger. With the other hand, hold the clippers at an angle so that you use one end of the blade, then clip your seed. Your goal is to make a slice through the brown top coat of the seed, not to take a chunk out. Sometimes you can barely see the nick you made and sometimes a piece of the seed coat cracks off and you see the lighter colored inner seed. Both are correct!

2. When planting sweet peas in containers, do not use garden soil. Instead, use a good quality potting mix. Potting mix recipes are formulated to perform in the conditions present in a small container, whereas using garden soil can result in problems such as compaction and poor drainage. Many soil mix brands are readily available at garden centers.
Always pre-moisten your potting mix before filling your container. In a bucket or wheelbarrow, slowly add water while mixing the soil to make it evenly moist. You are done when it feels as wet as a wrung out sponge.
A 3-4 in. pot is a good size for starting sweet peas. If you are re-using a pot, be sure to thoroughly clean it first to avoid transmitting disease to your new soil mix. Fill the pot with your pre-moistened mix and then lightly tap it on your work surface to settle the soil. The soil surface of a properly filled pot will be about 1 in. from the top of your container.

3. You are now ready to sow your seeds. How deep you plant them makes a difference. Always follow the planting depth instructions on the back of your packet. For sweet peas, make a 1 deep hole. Your finger or a pencil works well for this.

4. Drop your seed into the hole you made. We recommend sowing 2 seeds per pot so that, in the end, every pot has a plant even if one does not germinate or dies.
If you choose to sow 2 seeds per pot, you will need to thin to 1 seedling per pot after the first leaves have formed. Cut or pinch out the extra seedling at the soil line. Do not pull it out as this can disturb the roots of the remaining seedling.

5. After sowing, cover your seed with soil mix. We recommend labeling your containers with the variety and date so you can keep track of what you planted and when.

6. Gently water your covered seeds. Use a watering can or hose with an attachment that diffuses the water so that it sprinkles like a gentle rain. This will prevent the water from washing away the soil or causing too much soil compaction.
While waiting for your seedlings to emerge, provide the appropriate conditions for germination to take place. Water and temperature are the most important factors. Your soil should stay constantly moist, but not soggy. The soil temperature should be between 55-70 F. If the weather conditions permit, you can start your seeds outdoors. Otherwise you will need to start them inside your house or a greenhouse. If starting them outside, provide protection from birds, snails and slugs.
After your seeds have sprouted, you must provide them with a good source of light. Indoors you can place them by a window as long as they will not experience extreme heat from the sun during the day. Cooler night temperatures by a window are not a problem for sweet peas. You can also use fluorescent lights. However, plants should be about 6- 12 in. from the lights for the intensity to be bright enough.

7. If you started your seeds inside, you will need to harden off the seedlings before transplanting them into your garden. Hardening off means gradually acclimating your plants to the conditions they will encounter outside – direct sunlight and temperature being the most critical. If you do not do this, your seedlings may suffer transplant shock after you plant them into the garden.

Start the process of hardening off when your plants have about 3-4 pairs of leaves. Move your plants to a location outside that gets direct morning sun and afternoon shade. If you do not have such a location, each day you will need to move your plants into the sun in the morning and out of the sun in the afternoon. After about 3-4 days move them to a spot where they will get direct sun all day. In a few more days you can transplant them into your garden.

8. When your seedlings have 3-4 pairs of leaves, you can pinch or cut off the top of the seedling, leaving 2-3 pairs of leaves. You should make your cut just above a pair of leaves. Pinching gives you a fuller plant by promoting lateral branching.

9. Sweet peas need well-drained, fertile soil, so before planting add some aged manure or other finished compost into your garden bed, work it into the soil, and rake the bed to create a fairly level surface.
To transplant your seedling, dig a hole deep and wide enough to fit the root ball.

10. When removing your sweet pea seedlings from their container, avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible. Try this. To catch the root ball, put one hand over the top of the pot with the seedling between your fingers, then turn the pot over. With the other hand squeeze the sides of the pot and then gently tap the bottom until the plant and soil come out.

11. Place your seedling into the hole you dug and back fill it with soil. It is important that sweet peas are transplanted so that the soil level is the same as it was in the pot. If you bury too much of the stem, the plants may become diseased and stunted, perhaps even die.

12. Space your transplants 5-6 apart. Proper spacing between plants is critical for the health of your mature sweet peas. It improves air circulation to help prevent disease and gives the roots of individual plants enough space to forage for water and nutrients.

13. As soon as you are finished transplanting, gently water in your seedlings. This not only provides water to the plant, but also settles the garden soil around the root ball so there are not large pockets of air that can dry out roots. Use a watering can or a hose with an attachment that diffuses the water so that it sprinkles like a gentle rain–this will prevent the water from washing away the soil or battering your delicate seedlings.

Tall sweet peas need a well-anchored support to climb up. Erect one now so that it will be in place as soon as your seedlings are ready to start climbing.

14. It is critical to protect your sweet pea seedlings from birds, snails and slugs. This should be done right after sowing your seed, otherwise these common predators may find your sprouts and eat them before you even know they are up!
For birds, use netting. We make our own support hoops from flexible, black plastic irrigation tubing, commonly called polytube, and available at most good garden centers. Cut it in lengths appropriate for the width of your garden beds. Push the ends of the cut tubing into the soil to form arches over your sweet pea bed. Drape the bird netting over these arches and secure all edges, making sure there are no openings. Remove the netting before your sweet peas get tall enough to attach themselves to it. For snails and slugs, we like the product Sluggo because it is non-toxic to humans, pets and wildlife.

15. As your plants get taller and start to climb, you may want to help wayward branches find their vertical support system. Gently coax them onto your support. Sweet pea branches snap easily.

16. To keep your sweet pea plants blooming as long as possible, we recommend deadheading. This means cutting off spent flowers before they have a chance to divert energy towards making seeds instead of more flowers. The ideal time to deadhead is just after the bloom has peaked and is just beginning to fade. Always cut off the entire flower stem.

17. This plant has entirely finished blooming. As you can see, the spent flowers form seedpods and the plants slow down and then stop blooming altogether. Eventually, all sweet pea plants come to the end of their flowering life whether you deadhead or not, but you can prolong the bloom period by cutting off spent flowers.

18. Of course the whole point of growing sweet peas is the flowers. Don’t forget to cut and bring them into the house regularly. They make beautiful, exquisitely scented bouquets. And the more flowers you cut, the more the plant will produce!

to view and purchase our 28 varieties of Sweet Peas

Care Of Sweet Peas – How To Grow Sweet Peas

The sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) your grandmother grew truly deserved the name “sweet” because of their delightful fragrance. In recent years, breeders have put fragrance on the back burner, selectively breeding plants with outstanding flowers and a wide range of colors at the expense of fragrance. You can still find fragrant varieties, often labeled as “old fashioned” or “heirloom,” but modern varieties also have their charm.

Taking care of sweet peas is easy. They prefer long, cool summers, and don’t last past spring in areas where summers are hot. Where winters are mild, try growing sweet peas over fall and winter.

How to Grow Sweet Peas

Sweet pea flowers come in both bush and climbing types. Both types are vines, but the bush types don’t grow as tall and can support themselves without the aid of a trellis. If you are growing climbing sweet peas, have your trellis in place before planting the sweet pea seeds so that you don’t damage the roots by trying to install it later. Avoid planting them near a wall where air can’t circulate freely.

Plant sweet pea seeds in spring while there is still a chance of light frost or in late fall. The seeds have a tough coat that makes it difficult for them to germinate without a little help. You can soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours to soften the seed coat, or nick the seeds with a file or sharp knife to make it easier for water to penetrate the seed.

Choose a sunny or lightly shaded site and prepare the soil by working in a 2-inch layer of compost to improve soil fertility and drainage. Sow the seeds an inch deep, spacing climbing types 6 inches apart and bush types 1 foot apart. The sweet pea seeds usually emerge in about 10 days, but it can take two weeks or more.

Care of Sweet Peas

Pinch out the growing tips of the plants when they are about 6 inches tall to stimulate lateral growth and bushiness. This is a good time to mulch the plants as well.

Water the soil around the plants often enough to keep it moist, applying the water slowly and deeply.

Fertilize with half-strength liquid fertilizer twice during the growing season. Too much fertilizer encourages an abundance of foliage at the expense of sweet pea flowers. Pick off spent flowers to encourage new blossoms.

Caution: Sweet pea seeds resemble edible sweet peas, but they are toxic if eaten. If children are helping in the garden, make sure they don’t put them in their mouths.

Sweet peas need not be a mere June fling, an early-season flurry of fragrance and flower that dies away as summer heats up. With a few tricks and not all that much devotion, you can keep these frilly flowers in full bloom over many months. Last summer, I picked my first sweet peas at the summer solstice, and my last just before Halloween. I admit the vines were looking ratty by October but still producing the sweet-smelling, if slightly smaller, flowers that they’d been cranking out all summer long.

I figured that breeders must have unlocked the secret of heat-resistant hybrids. Not so, says Renee Shepherd, who sells some of the most irresistible sweet-pea seed around. “Heat resistance is more a marketing thing,” Shepherd explained in a recent phone interview. It was sunny and warm at her display gardens in Santa Cruz County, Calif., she told me, while it was wet and cold here in Seattle. But no matter. The Northwest is ideal sweet-pea-growing country because these delicate-looking beauties adore cool weather. It’s only when the vines have matured sufficiently before warm weather hits that they have the resilience to keep on blooming . . . and blooming.

Sweet peas don’t deserve their high-maintenance rep. Just because they’re drop-dead gorgeous doesn’t mean they’re difficult. Here’s sweet pea 101:

• Start seeds indoors, or seed directly into the ground. Just be sure to get the plants going in the garden by the spring equinox. If you’re too caught up with spring chores to get your sweet peas started, many local nurseries carry starts, but not as wide a choice of colors and kinds as available by seed.

• Provide sturdy support for the vines to climb, remembering that they might grow bigger than you expect.

• Manure is key. Dig plenty of well-rotted manure deeply into the soil before planting. Sweet peas are somehow able to suck up and transform mucky manure into sublime-smelling flowers. When my sister raised cows, her sweet peas grew so exuberantly on their diet of manure that she sold armloads of excess blooms to local flower shops. You can’t overfeed these suckers; give them a couple doses of liquid fertilizer during the growing season.

• When the seedlings have a few sets of leaves, pinch them back so they branch out and grow bushy.

• Water regularly; don’t let sweet peas dry out, ever. A drip system promotes luxuriant, long-blooming vines.

• Crowding invites mildew. Despite the temptation to load up your fence or arbor, thin seedlings to 5 or 6 inches apart so the mature vines will have plenty of space between them for good air circulation. Take it from someone who always plants more sweet peas than she should.

• Pick several times a week. This isn’t too onerous a job, standing out in the sunshine clipping fragrant flowers to bring indoors. If you fall down on clipping them every other day or so, they’ll fall down on flower production alarmingly quickly.

• Shepherd recommends any of the petite ‘Cupids’ to grow in pots, baskets and windowboxes. She suggests passing up the big, old-fashioned Spencer types because they’re the least heat-tolerant of the bunch. “These do best in England, where they never really have much heat.” Of course, that describes most of our summers lately as well.

And what kind of sweet pea does this connoisseur love most? Shepherd hesitates not a minute. ” ‘April in Paris’ was bred to maximize fragrance,” she says. “It has wavy, vanilla-colored blossoms with violet edging.” She had me with the name.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “A Pattern Garden.” Her e-mail address is [email protected]

I covet sweet peas for their heavenly fragrance and old-fashioned simplicity. These little vining flowers are a delight to see and smell. Sadly, they can be a tricky annual for me to grow. They prefer cool temperatures but won’t withstand a frost. If I sow the seeds in early spring in my zone 7 garden they are likely to get wiped out by a late frost. Unfortunately, mid-South springs tend to be short, so if I try sowing them any later, the plants melt in the heat before they have time to bloom.

The solution is to start the seeds in the greenhouse in February and move the pots outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Starting the seeds indoors gives them the head start they need to bloom before spring ends.

Gardeners in climates with long, cool springs can sow sweet peas outdoors as soon as the threat of frost has passed. If you are like me and need to sow the seeds indoors, do this about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area.

The secret to good seed germination is soaking the seeds in milk a few hours before you sow them. That’s right, milk. This helps to soften the outer covering of the seed.

Whether starting indoors or direct sowing in the garden, plant sweet peas in a spot that receives full sun. They like a sweet soil with a pH of 7 or 8, so if you know that your soil is acidic add garden lime to make it more alkaline. Be sure to following the package directions on the garden lime bag. Sweet peas have relatively extensive roots, so the soil should be friable at least 24 inches deep.

Provide immediate support for your young seedlings. Metal can get hot on warm spring days, so try twine or twigs.

Once they are up and flowering, you will want to do everything you can to keep the plants full of blooms. One of the best ways to encourage continuous flowering is to cut bouquets for the house. I like to cut the blooms about every other day. Flowers remaining on the plant will develop into seed pods. It’s a good idea to remove the flowers before this happens because you want the plant’s energy to go into creating more blossoms, not seed.

Click on photos for larger view | to view our complete selection of Sweet Peas

1. You may choose to nick your sweet pea seeds before planting. Nicking the seed with a nail clipper breaks the outer coat of the seed so it can absorb water immediately. By doing this a larger percentage of your seeds will germinate and they will sprout a few days earlier.
Here’s how: Hold a seed between your thumb and forefinger. With the other hand, hold the clippers at an angle so that you use one end of the blade, then clip your seed. Your goal is to make a slice through the brown top coat of the seed, not to take a chunk out. Sometimes you can barely see the nick you made and sometimes a piece of the seed coat cracks off and you see the lighter colored inner seed. Both are correct!

2. Sweet peas need well-drained, fertile soil, so before planting add some aged manure or other finished compost into your garden bed, work it into the soil, and rake the bed to create a fairly level surface. With a tool or stick, make a furrow. It is important to bury your seeds at the proper depth (1 in. for sweet peas) so make sure your furrow is 1 inch deep.

3. To sow your seeds, drop them into your furrow 2-3 inches apart. By sowing your sweet peas at this spacing, you are more likely to get a full bed of plants without gaps. Later, after your seeds have sprouted, you will thin them to their final spacing.

4. After sowing, cover your seeds by pulling soil over your furrow. Remember that you want your seeds to be 1 deep, so move just enough soil to fill in your trench without creating a mound over the seeds.

5. Gently water your covered seeds. Use a watering can or hose with an attachment that diffuses the water so that it sprinkles like a gentle rain – this will prevent the water from washing away the soil.
Tall sweet peas need a well-anchored support to climb up. Erect one now so that it will be in place as soon as your seedlings are ready to start climbing.

6. It is critical to protect your sweet pea seedlings from birds, snails and slugs. This should be done right after sowing your seed, otherwise these common predators may find your sprouts and eat them before you even know they are up!
For birds, use netting. We make our own support hoops from flexible, black plastic irrigation tubing, commonly called polytube, and available at most garden centers. Cut it in lengths appropriate for the width of your garden beds. Push the ends of the cut tubing into the soil to form arches over your sweet pea bed. Drape the bird netting over these arches and secure all edges, making sure there are no openings. Remove the netting before your sweet peas get tall enough to attach themselves to it.
For snails and slugs, we like the product Sluggo because it is non-toxic to humans, pets and wildlife.

7. If you started your seeds inside, you will need to harden off the seedlings before transplanting them into your garden. Hardening off means gradually acclimating your plants to the conditions they will encounter outside – direct sunlight and temperature being the most critical. If you do not do this, your seedlings may suffer transplant shock after you plant them into the garden.

Start the process of hardening off when your plants have about 3-4 pairs of leaves. Move your plants to a location outside that gets direct morning sun and afternoon shade. If you do not have such a location, each day you will need to move your plants into the sun in the morning and out of the sun in the afternoon. After about 3-4 days move them to a spot where they will get direct sun all day. In a few more days you can transplant them into your garden.

8. To keep your sweet pea plants blooming as long as possible, we recommend deadheading. This means cutting off spent flowers before they have a chance to divert energy towards making seeds instead of more flowers. The ideal time to deadhead is just after the bloom has peaked and is just beginning to fade. Always cut off the entire flower stem.

9. This plant has entirely finished blooming. As you can see, the spent flowers form seedpods and the plants slow down and then stop blooming altogether. Eventually, all sweet pea plants come to the end of their flowering life whether you deadhead or not, but you can prolong the bloom period by cutting off spent flowers.

10. Of course the whole point of growing sweet peas is the flowers. Don’t forget to cut some and bring them into the house – they make beautiful, sweetly scented bouquets. And the more flowers you cut, the more the plant will produce!

11. All of the varieties at Renee’s Garden are grown and evaluated in our test gardens. When we evaluate sweet peas we look at many factor: flower color, scent, and form; plant vigor and disease resistance; and seed quality.

Sweet Pea Heaven!
Renee evaluating new varieties in our Sweet Pea seed producer’s growing field.

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