Grow as many as you can. You won’t regret it. They will fill your life with sweet color and scent.
Oh the storybook charm of Sweet Peas! They will flutter into your heart, with their fairy like flowers and alluring scent.
No garden is complete without sweet peas. Grow them on fences and walls or a trellis for a fabulous vertical display!
Sweet peas, native to Sicily, are easy to grow if you know a few tricks.
A cool-season annual, Sweet Pea seeds are easy to start indoors or direct sow into the garden. Plan on starting them both ways for a continuous supply of fluffy summer bouquets!
Early sowing is one of the secrets to growing beautiful sweet peas.
For a 10 foot fence or wall you will only need 20 seeds.
STARTING INDOORS: Sow seeds indoors in February-March. Start seedlings in an unheated greenhouse, cold frame or outside in a protected area. Don’t baby this hardy frost-tolerant annual.
Foolproof germination – use the “wet paper towel method” of starting seeds.
Moisten a paper towel so that it is saturated and very wet. Lay it flat on a counter. Place sweet pea seeds in the center of the paper towel and fold into a rectangle with seeds inside. Seeds need darkness to germinate. Place in a plastic bag (I use a 6-1/2’ x 5-1/2” plastic sandwich bag). Leave in plastic bag for 5 – 6 days. Open up bag to check seeds – all should have germinated or swollen up. Plant seeds in either seed starting trays, or directly in the ground. Any seeds that are still small and hard should be “chipped” with a razor blade. This means taking off a small piece of the skin of the seed to reveal lighter color underneath. Plant these seeds too.
The seedlings resent root disturbance, so starter pots like “rootrainers” or bio-degradable pots that can go in the ground right along with your transplants are preferred. Sweet peas have long root runs and the deeper the pot you can give them the happier they will be.
Transplant to larger containers when there are at least two sets of true leaves, taking great care not to disturb the roots. Pinch out tips when plants have 4 pairs of leaves.
Harden seedlings off for at least a week before setting them out into the garden. You can plant them as soon as the soil can be worked, approx mid May.
PREPARE THE BEDS: Sweet peas need well drained soil. Dig deeply and enrich with aged manure or compost before sowing seeds. They prefer alkaline soil; sprinkle powdered lime on the surface if your soil tends to be acidic.
STARTING OUTDOORS: Sow seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. But a good rule of thumb is to plant seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, the average last frost date for Bend is June 24, so backing up 6 weeks to May 13th is the estimated date to sow your pre-germinated sweet pea seed. Sow seeds, ¼-½ in. deep in a sunny location. Sweet peas are happiest with their heads in the sun and their roots deep in cool, moist soil. When possible, plant low-growing annuals at the base to shade their roots. Where summer heat comes on fast, give them a spot with afternoon shade. Plant seed every 6″ along a climbing support. Covering your freshly planted seed with row cover will help protect them from late frosts and critters like mice and birds as they love newly planted sweet peas. Even the new sprouts. Mulch and keep well watered.
TRELLIS: Give them something to climb on! Erect a well-anchored trellis, vertical netting or other support for vines before planting. Peas use tendrils to climb. They can grasp anything that’s a quarter-inch or less. Anything bigger won’t work. The best support is string, twine, or netting with a grid that’s at least 2″ x 2″. Trellis netting, such as Nearly Invisible Netting or Biodegradable Netting, is ideal.Anchor supports well as vines will grow heavy with bloom.
TIP: One of the best ways to grow sweet peas is to plant them on a freestanding trellis. Plant on both sides of the trellis to double the amount of flowers. For maximum sunlight, place the trellis so it runs from north to south.
TIP: Remove the climbing tendrils as they grow. Tie stems to the support system on a regular basis.
TIP: To encourage bushy growth, pinch off the tops when plants are 6 inches tall, not before or you’ll encourage premature side-shoot development.
FEED: Rich, well composted manure is a sweet pea favorite and the key to sweet pea success! If you use plenty of aged manure and compost when planting, you do should not need to fertilize. If you do want to add nourishment, use high potash feeds, as nitrogen encourages too much top growth.
TIP: Foliar feeding of plants with a weak manure tea will make foliage distasteful to aphids as well as stimulate plant growth and keep them a healthier green color. Guard against aphids, as they may transmit disease to plants. Feeding plants with compost tea just before blooming will encourage larger flowers.
TIP: To keep stems long throughout the growing season add a small amount of bloodmeal to the soil by sprinkling it alongside the plant. Rake it in and water well.
FLOWERING TIME: June-August 10-12 weeks from spring sowing of seed.
VASE LIFE: 4-5 days. Avoid direct sunlight and heat.
HARVESTING: Gather the flowers in the morning when the dew is still on them. This is when their scent is the sweetest. Harvest the stems when the lowest blossom is just beginning to open. To keep your vines productive, cut flowers frequently and remove the faded blossoms and seedpods. Once summer heat arrives, your vine might turn brown and die, which is normal. At that point, you can pull it out and replant with something else. Some varieties tolerate heat better than others, such as Starry Night and Cupani’s Original.
CONTAINERS: Sweet peas can be grown to bloom beautifully in a container. Choose a container that is at least 10 to 12 inches deep. This may be the best way to take advantage of your yard’s best sun. Container grown sweet peas will still need a trellis.
OTHER TID BITS:
Sweet peas are one of the April birth flowers.
“The odor of the sweet pea is so offensive to flies that it will drive them out of a sick-room, though not in the slightest degree disagreeable to the patient.”
–A tip from The 1899 Old Farmer’s Almanac
- Sweet peas can suffer from a wide range of problems, though few are very serious.
- A grey, leaf covering is caused by powdery mildew.
- Aphids will suck sap, particularly around the shoot and flower tips.
- Plant viruses are known to attack sweet peas, but this isn’t that common.
- Do protect young plants from slugs and snails.
- Drought and temperature stress causes scorched foliage and bud drop.
- Protect young plants if significant temperature drop is forecast and always harden off indoor raised plants before planting out.
- Water early in the day during hot weather and avoid getting the foliage and blossoms wet which could burn the plant.
- Dense clusters of distorted leafy shoots, often close to ground level, are leafy gall.
- Seedlings may grow weak and leggy, which is caused by insufficient light and excess warmth. If this occurs, move seedlings to a cooler and brighter spot.
Watch Sarah Raven’s Video on Planting Sweet Peas!