Growing Sweet Peas

Fragrant sweet peas have been loved by gardeners for centuries. They have long been a treasured cut-flower; having showy blooms with an incredible and powerfully sweet scent. The humble sweet pea climber also works very well on allotments as screens to unsightly areas. They take up very little room and will happily climb up the side of a shed or wigwam of sticks. Whether you have purchased them this year as plants, or intend to grow them from seed, this article will explain the best methods for growing sweet peas and producing plenty of sweet-scented flowers.

Growing Sweet Peas from Seed

Sowing sweet peas is easy and a good project to give to children to try out. The best time to get planting from seed is during October and November for a big head-start, or March to May for a smaller display. Sow 2 seeds, 1 cm deep into moist seed compost in pots and keep them in a warm(ish) spot, away from draughts and frosts. Cover with newspaper until germination takes place. Check every day!

Allow between 10-20 days for sweet pea germination.

When the seedlings appear, move your sweet peas to a brighter spot and keep them at around 5 degrees C for the best results.

Protect the young plants from birds, mice, rats and slugs/snails. Growing your sweet pea seeds in autumn produces better plants with more flowers.

Sweet peas, as with other legumes, prefer to be planted in deep pots to allow the roots to descend. You might want to try growing them in cardboard toilet rolls for a good start in life.

Pinching Out Sweet Peas

When the sweet peas have reach 10cm tall, pinch out the growing tips. This will boost side-shoots and plenty of bushy growth. Also, keep an eye out for curly stems. Remove them as they appear to encourage stronger stems that will produce more pea flowers.

Planting Out Sweet Peas

Plant out your sweet pea plants between April and June. And Keep them well watered, but never let them sit in water. They can tolerate light frosts.

Prepare the soil before planting

Before planting sweet peas, prepare the soil by adding plenty of well-rotted manure or compost and work it in. It is important to have free draining soil, but at the same time, moist areas for the root to reach down to. For this reason, I like to dig a hole about 12 inches deep and line it was newspapers. I then back fill it with soil/manure, ready to plant sweet peas.

Place each sweet pea plant in holes that are 5-8 cm from the cane/stick or trellis. Each plant should be 7-10 cm apart. Then, as always, water well.

After Planting

Keep on picking the dead-heads to encourage more flower development. Consider making a habit of cutting sweet peas and take them into the house to use as a natural air-freshener. In this way, new flowers will soon replace the ones. The more you pick, the more you get!

Be vigilant. Young sweet pea plants provide tasty snacks to slugs and snail. Because of this, I recommend using organic aluminium sulphate-based slug pellets. Never use non-organic slug pellets! Also, as an extra level of protection, check your peas before bed.  With torch in hand (or on head), pick out any slugs and do with them whatever your conscience allows. Because they are so slimly, I recommend that slugs are better handled with gloves or a trusty trowel. By doing this each night, your sweet peas should be pest free. You will be amazed on how affective these two approaches are.

Mulching & Watering your Sweet Peas

I would also recommend mulching your sweet pea plants with compost. As a result, this will prevent pathogens in the soil, being transferred to the leaves and flowers during rain fall.

Water your sweet pea plants in the morning, to allow the foliage and flowers time to dry out during the day. This will help to prevent flower drop, should the temperature suddenly drop during the day.

Sweet Pea Support

Most varieties of sweet pea will produce tendrils that will attach to any support you give them. However, some varieties aren’t as good at latching on.  In which case, you will need to tie them such types. I tend to tie all varieties to be on the safe side. Doing so will prevent them from being thrown around in the wind and will result in stronger sweet pea plants. Tie with flexible or loosely arranged garden twine. Don’t strangle them!

Different types of support

You could try growing sweet peas up an obelisk, or against a trellis. Many people prefer to let them ramble into a wigwam made of canes or sticks.

If you are making a wigwam, consider winding garden twine around the entire base of the wigwam, reaching to the top. This will give an excellent support for your sweet peas as they grow upward. If you do so, you will be delighted by strong sweet pea blooms all summer.

Growing Sweet Peas in Containers

Growing sweet peas in pots is not as silly as it sounds. Some varieties are happy growing in containers, such as ‘Pink Cupid‘ or ‘Duvet Mix‘. One variety does really well in hanging baskets. ‘Pea Sugar n Spice‘ is a sturdy plant. It becomes smothered in flowers and will look great in any hanging basket.

Feeding Sweet Peas

If your soil is poor and generally unproductive, I suggest using a high potash-based fertiliser for the best results. Tomato food is a very good option and readily available. If you make your own comfrey feed, then use it. Sweet peas love a comfrey feed. Don’t feed them when they are seedlings. Feed your plants as soon as the flowers start to develop. Repeat every 2 or 3 weeks.

Sweet peas not flowering

Make sure you are feeding your sweet peas every couple of weeks. Check to see if they are able to grip onto the supports you have provided. If the sweet pea flower supply is just low, then consider cutting what you have to encourage more new growth.

For more information on growing sweet peas, please visit the Gardener’s World website.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. Please don’t forget to share this tutorial on your Social media and with your friends. Doing so will help support my website and allow me to write even more articles in the future. All the best for you and your garden!

James Middleton

An obsessive gardener since 1982. Day-time job - web designer and developer and University lecturer.

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