Sweet Peas are perhaps the sweetest flower we grow. Once a customer pulls a “sweetie bouquet” to their nose—the respond is the same “my grandma used to grow these” or “I’ve tried to grow sweet peas for years with no luck at all.” So, I will share a few steps how to grow great sweet peas.
Start the seeds and plant out in either fall to winter over or very early spring so they can become well established before blooming. If you plant pansies in the fall and they survive the winters to bloom in spring than try fall planting sweet peas. Planting zone 7 and south go for fall planting for sure and zone 6 and north start 8 weeks before your last frost date.
Start indoors about 2 weeks before we want to plant them. Soak the seeds overnight, plant in plug trays, large blocker or whatever your choice of seed starting. Seeds can also be planted directly in the garden, plant a seed every 3-4 inches and thin come spring. Starting indoors yields more success.
Plant transplant in a raised bed with lots of organic matter and composted manure worked in. Excellent drainage is a must. Wet feet will rot them for sure— they do well in large containers also like the half whiskey barrel size often available. In the garden plant in a single row 9-12” apart, water in with organic fertilizer. In a container plant around the edge (about 2” in from the lip) every 6 inches leaving the center empty.
Once winter sets in with temperatures dipping below 30 degrees I usually cover the row of vine transplants with a floating row cover to protect the vines from the cold drying winds. I only water if we go without snow or rain for more than a couple of weeks during winter. In March I uncover as it begins to warm, feed with organic fertilizer and install a vertical trellis. I water weekly if spring rains don’t provide.
Trellis suggestions: if you plant next to a structure that has railing spindles or fence wire they will travel up- they need something to get their vines around. An easy fix to make a teepee type structure is to get several 6-7 foot saplings from a tree (the suckers work great) place them in the grounds in a circle, gather the top tips and tie with garden twine. Run some garden twine in circles wrapping the saplings to make a web for them to climb. Webbing only needs a string every 8-10” or so. We use vertical trellis that is attached to very sturdy galvanized post that are 8 feet tall, sweet peas vines grow like mad when they are well established.
Vines normally begin blooming in late May and go until July if you cut for bouquets or deadhead weekly. Hummingbirds love them as do pollinators.
Grow Sweet Peas – because you can!!
Lisa Mason Ziegler is a commercial cut-flower farmer in Newport News, Virginia; she lectures and writes about organic and sustainable gardening. You can email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org , call her at 757-877-7159 or visit her website www.shoptgw.com . Like us on Facebook and keep up with the farm!