With their sweet, enjoyable aroma, sweet peas are a great option for both gardens and bouquets. These pea-like flowering annuals bloom to reveal an array of picture-perfect colours that are suited to borders, woodland gardens, arches and trellis displays.
Cultivated sweet peas date back an impressive 300 years. Native to Sicily, these ornamental peas once boasted weak stems and a bold, orange-jasmine-honey fragrance. Today’s contemporary hybrids feature a stronger-stalk and much larger blooms.
Growing sweet peas is very much an art form; some find it very easy, while others struggle. Modern sweet pea plants are particularly hardy, and can be grown from large, low-maintenance, pea-like seeds. Despite this, they can still be slow to germinate. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to experiment with different seeds each year.
Planting sweet pea flowers
To ensure your sweet pea plants have the best possible start in life, sow them early. Depending on where you live, they should be planted in late winter or early spring when the soil is dry enough to work with. If you live in an extremely cool climate, plant sweet peas indoors to get a head start. As soon as the soil is ready, simply harden seedlings off for around a week, before transferring them outdoors. If you live in a milder winter climate, plant sweet peas in the late autumn, as this will encourage them to bloom in late winter and early spring.
When it comes to picking a location, it’s wise to remember sweet peas prefer the best of both worlds – their roots in cool, moist soil and their heads in the sunlight. To ensure the perfect conditions, plant low-growing annuals in front of your sweet peas to help shade their roots.
In addition to this, pick a well-drained site. For best results, opt for alkaline soil. If your soil is particularly acidic, sprinkle it with powdered lime. To prepare the perfect soil, combine a generous amount of compost with well-rotted manure to a depth of two feet. Before planting your sweet peas, dig a hole measuring four inches deep. When placing seeds in the trench, use a pencil to make further holes and drop a seed in each. Press the soil down firmly to shut out any light.
A good tip to follow is to soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting, nicking them with a nail file to speed up the development process.
Once you have planted your sweet pea seeds, germination will usually take between seven and 15 days. This all depends on the soil temperature.
As seedlings begin to emerge, slowly start filling the trench with soil, keeping it moist. As sweet peas have a tendency to suffer from bud drop, it’s a good idea to water them in the morning.
Instead of fertilising these plants, you can opt to use plenty of aged manure and compost. If you do wish to add even more nourishment, invest in high potash feeds as opposed to nitrogen feeds, as these encourage too much top growth. Sweet peas enjoy cool days and nights. Try to avoid temperatures above 65°F (18°C) as too much heat will cause the plant to fade.
It’s important to give your sweet pea plants ample space as the majority of variants are exceptional climbers, with the exception of the bush species. For best results, allow them at least six feet of good support. Certain varieties can climb to an incredibly nine or ten feet. You can use the likes of a fence, twigs, or chicken wire to create a support system.
When your plants are established, keep the soil cool by mulching them well and only watering your plants when the soil becomes dry.
To encourage good growth, prune your sweet pea plants regularly by removing the tops when the plants reach a height of six inches tall. Avoid pruning sweet peas too early as this will likely result in premature side-shoot development.
Pests and diseases
Just like the majority of plants, sweet pea flowers are susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, with slugs and snails being some of them. These unwanted garden pests often attack young growth. Another ailment to watch out for is Pythium root rot, which comes in the shape of a powdery mildew, grey mould or rust. Leaf spots are also common.
Use in bouquets
Picking the flowers for bouquets won’t harm the plant. In fact, it will often give the plant a new surge of life and the energy needed to create even more blooms, instead of going to seed. For best results, pick flowers in the morning when the dew is still on them. This is when their fragrance is at its sweetest.
There are a number of sweet pea varieties to choose from, including:
- April in Paris: a sweet-smelling, contemporary variety complete with oversized creamy-yellow blossoms, tinged with a lilac
- America: another sweet-smelling variant that is also said to be an heirloom, dating back to 1896. When its petals unfurl, they reveal a picture-perfect showcase of wavy red and white stripes.
- Old spice: this particular variant has been created to offer an old-fashioned perfume scent. It’s also heat resistant, which makes it a great option for those who live in warmer climates. This particular strain, native to Sicily, blooms in shades of cream, pink, white, lavender, and purple.
- The sweet pea is a vital member of a late-Victorian garden. Victorians embraced this species of plant due to its hues, sweet fragrance and diversity.
- The sweet pea flower is one of April’s birth flowers.
- The sweet peas’ scent, although greatly enjoyed by humans, is hugely offensive to flies.
The sweat pea is easy to cultivate and can provide plenty of colour and life to your garden when it has the right conditions. If you have any other tips for looking after these beautiful plants let us know, as we’d love to share them with our readers.