Sweet Peas

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Botanical name: Lathyrus odoratus

Plant type: Flower

Sun exposure: Full Sun

Soil type: Loamy

Soil pH: Alkaline/Basic


Flower color: Red, Pink, Yellow, Blue, Purple, White

Bloom time: Summer, Fall

Sweet peas enchant us with their fragile, seductive fragrance and make great bouquets. These pea-like flowers grow in many lovely colors and are suitable for an annual border, a woodland garden, and a trellis or arch.

Sweet Pea
(Delicate Pleasures)
"Here are sweet peas,on tip-toe for a flight
With wings of gentle flusho'er delicate white,
And taper fingers catchingat all things
To bind them all aboutwith tiny rings."

–John Keats (1795–1821)

Cultivated sweet peas go back at least 300 years.  In their native Sicily, these ornamental peas have weak stems and intense orange-jasmine-honey scent. Modern hybrids are stronger-stalked and have larger blooms.

Growing sweet peas is akin to making piecrust. Some people have the knack, others don't. Sweet peas are quite hardy, growing from large, easy-to-handle pea-like seeds. Still, they're a bit tricky because they are slow to germinate. It's worth experimenting with different seeds each year.

Planting

  • Early sowing is one of the secrets of sweet peas. In Zone 7 or colder, plant them in very late winter or early spring as soon as the soil is dry enough to work. (Do not wait until frost.) In the coldest parts of the country, get a jump on the season by starting sweet peas indoors in six-packs or Jiffy pots. Harden seedlings off for at least a week, and then set them out into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. If you garden in mild winter climates (Zones 8, 9, or 10), plant sweet peas in the late fall so they can develop and bloom in late winter and early spring.
  • Sweet peas are happiest with their heads in the sun and their roots deep in cool, moist soil. When possible, plant low-growing annuals in front of them to shade their roots.
  • Choose a well-drained site. Alkaline soil is best; sprinkle some powdered lime on the surface if your soil tends to be acidic.
  • Prepare a rich soil by mixing in generous amounts of compost and well-rotted manure mixed to a depth of 2 feet.
  • Prior to planting, you're going to want to dig a nice deep trench of about 4 inches in depth.
  • After you dig the trench, make holes with a pencil, drop in the seeds, and press down on the soil to firm it and shut out any light.
  • Before planting, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. Then nick the seeds with a nail file before planting to speed sprouting. You do not need to soak seeds in a temperate climate.

Care

  • Once planted, germination can take 7 to 15 days, depending on the soil temperature.
  • As seedlings emerge and grow, gradually fill in the trench. Hoe more soil up to them.
  • Keep soil moist. Summer rain may be ample. If you put your finger into the soil bed to its first joint and the soil is dry: water them at the soil level and do in the morning; sweet peas can suffer from bud drop.
  • If you use plenty of aged manure and compost when planting, you do not need to fertilize. If you do want to add nourishment, use high potash feeds, as nitrogen feeds encourage too much top growth.
  • Sweet peas prefer cool days and nights and will start to fade when temperatures go above 65 degrees F.
  • Except for the bush types, sweet peas are real climbers. Give them at least 6 feet of good support. Some varieties may climb to 9 or 1 feet. If you don't have a fence or trellis, provide brush or chicken wire or bushy stubbly twigs that they can cling to.
  • When plants become established, mulch well to keep the soil cool and moist. If you mulch, you may not need to water your sweet peas unless the soil gets dry.
  • To encourage bushy growth, pinch off the tops when plants are 6 inches tall, not before or you'll encourage premature side-shoot development.
  • Pick the flowers for bouquets often and the plant will put energy into more blooms instead of going to seed. Harvest the stems when the lowest blossom is just begining to open.

Pests

Recommended Varieties

  • 'April in Paris' is a fragrant modern variety with large creamy-yellow blossoms and lilac shading.
  • The deliciously scented 'America' is an heirloom, dating to 1896. Its petals unfurl to show stunning wavy red and white stripes.
  • Breeders now often varieties with old-fashioned perfume as well as heat resistance. Look for heirlooms like the 'Old Spice' collection from Sicily. This strain blooms in shades of white, cream, pink, lavender, and purple.

Wit & Wisdom

  • The sweet pea is essential member of a late-Victorian garden. Victorians loved sweet peas for their coor diversity and fragrance.
  • Gather the flowers in the morning when the dew is still on them. This is when their scent is the sweetest.

"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

E-Cards

Send a free e-card of this heavenly sweet pea!

Comments

I grew sweet peas this year

By Debi Teter on September 21

I grew sweet peas this year foe first time in many years. I found two different seed pods on them one is shaped like a legume or bean and large like a lima bean and purple and pink spotted, the other is small round dark seeds. which one do I plant and what is going on. very strange

For sweet peas, after the

By Almanac Staff on September 23

For sweet peas, after the flower fades, you should see a string bean-like pod encase the seeds. The pod starts out bright green, but it will fade to a brown color when the seeds are mature. The dried pod will split to reveal the seeds.

I planted my sweet peas way

By Claire

I planted my sweet peas way too close together. If I untwirl them all & cut every 2nd plant right back, will the mature plant transplant ok? I live in subtropical Australia. Thanks.

I planted 3 window boxes of

By Freddi D,

I planted 3 window boxes of sweet peas (in Catskill Mtns., 2600' elev) and all three have grown, but....not one bloom as of 8/6/14! We've had a cool and wet summer unlike most years.

One box is separated as it has aphids, the other two are not infested.

I grow eating peas and beans well in hay with no problems! In reading advice, I've done it all. I'm a bit sad at not having one single blossom. :-(

I'd say we are a zone 4 due to our elevation (called a mini-alpine climate by a local horticulturist)

Our clematis, BES, phlox, lilies, etc. do fine though. Oh well.

I have kept and marked the

By Wayne Tilby

I have kept and marked the various colours of sweet peas.
Will the White seeds collected bear White sweet peas and Purple bear the same shade as the mother plant?
If so, arranging a colour scheme for balance would be nice. In mixed packets, Murphy's Law will have all Purple at one end with a Pink somewhere in the middle:)

Interesting question! With

By Almanac Staff

Interesting question! With sweet peas, there are dominant and recessive genes. Keep this in mind when breeding: white flower color is the recessive color (though dominant to cream). Red flower color is dominant over pink and rust. I believe purple flower color is dominant over red and maroon. We'd love to hear about your experiment and how it turns out!

Are the peas off of purple

By Kolleen0107

Are the peas off of purple sweet pea flowers eatible?

Sweet peas are flowers not

By georgewilson

Sweet peas are flowers not green peas. The seeds are poisonous.

Can I use the pods

By Melissa Morita

Can I use the pods (seeds)from this years plants to have seeds for next year?

can i use the seeds(pods)

By janis laverack

can i use the seeds(pods) from this year for flowers next year?

Sweet pea seeds are easy to

By Almanac Staff

Sweet pea seeds are easy to collect and store for next year. Make sure the seeds are totally dry before putting them in an envelope or container. Pick the pods when they are mature and already have started to dry on the plant. You can put the peas on a plate in a sunny window to finish drying.

well i planted {by plants] in

By terry straughn

well i planted {by plants] in April my Sweet Peas, i am zone 7. They have grown but never any flowers. I do have Petunias planted around them. They are green and vining up a tree. I AM BUMMED ( THEY ARE MY FAV OUTTA ALL THE FLOWERS I GROW!!!) Thank you for all you info...

Hi, Terry, By most estimates,

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Terry,
By most estimates, your peas are not flowering because they experienced too high temps—some say 85°F or above, but even cooler could cause produce this outcome.
Petunias are not specifically cited as an influence, but sweet peas, like most vegetables, need to be rotated in the garden—that is, planted in a different place every year for four years; in the fifth year, you could plant them again in the original (first, so to speak) spot.
So, start them sooner next year in a different place with the proper conditions (see above).

I have the same problem!

By jaime eray

I have the same problem! Please can someone advise? My plants are healthy and seem happy at about 40-50cm tall, but not flowering. We are near the end of winter where I'm from, should I just be patient?

Hi, Jaime, Since you seem to

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Jaime, Since you seem to have the same problem as Terry (above), here is the same answer:
By most estimates, your peas are not flowering because they experienced too high temps—some say 85°F or above, but even cooler could cause produce this outcome.
Petunias are not specifically cited as an influence, but sweet peas, like most vegetables, need to be rotated in the garden—that is, planted in a different place every year for four years; in the fifth year, you could plant them again in the original (first, so to speak) spot.
So, start them sooner next year in a different place with the proper conditions (see above).
Hope this helps!

Can sweet pea flowers be

By Judith Siegfried

Can sweet pea flowers be grown indoors in Florida?

Sweet peas aren't an easy

By Almanac Staff

Sweet peas aren't an easy plant to grow indoors as a houseplant. They need cool temperatures but at least 6 hours of sun per day (morning sun might be best, as it gets hot in the afternoon). Lots of rich soil and a deep pot. You may not get blooms, but it is certainly worth a try. You might try planting them in the fall, during cooler weather, unless your home is cooled all year.

Thank you Almanac Staff. I

By Judith Siegfried

Thank you Almanac Staff. I will try to grow this plant indoors in the Fall as I love the flowers. I sure hope I'm successful
Judith

I live on the Washington

By hapi2be

I live on the Washington State coast line. My husband just built me a bed for my sweet peas but in doing so I asked him to put down plastic cloth over the driveway gravel. He then built a semi circle bed out of landscaping blocks and it is great. My question is: should I have poked holes in the plastic before covering it with 18" of 4 way soil, or will it drain through the landscaping blocks or out the bottom under the blocks. He did such a wonderful job I don't want to complain especially since it was my fault.

After considering several

By Almanac Staff

After considering several experiences with both black plastic and landscape cloth, we would have advised not using either and mulching heavily instead.
Rain runoff is only one concern but it may also mean that you water more. "Dead" (undernourished) soil under the plastic, as well as critters from snakes to moles. not to mention decay can happen. Removing both of these materials after they decay can seem to take forever.
Consider removing the soil, setting it aside, and pulling up the plastic at the end of the season—then returning the soil to the same spot. The gravel will provide drainage. And mulch whatever you grow.
 

Hi! I am extremely surprised

By Susan A. Metcalfe

Hi! I am extremely surprised at the concensus that sweet peas are hard to grow and must be started very early. In Prince George, BC Canada I threw a handful in a large empty plant pot at the end of July and had beautiful flowers well into the fall. I did not soak or file and the sprouted quite quickly. July and August are hot in P.G. I can't understand the fuss people are going to with these plants. I have them at the front of the house too and did not dig down 2 feet.I plant the ones out front in April and they take off like wildfire. I have been using "Jumbo" Royal Family Mix, Spencer Giants and the Everlasting mix comes up every year if I let the seeds drop. I would really like someone to explain to me why I have never had a struggle with these plants?

The difference is you live in

By Patricia F.

The difference is you live in Canada, where it is cooler. The person before you said she lived in zone 7. Big difference in temperature.

I live in Canada in Southern

By Carol Clark-Hill on September 3

I live in Canada in Southern Ontario and this summer has been cool and damp.My sweet peas are at the south side but did not bloom at all.Lots of growth but not one flower. They have been up since June and it is now Sept.This is the first time I have planted them in a long time and I never had a problem before.I am blaming the seeds.They were not cheap ones either.I''m going to rip them out. What would make them not flower?

Hi, Susan, Whatever you're

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Susan,
Whatever you're doing, it's working—and we all here are envious, I'm sure (I know I am!).
McKenzie Seeds (which claims to be Canada's #1 packet seed company) advises soaking these seeds for 24 hours before planting and planting at about 1/2-inch (13mm) depth, so that's similar to the advice here. This vendor also describes the variety as "exceptionally long lasting" on "long, sturdy stems"—up to 2.1. meters (7 feet).
Another vendor, Ed Hume, suggests a trellis for this height, and also advises keeping the soil moist throughout the growing period and picking/deadheading flowers for the longest bloom period.
If you're not doing any of this, yet have fabulous results, I can only guess that you have a deep green thumb. Thanks for sharing this variety.

more info please on the

By Leslie McKenzie, Cape Town.

more info please on the short, non-climbing variety, like 'Bijou'. Especially stuff like depth of trench, depth of roots, and soil mix.

Hi, Leslie, This is an ideal

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Leslie,
This is an ideal plant for windowboxes and other containers, as well as in ground, so it is relatively shallow rooted. If starting seeds in starter container, push the seeds about 2.5 cm (just under an inch) below the level of seed-starter compost. Transpolant when the roots fill the containters.
If starting in soil in ground, push the seeds 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) into the compost.
A trench would be the same (shallow) depth.

Planted my peas only to have

By Gracem

Planted my peas only to have found what I think are baby millipedes in the soil all over my p-patch. Dug up peas because they didn't sprout and found them covered with these millipedes. Ew. Suggestions on how to regain control over my soil?

Millepedes are drawn to wet

By Almanac Staff

Millepedes are drawn to wet moist soil and usually not harmful. They are beneficial since they convert organic matter into plant food. If you have an investation of them we suggest that you plant the peas in a different drier spot.

I have been growing SweetPeas

By Stanley Brown

I have been growing SweetPeas since (1950).
I suggest that the ground be dug very deep (several feet) and replaced with good soil (after adding some fertilizer).
Prune to inhibit outgrowths. This will ensure fine very large flowers.

Hi, Stanley, Thanks for your

By Almanac Staff

Hi, Stanley, Thanks for your comment.
It sounds like you have found a solution for rotating: instead of changing the location, you change the soil! Always good to have options available. Thanks for yours!

Hi, I started my sweet peas

By FirstTimeGardener

Hi, I started my sweet peas indoors, as I'm in Zone 7 (I believe...BC Canada) and they've sprouted and are growing! but they have no leaves. Is this normal? Is there something wrong with my flowers if the stem keeps growing, but hasn't grown any leaves? Thanks for your help and insight!!

The leaves will come. We

By Almanac Staff

The leaves will come. We recommend to plant peas directly in the ground. Pea seedlings are sometimes hard to transplant.

It is April 2nd and I'm in

By NA Wright

It is April 2nd and I'm in Houston,Tx. My sweet neighbor just gave me 2 different kinds of sweet pea seeds which she was already soaking...is it to late to plant? After reading your posted advice about their habits I fear it is already to warm here...what do you think? By the time they bloom,if I'm lucky,it will be mid June and very hot. Since they have already been through the soaking process I don't know if the seeds can be dried out again and saved till next year,if so what month should I plant them next year? Thank you for your help..I would love to be successful in this planting.

In Texas, sweet peas are

By Almanac Staff

In Texas, sweet peas are usually planted in the fall for spring bloom. If planted in spring, it should be very early. However, since the seeds have already been soaked, it would probably be best to go ahead and plant them, although they may not be happy when it gets warmer. The best you can probably do is to set them out in an area that gets shade in the afternoon. Place in well-drained soil and water regularly. During hot spells, provide some filtered shade all day. Remove any spent blossoms to encourage the plant to continue blooming.

Thank you for your prompt

By NA Wright

Thank you for your prompt reply. This is very encouraging and I am excited by the possibility of success with this lovely flower,I will plant them right away.

My leaves on the sweet pea

By nasr mohammed

My leaves on the sweet pea are yellowing.what do I do.

Yellowing leaves on sweet

By Almanac Staff

Yellowing leaves on sweet peas is often related to overwatering. Water in the morning at the base of the plant, keeping the foliage dry. Ensure your soil drains well. You can add compost to improve drainage. Also, do not use fertilizer.

what time can you plant sweet

By kelly kurpaska

what time can you plant sweet peas?

We mention timing above. In

By Almanac Staff

We mention timing above. In milder areas, plant in fall. In colder areas, sow in late March or April.

I know that sweetpeas grow

By goofygoober

I know that sweetpeas grow tall but do they need suport? This is my first time planting sweetpeas?
Thanks

Please see the text above for

By Almanac Staff

Please see the text above for information about sweet pea support as well as germination.

it has been 10 days and my

By goofygoober

it has been 10 days and my Sweet pea seeds have not sprouted what should I do?
thanks

how often should i water the

By Joseph Dirling

how often should i water the sweat-peas

Just keep the soil evenly

By Almanac Staff

Just keep the soil evenly moist. If you put your finger into the soil bed to its first joint and the soil is dry: water them.

Other than pine needles what

By Texasgem

Other than pine needles what is good for safely keeping slugs and snails off the plants?

Coffee grounds are safe and

By Avis

Coffee grounds are safe and effecting to keep slugs off your plants. Straight from the can or used grounds sprinkled in a wide circle right up to the plant. I live in a very wet area and it works. If you get a lot of rain you may need to sprinkle several times during the growing season as the grounds will eventually wash away.

fine bark mulch is the best

By Jeff 22

fine bark mulch is the best one if you have slug or snail problems.

Natural or garden grade

By CarBar

Natural or garden grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is leathal to slugs and other ground dwelling pests. The DE is like shards of glass to them. It also lasts longer than coffee grounds, although, coffee grounds deter cats as well.

You really want to keep mulch

By Almanac Staff

You really want to keep mulch and any debris away from your plants. Make sure the garden soil that you prepare is well cultivated, bringing up any clods. Protect seedlings with soda bottles (with the bottoms cut out). You can create barriers, however, with rings of cedar, oak bark chips or gravel chips. Pine needles are fine. We like to use egg shells. Anything rough such as sandpaper or builders' sand can work, too. You can use wood ashes, though don't let the ashes touch the plant.

we have centipedes eating our

By willa

we have centipedes eating our pea plants. any suggestions on ridding them from our plants and garden?

Pick them off by hand.

By Almanac Staff

Pick them off by hand. Attract birds to your garden. And spray with Neem Oil!

Can I plant the seed pods

By Karen Brainard

Can I plant the seed pods from wild sweet peas in my yard for next Spring? If so, when and how should I plants? Thank you!

Sweet pea pods burst open

By Almanac Staff

Sweet pea pods burst open when dry, throwing their seed out so you want to collect them early. Allow to dry in a bag and store in a dry, cool place so the seeds don't rot. 

This is the second year with

By lillian Martin

This is the second year with my sweet peas,,very pretty..now producing pods and I expect seeds will fall to the ground for next year..do I cut the vines - I did not do this last year but they are 6 feet now. Thanks

Congrats on successfully

By Almanac Staff

Congrats on successfully growing sweet peas. According the the WSU Clark County Extension experts, "Deadhead spent flowers and remove seedpods to promote re-bloom. Once sweet pea plants diminish, simply cut them off at ground level, leaving their nitrogen-fixing roots in place to benefit their neighbors."

I have several annual sweet

By Peter Corbett

I have several annual sweet pea plants and I have kept on top of the dead heading to the extent that the plants are now quite denuded of any flowers at all. Does this mean it is time to dig up the plants and throw them away or will/might they enjoy a second coming?

Deadheading should have

By Almanac Staff

Deadheading should have prolongued the blooming; for sweet peas, you cut off the entire stem. Eventually, all sweet pea plants come to the end of their flowering life. Spent flowers would form seed pods if they were allowed. If you've been deadheading all along and the blooms have stopped, it's safe to say they're done.

my sweetpea is producing

By kennedyk

my sweetpea is producing seedpods instead of flowers, what can I do to get it to flower again?

Sweet peas do not like

By Almanac Staff

Sweet peas do not like extreme heat. Also, to keep them flowering as long as possible, you have to continuously pick them.
Good luck!

I planted an abundance of

By Roxy Freeman

I planted an abundance of Winston Churchill sweetpees beginning of june for our wedding which is on sep 21st. They plants are already a good 15 to 20 inches tall. no sign of buds yet but they must be on their way! Do you think they will still be flowering come sep 21st? Is there anything i can do to prolong the blooming period apart from dead heading them?

I planted some bush sweet

By Patty Bjorgo

I planted some bush sweet peas in a hanging planter in early spring after the chance of frost was over. They sprouted when they should and took off like gang busters. They are supposed to grow 6-12 inches but have tripled that. I still don't have any flowers. When can I expect them? I fertilize with Miracle Grow. Thank you!

HI Patty, It takes 50 to 75

By Almanac Staff

HI Patty, It takes 50 to 75 days to bloom. We're not sure where you're from but the trick to sweet peas is to plant well before the heat comes: October or November for milder winter areas and late April in cold winter areas. They need about 50 days of cool temperatures (under 60º F) to bloom. If they don't flower, it's the heat.

I have planted sweetpeas in

By Cath

I have planted sweetpeas in my flower box on the balcony. The lower leaves are yellowing and drying off. What do I need to do for them.?

It could be a fungus issue or

By Almanac Staff

It could be a fungus issue or a root issue. You could take a sample to your local cooperative extension for a diagnosis. Be careful not to overwater. Sweet peas prefer dried-out soil. Water when the leaves start to wilt.

I've had quite the luck with

By Raina Thistle

I've had quite the luck with sweet peas, they germinated in about 1.5 weeks indoors and are steadily growing. Just put seeds in seed starting potting mix and I can't wait for them to bloom! They grow quick!

sweet peas

By Anonymous

i am growing sweet peas but how long does it take them to grow

The days to maturity for

By Almanac Staff

The days to maturity for sweet peas depend on the variety but it ranges from 55 to 70 days. Once they bloom, they keep going. Bloom time is often 8 weeks!

picking sweetpeas

By Anonymous

Is it true..for more more blooms keep them picked?
Snails? slugs? have a pine tree around Use the fallen needles as a mulch around your plants, snails & slugs will stay away.

For sweet peas, just deadhead

By Almanac Staff

For sweet peas, just deadhead the flowers when they fade. That will produce more blooms. If the plant starts to create seedpods, you'll have less blooms.

sweet peas

By Anonymous

Thank you for the info, Love these flowers planted for the first time last summer kind of late and still got some flowers , I wont miss a beat this year on them LOL...

sweet pea seedlings

By maine kairn

THANK You!! I'm about to plant some sweet pea seedlings which I started indoors (it's a long story). Fortunately, I logged on to learn about proper pinching, and in the process discovered that I need to protect my young'uns from slugs (which we have in abundance). I'm so grateful to have learned this from you before I put them out. Perhaps we'll have flowers instead of heartbreak...? We shall see. Love You, Dear Old Farmer's Almanac.

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By Eddiegirl

It is nice to have found the almanac on FB, so much fun & so exciting, all the great information. Thanks!

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