When Should You Plant Sweet Peas

Sweet peas are one of the few annual flowers with enduring appeal and rural charm. They appear to be the exact opposite of our hurried life as they twine languidly around a rustic trellis. Sweet peas are fantastic flowers for gardens and bouquets thanks to their alluring scent. For information on how to plant and care for sweet peas, read our Sweet Pea Growing Guide!

About Sweet Peas

The sour pea Lathyrus odoratus is an annual flower that looks great twining on a trellis or arch, growing in a cutting garden, border garden, or woods. Today, a wide variety of hues, from pearly white to ice cream pastels to ritzy magentas and inky purples, are available for the blooms.

Only their honey and orange blossom fragrance matches their delicate winged flowers. Their appeal has been ensured by the combination of their exquisite aroma and their capacity to generate a large number of flowers for the house over an extended time of cutting.

One of the keys to cultivating sweet peas is to sow them early. Sweet peas are incredibly tough, despite the way they appear fragile. Plant them in very late winter or early spring in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 or colder, as soon as the soil is dry enough to work with. (Don’t plant seeds after the last frost.

When Dr. Robert Uvedale, a teacher from Enfield, Middlesex, received seeds of this exceedingly fragrant annual in 1699 from a Sicilian monk named Francis Cupani, he brought the first sweet peas to Britain. In North America, they gained enormous popularity as garden plants and cut flowers. By the late 1800s, producers in California, especially W. Atlee Burpee, were exporting trainloads of sweet peas across the nation and creating numerous new varieties.

Some people liken the process of producing sweet peas to that of preparing pie dough. Some individuals are gifted, while others are not. This plant sprouts from large, manageable seeds that resemble peas. They are still rather challenging since they take a while to germinate. It’s worthwhile to experiment with various seeds every year.

When to Plant Sweet Peas

  • Sweet peas should be planted as soon as the soil is dry enough to work in very late winter or early spring in most places where frosts occur frequently (Zone 7 and colder). (Start sowing before the last frost! Most certainly, it will be too late.)
  • Plant sweet peas in the late fall (November) if you garden in a region with a mild winter climate (Zones 8, 9, or 10), so they can grow and blossom in the late winter and early spring. Six weeks before you plant the seeds, dig a trench and fill it with compost or well-rotted manure to obtain the greatest show. Sweet peas are gregarious plants that require a lot of nutrient-rich materials to flourish.

Sowing Sweet Peas Indoors

  • Start sweet peas inside in a seed tray to get a head start on the season in the coldest regions of the nation. Sweet peas can withstand light frosts, so plant out as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring, around 6 to 7 weeks before the last date for frost.
  • The seeds’ outer layer is softened and helped to germinate by soaking them overnight. Using a nail file to lightly score the outer shell can also be beneficial.
  • 2 seeds to a module is fine to sow the seeds, but keep in mind that their lengthy roots have a propensity to tangle and can make separation challenging. Sow the seeds around half an inch deep in each cell of a seed tray.
  • Scoop them out gently after they start to sprout their first pea-like leaves and place them in a larger container to harden off. One of the most reputable growers of sweet peas gave me the following piece of advice: “Treat the seedlings like I would treat my husband: put them in an unheated greenhouse, neglect them, and they will thrive.
  • Plant them outside as soon as the soil can be worked.

Sowing Seeds in the Ground

  • Sweet peas thrive when their roots are firmly planted in cold, wet soil and their heads are exposed to sunlight. Plant low-growing annuals in front of them if you can to provide shade for the roots.
  • Pick a spot that drains effectively. If your soil tends to be acidic, it is recommended to add some powdered lime to the surface.
  • Mix liberal amounts of compost or well-rotted manure into the ground to a depth of two feet to create a rich soil. (Learn more about adding amendments to the soil and getting it ready for planting.)
  • You should dig a beautiful, deep “compost trench” that is around 4 inches deep before planting.
  • After digging the trench, use a pencil to cut holes, place the seeds inside, and then press down on the earth to compact it and block out any light.
  • The seeds should be soaked in water for 24 hours prior to sowing. To hasten sprouting, nick the seeds with a nail file before planting. In a temperate climate, seeds don’t need to be soaked.

How to Grow Sweet Peas

  • Depending on the soil temperature, germination after planting can take anywhere from 7 to 15 days.
  • Fill in the trench gradually as the seedlings appear and develop. Hoe additional dirt toward them.
  • Keep the soil wet. Summer rains may be plentiful. Sweet peas can have bud drop; if you stick your finger into the soil bed to its first joint and the soil is dry, water them at the soil level and do so in the morning.
  • You won’t need to fertilize if you plant with a lot of compost and aged manure. Use high potash feeds if you do want to supplement the diet because nitrogen feeds promote excessive top development.
  • Mulch well once plants are planted to keep the soil cool and moist. Unless the soil becomes dry, you might not need to water your sweet peas if you mulch.
  • Pinch off the tops when plants are 6 inches tall, not sooner, as this will promote the production of side shoots too early.

Provide Supports

  • When temperatures rise above 65°F, sweet peas will begin to fade since they like chilly days and nights.
  • Sweet peas are true climbers, with the exception of the bush forms. Provide them with sufficient support for at least 6 feet. Some species can reach heights of nine or ten feet. A braided willow obelisk, bamboo poles in the tee-pee design, or a trellis are examples of other attractive supports. If you don’t have a fence or trellis, give them something to cling on, such chicken wire, bushy twigs, or brush.
  • Give the plants a good start by tying the first few stems to the support; the rest will follow. When they reach a height of 4 to 8 inches, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch out the middle growing point. Plants will grow stronger as a result.

Picking Flowers

  • Pick flowers frequently for bouquets so that the plant will focus its energy on producing additional blooms rather than seeds. Up until the first frosts, the more you pick, the more they produce.
  • Allow a couple of the final blossoms to mature into seedpods when the leaves begin to lose their color. On a windowsill, dry them, and then keep in an envelope in a dry location to sow the following year.

From miniature bedding kinds ideal for pots and borders without support to 8-foot-plus scramblers, there are sweet pea varieties for every setting.

These decorative peas are native to Sicily, where they have flimsy stems and a powerful orange-jasmine-honey aroma. Modern hybrids feature larger blooms and stronger stalks.

However, some of these contemporary kinds, despite having larger blossoms and more fashionable colors, lack the earlier sweet peas’ perfume. Sweet pea ‘Cupani’ is still rightfully well-liked and simple to grow. It has bi-colored flowers with maroon upper petals and violet “wings.”

The decadently fragrant “America” is an antique from 1896. When its petals open, beautiful red and white wavy stripes are revealed.

Look for antiques like the Sicilian “Old Spice” collection. Shades of white, cream, pink, lavender, and purple can be seen in this strain’s blossoms.

A new cultivar with enormous, creamy-yellow blooms with violet shading called “April in Paris” is aromatic.

Although the ordinary sweet pea is an annual, Lathyrus latiflolius, a perennial broad-leaved everlasting pea, is not fragrant. These clambering plants have a height of up to 6 or 7 feet, are hardy to zone 5, require little care, and bloom continuously from year to year.

  • An essential component of a late Victorian garden is the sweet pea. Because of their wide range of colors and aroma, Victorians adored sweet peas.
  • When the dew is still on the flowers in the morning, gather them. Their best aroma is at this time.

How long do sweet peas take to grow?

One of the simplest flowering annuals to grow from seed is the sweet pea. In the garden, sweet peas are frequently direct-seeded. Give them a location with full to partial sun and rich, loamy soil that is deep, wet, and well-drained. To improve the soil and make it more friable, add lots of organic matter (compost, well-rotted manure, leaf mold, or humus).

When they are planted at times with colder temperatures, sweet peas thrive. The “season” for cultivating sweet peas is different depending on the location. To enhance winter and spring blossoming in western North America, sweet pea seeds should be sown from August forward. Although harsh freezes can cause sweet peas to die back, the plants can withstand frost without suffering too much damage. In the west, sweet pea blooms can be enjoyed well into the summer because of cooler nighttime temperatures.

Sweet peas can be started inside early for transplanting or planted right away once the worst of the weather has passed in the drier plains regions. Sweet peas have been successfully cultivated in Colorado’s hot summers by cut flower producers who mulch thickly as the plants mature and the temperature rises.

In the south, plant seeds in November or December for fresh cut flowers in early spring. In the non-coastal mid-west and northeast, start seeds indoors in February and transplant them outside after the ground thaws. In April, seeds can also be planted directly into prepared garden soil. The northeast’s coastline regions are also great places to raise sweet peas for the spring.

For sweet peas to bloom magnificently in your yard, you will need about 50 days of chilly temperatures (below 60 F). The seed coat of the sweet pea is tough and insoluble in water. There is no proof that sweet pea soaking will promote germination. A sweet pea seed’s outer layer can be punctured to allow for quick hydration, which speeds up and increases germination. The sweet pea seed coat can be easily nicked by scoring it with a nail cutter. When the soil is between 13 and 18 C or 55 to 65 F, sweet pea seeds will begin to sprout.

In holes that are about two inches (two knuckles) deep, plant seeds. Fill each hole with two to four seeds, and spacing them four to six inches apart. Till seeds have sprouted, thoroughly water and maintain soil moisture. Germination should occur within 10 to 21 days. Water the seedlings frequently once they start to grow to encourage robust, wholesome growth. Thin out the seedlings when they are three to four inches tall, spacing the strongest-looking plants four to six inches apart. You can enjoy your sweet peas for a longer period of time by sowing seeds once a week throughout a number of weeks.

Grow them in four-inch plastic or peat pots filled with a seed-starting mixture devoid of soil. Put two or three seeds into each container, each one being pushed an inch into the potting soil. Put the pots in a cool, dark location after covering with mix and water. Watch for new shoots to appear above the earth after about 10 days. Bring the plants outside into the sunlight at that stage. Keep them cool (below 55°F); if you keep them in a heated room, they won’t be hardy enough to move outside without a lot of time to harden off. Reduce the seedlings to one plant per pot until they have two sets of true leaves. As soon as the soil is workable, transplant into the garden about a month before the last date of frost because the shoots are hardy and won’t be affected by light frost. 12 inches should separate dwarf bushy forms, and 6 inches should separate climbing variety.

To avoid harming the roots, it is advisable to plant the stake or support with the seed or transplants when planting tall, long vine sweet peas. Although trellises are the most typical supports, there are various ways to climb. Sweet peas may climb on bird netting strung between two stakes, twine, string, or fishing line hung from the top of a split rail fence, a bamboo teepee, and brush stakes. If the support isn’t up against a wall, scatter seeds all around it to create a stunning display of blossoms that are visible from all angles. A four to six-inch layer of organic mulch will keep the roots cool and lengthen the growing season once the plants have been thinned out.

Avoid overfertilizing to avoid producing lots of very deep green foliage but few blooms. For the initial plant development, a 20-20-20 slow release fertilizer combination that is balanced works well. As an alternative, sweet peas benefit greatly from organic fertilizers. Composted manure mulching will help keep the soil moist and supply nutrients for healthy plant growth and blossoming.

When flowers start to fade, deadhead the plant if blooms are not frequently pruned. The plant will produce fewer flowers overall if seedpods are allowed to develop. More flowers will result from removing spent blooms.

Similar to other direct-sown seeds, the first difficulty for sweet peas is avoiding being devoured by rapacious birds, mice, squirrels, and other animals. Sweet pea seedlings are particularly susceptible to bird, slug, and snail damage if planted in the fall in a warm area.

Preventative actions frequently stop a problem in its tracks before it really has a chance to begin. For healthier plants, abide by these recommendations. Sweet peas should be planted in a region with sufficient airflow. Wet leaves are a magnet for fungus, so water early in the day so they are dry by dusk. Consider sweet peas as a type of food crop. Planting locations should be rotated so that sweet peas are only cultivated in one location every four years. Do not plant sweet peas where other legumes are flourishing or were previously planted. Garden peas, all varieties of beans, peanuts, and clover are examples of legumes.

In particular, certain specialized nurseries or garden centers may sell sweet pea plants. There might be sweet pea plantings in ready-made containers, creating an instant garden. When buying sweet peas, search for plants in individual peat or earth-friendly pots as they require special care when transferred. The better, the bigger the pot. Snip off any blooms or flower buds just before planting. Now is the moment to establish the roots thoroughly so they can support the needs of the developing plant. You will gain larger plants with a profusion of bigger flowers even though you give up early blossoms.

Plant in a pot or in garden soil that has been prepared. To protect the priceless roots from damage when transplanting, it is even more crucial to place the support first. Attempt to maintain the root ball’s unity. It should be planted at the same depth as when it was first emerging. Water it after gently firming the dirt around it. A week to 10 days should pass before mulching. Till the plants are well-established, make sure to maintain the mulch at least an inch away from the stem of the plant. Otherwise, you run the risk of suffocating the stem or potentially fostering bugs, illnesses, and insects.

Sweet peas entered the world of containers when “Cupid,” the first dwarf sweet pea, was introduced at the turn of the 19th century. Their small size makes them ideal for use in pots, urns, hanging baskets, window boxes, and other types of containers. Numerous varieties of dwarf sweet peas are offered in store-bought seed packets or through mail-order catalogs.

Sweet peas that climb are excellent container plants as well. Instead of placing one or two seeds in the center of the pot, place a circle of seeds an inch inside the rim of the pot, spaced a few inches apart. It is simplest to plant the support first, then scatter the seeds around it, in the constrained space of a container. Tomato cages make excellent supports for larger containers; the legs can be pressed into the potting soil. You can put a container of sweet peas in the garden in the early spring because sweet pea shoots aren’t affected by frost (at the same time youd plant seeds outside.)

Start trimming flowering stems for indoor bouquets when the first blooms show. You’re encouraging the plant to produce more flowers in addition to enhancing the lovely scent in the home. Every other day, during the morning hours when they are freshest, trim the stems. For climbing kinds, trimming lateral shoots that emerge from the base of the leaves will slow vegetative development, boost flower production, and improve airflow around the plant.

When you first arrange the stems, they will appear full. As the early blooms fade, the remaining buds will open. Make sure to get rid of any leaves in the vase that are submerged in water. If the base of each stem is trimmed off by 1/4 to 1/2 inch, a bouquet of sweet peas will easily last a week indoors. The water should also be changed every day.

The National Garden Bureau provided permission for this information to be republished. The person who wrote this fact sheet is Cathy Wilkinson Barash. Renee’s Garden provided the sweet pea image “Pastel Sunset,” while Bodger Seeds Ltd. provided the sweet pea images “Ocean Foam” and “Streamers Mix.”