Sweet peas make great flowers for gardens and bouquets. These pea-like flowering annuals grow in many lovely colors and are suitable for a border, a woodland garden, and a trellis or arch. They emit a wonderful seductive fragrance so pick a convenient spot to enjoy them.
Cultivated sweet peas go back at least 300 years. In their native Sicily, these ornamental peas have weak stems and an intense orange-jasmine-honey scent. Modern hybrids are stronger-stalked and have larger blooms.
Remember though sweet peas are poisonous, so don't confuse them with other types of edible peas.
In warmer regions (zone 7 and above) where winter weather is relatively mild, sweet peas can be sown in fall. Everywhere else, sow in late winter/early spring. Soak the seeds in water for 8-10 hours before sowing. This softens the seed coat and speeds up the sprouting process.
While the seeds are soaking, fill your planting pots with good quality potting soil. Sweet peas produce abundant roots, so use the deepest pots you can find. Root trainers and 4 inch pots are ideal.
Sow 2 seeds per pot, poking them a half inch into the soil with your finger.
Cover pots with a plastic dome lid to increase humidity and speed up germination. Place in a cool greenhouse, or in a bright window in the house.
Once plant are 4-6 inches tall, pinch out the central growing tip, just above a leaf joint, leaving just two or three leaf nodes. This will encourage the plant to branch vigorously from the base.
Sweet peas are heavy feeders and require a little extra pampering to produce abundantly. Prepare planting beds by applying bone meal, a thick layer of compost or well rotted manure and a generous dose of natural fertilizer. Mix these ingredients deeply into the soil.
Vines grow rapidly and require a strong structure to climb. Place tall posts roughly 8 feet apart down the row and attach either netting or 6 foot tall metal fencing for them to scramble up.
Plant seedlings out around the last spring frost in two rows, one on either side of the trellis, roughly 8 inches apart down the row. As the vines explode into lush growth, it is important to keep them tied to their trellises. Once the vines get going, sweet peas can grow over a foot a week.
Sweet peas love water, and without consistent moisture will fail to thrive. Keeping their thirst quenched during warm weather is crucial, so set up soaker hoses as soon as you plant them to keep their lush growth unchecked. Feed plants weekly with diluted fish and seaweed emulsion.
For the longest vase life, pick when there are at least two unopened flowers at the tip of a stem. Add flower food to the water to extend vase life. To prolong blooming, it's important that plants don't set seed, so be sure to harvest and deadhead the flowers frequently.