I am drawn to sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) like a magnet; their colors, fluffy petals, and sweet scent never fail to attract me. When I lived in New York State I could grow them without a lot of thought but now, living in a warmer climate, I have to plan ahead and choose the right variety.
The key to growing sweet peas in areas with hot summers is buying a variety that will bloom before the heat sets in. Look for varieties that say “early flowering” and avoid varieties that are marked “spring-flowering” or “summer-flowering” because they are sensitive to day length and won’t bloom until days are 12 hours long, a time when temperatures are already hot in southern areas. The Winter Elegance series is a good choice; it is 6+’ tall, fragrant, heavily blooming, has strong flower stems and comes in a variety of colors. Seeds come in packages of separate colors or in a mix.
In areas where the soil never freezes, seeds can be planted in the fall; in cooler areas seeds should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Gardeners in zones 8 and 9 can get two crops, one in the fall and another in early spring. All sweet peas like full sun and deeply dug, well composted, well drained slightly alkaline soil. Here’s what to do to get the most out of your sweet peas seeds:
1. For vine-type sweet peas like the Winter Elegance series dig a north-south trench, 1 ½’ deep and 6-8” wide. For bush varieties prepare the whole bed.
2. Install trellis or support for vine-types.
3. Spread manure in the bottom of the trench (1 bag per 8-10 feet) and work in well. Mix compost into the soil from the trench in the ratio of 1 part compost to 2 parts soil, add a low nitrogen fertilizer according to directions on the package, and refill the trench. Water deeply and allow to settle overnight.
4. Soak the seeds over night to soften the hard seed coat.
5. Plant 1” deep, covering the seeds with soil.
6. Water regularly.
7. You may have to protect the sprouts from birds, slugs, and snails. Once the sprouts are 6” the birds won’t hurt them but the snails and slugs are another matter.
8. When seedlings are 6” thin them to 6” apart and pinch the tips to encourage branching.
9. Although sweet peas have tendrils they may need a little help during windy times so use twine or string to tie the plants up if necessary.
10. Pick or dead head frequently. Removing flowers will encourage more blooms so feel free to pick and bring those gorgeous blossoms indoor to enjoy.
I never said this was easy; growing sweet peas a bit of work but the rewards are great.