It’s too early for planting sweet pea seed, but it’s not too early to start thinking about ordering your favorite variety. In fact, now is the perfect time to peruse seed catalogs. Order early and avoid disappointment – the popular varieties will sell out quickly!

Renee’s Garden, our specialist seed supplier, boasts a selection of 25 sweet peas varieties, some of which are heirlooms and date back hundreds of years.

In the warmer US zones you can sow sweet pea seed in the fall, and grow them slowly  through the winter. But since that ship has sailed, we’ll have to settle for a very early spring planting, at least this year. Next year perhaps in the fall! In the colder US zones, plant your sweet peas early in the year when the soil temperature is between 55° and 65° F. Just like their edible cousins, sweet peas are a cool-season crop – they are actually quite frost-tolerant. Above all, remember they like to bloom as the days lengthen and the weather starts to warm up.

Sweet perfumed “North Star” combines the fragrance of heirloom varieties with the magnificent form of exhibition sweet peas. Two-tone blossoms of rich claret and violet blue give the ruffled petals a royal touch.

Sweet peas are the quintessential English cottage garden flower. Extraordinarily fragrant, one posy will perfume a room, they come in a wide selection of colors, from white to deepest maroon.  Whether you grow your sweet peas in containers, raised beds or in-ground, ensure that the soil is well-drained. Most are annuals – which means they only last a season; they are planted fresh each year. They thrive in a fertile, alkaline soil enriched with compost and humus – not hummus! The majority of sweet peas are vining plants and require support, although there are bush varieties which can be grown in containers, and some are ideal for cascading from hanging baskets.

“Heirloom Cupid”, a very fragrant, bush sweet pea with rose-pink flowers, is ideally suited to small-space gardening. An antique variety beloved by generations.

Originating in Italy, sweet peas became hugely popular in the late Victorian era, resulting in the cultivation of many varieties. If you haven’t had success with them before, or you’re a first-time sweet pea grower, follow these Do’s and Don’ts below for success with your sweet peas.

Sweet peas are generally sown direct where they are to grow, about 1 inch deep. Position the seed about 2 inches from each support. Germination can be ‘spotty’, so sow two seeds in each spot. (One is for insurance – you will discard the weaker of the two by snipping it with scissors.)

If you are in a really cold area and want to get a jump start, you could sow indoors. Instead of using regular two-inch seed trays, rather use root-trainers. The beauty of these is that the extra-long, deep pots will channel the roots downwards, and the plants will produce more lateral roots. As a bonus, the plastic lid turns the root trainer set into a mini-propagator. It’s a really neat arrangement and they are reusable.

“April in Paris” boasts heavenly-scented large ruffled-blooms of softest primrose-cream edged with deep lilac. A vigorous grower that will enchant.

When the roots reach the base of the root trainers, you will need to pot them on, either into their permanent home, or into interim pots – they should be about 5” deep.  Either way, go gently and do not disturb the roots.

Germination will take about 10 – 28 days. Be on the watch for slugs and snails – they relish young sweet pea seedlings, as do birds.  Protect the young seedlings with netting to deter our feathered friends!

When the seedling has formed its 3rd pair of leaves and the first tendril has appeared (a thin, wispy string-like growth), pinch out the tip either with your nails, or scissors. It may seem harsh, but it will promote vigorous side shoots – it will make the plants grows out rather than up.

As the plant grows, tie the shoots in with plant support clips, if necessary. Stay on top of this and don’t let the stalks flop. Support for your sweet peas can range from a fence to a fancy obelisk, and anything in between. Whatever you use, make sure that the sweet peas have something to cling to.  Their tendrils cannot find traction on smooth canes – they need a roughened surface such as string or trellis netting. Ensure that you support them at the time of planting.  To grow sweet peas in a container, you can make a wigwam of canes (stakes), which are topped by a cane-support cap – which corrals the canes.

“Watermelon”, an old-fashioned Spencer variety, combines form, subtlety of scent and a color that defies exact description. This sweet pea will transport you to a gentler time.

Mulch your seedlings to maintain a cool root-run. Feed your plants monthly with a general all-purpose fertilizer and never allow your sweet peas to go to seed. In fact, instead of deadheading them, rather pick them often:  The more you pick, the more flowers you will get. For the best results, cut them in the morning – choosing freshly opened flowers.

“Saltwater Taffy Swirls” will charm you with their softly-scented, intricately marked blooms: Veins of blue, maroon, chocolate, crimson red and rich purple swirl through the pastel background of the petals. An absolute delight! 

Early sowing is the key to success with Sweet peas.  Follow the instructions above and your sweet peas will reward you with masses of wonderfully scented flowers.

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