Growing Sweet Peas
Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Growing sweet peas is akin to making piecrust. Some people have the knack, others don’t. Yet it’s worth experimenting with seeds every year to figure out how to grow them where you live and which varieties do best in your backyard.
Sweet Pea Growing Tips
Follow these guidelines for a bountiful harvest of sweet peas!
- Choose a well-drained site that receives full sun.
- Prepare a rich soil by mixing in generous amounts of compost and well-rotted manure. In the North, get the garden ready in the fall. Alkaline soil is best; sprinkle some powdered lime on the surface if your soil tends to be acidic.
- Before planting, soak seeds in water for 24 hours to soften their hard coats. Then gently rub the seeds between two pieces of sandpaper, or sit down to some music and nick each seed with a file. Once planted, germination can take 7 to 15 days, depending on the soil temperature.
- Plant seeds outdoors where you want them to grow, or try starting them indoors in six-packs or Jiffy pots. However, be aware that they don’t like to be disturbed and will transplant poorly if pulled by the roots from a growing medium.
- Turn the soil over to a depth of 2 feet. Dig a trench about 4 inches deep, make holes with a pencil, drop in the seeds and press down on the soil to firm it and shut out any light. As seedlings emerge and grow, gradually fill in the trench.
- Provide good support—a trellis, fence, or obelisk—at planting time. Use chicken wire; tall, bushy twigs; or tall stakes and twine to form a hedgerow. Antique varieties can grow to six feet.
- When plants become established, mulch well to keep the soil cool and moist.
- To encourage bushy growth, pinch off the tops when plants are 6 inches tall.
- Sweet peas prefer cool days and nights and will start to fade when temperatures go above 65°F.
Super Selection Varieties
Thanks to the work of plant preservationists, you can grow old sweet pea varieties as well as new ones. Here’s a sampling of what you can find.
‘Royal Mix’: Somewhat drought tolerant, with large bright-colored red, pink, purple, orange, and white flowers on long stems, bred from the Cuthbertsons.
‘Lady Grisel Hamilton’: Bred by Eckford in 1899, a fragrant variety with enchanting lilac-colored blossoms.
‘America’: Dating from 1896, with flowers that unfurl to show stunning wavy red and white stripes.
‘Cupani’s Original’: Akin to the variety that started it all, an intensely fragrant bicolor with small purple and dark-blue flowers.
‘Painted Lady’: A delightfully scented pink-and-white bicolor, introduced in 1737.
‘Old Spice Mix’: Rose, lavender, pink, and cream blossoms with an intense honey and orange fragrance.
‘April in Paris’: A fragrant modern variety with large creamy-yellow blossoms and lilac shading.
‘Spencer’: Mixed 2-inch flowers in red, purple, pink, blue, and white, with wavy petals and long stems.
‘Royal White Dove’: A new variety with softly ruffled flowers and long stems for cutting.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook has everything you need to know to grow!
The Old Farmer’s Almanac Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook features step-by-step advice on successfully growing 30+ vegetables from start to finish. With essential reference charts and tables for pests and diseases, watering, companion plants, pH and fertilizing preferences, space to record personal information and more, The Old Farmer’s Almanac Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook is loaded with advice and inspiration to guarantee success for every vegetable garden—and gardener!