Sweet peas are a national favourite having long being loved for their beauty and summer fragrance. From their first appearance in Britain in about 1730 as small wild flowers, there is now a wonderful range of single-stem blooms and multi-coloured, scented, trailing and climbing, miniature and full size varieties have become available. There are Sweet peas in almost every possible colour except true yellow and are one of the easiest annuals to grow from seed.
Tips For Growing Sweet Peas
Cupid Mixed : A very pretty mix of short bushy sweet pea varieties, perfect for growing in baskets and containers as it does not require support
Sowing Sweet peas.
Sweet peas are easy to grow from seed, but you can buy ready-grown young plants. The best results come from seedlings sown in mid autumn (October) in a cold frame for flowering the next summer. You can also sow in early spring which can be a little less time-consuming however; these will flower later and will be more susceptible to mildew later in the season. In late March the seeds can be sown directly into the soil as they are hardy annuals.
Autumn sowing (October)/Spring sowing (Mid March) - fill small pots (6cm / 2-3in) with moist compost and sow one seed per pot to a depth of 1.5cm (1/2in). Maintain a temperature of around 15°C (60°F). Sweet peas don't need a heated environment to develop, so put trays in a cold frame, greenhouse or unheated porch.
Patio Perfect : grows to around 3ft with strong stems bearing 3 or 4 wavy medium scented blooms. Great choice for patio pots and planting unsupported in the border.
Chitting or “Chipping” the seeds
The percentage of seeds that germinate well will almost certainly be varieties which germinate naturally without too much trouble and might not be the variety, colour or heavily scented ones you most look for. The following methods to much improve the rate of germination are tried and tested by exhibitors and individual growers alike who grow for cutting and garden display, but every gardener has his own special way of sowing seeds.
Chipping is the term used by sweet pea experts and means removal of a very small part of the hard outer seed coat. This is done on the side opposite the 'eye' with a sharp knife or nail clippers to take off a small slice, or rough sand paper to roughen the skin of the seeds to thin it out a bit. The reason for chipping is that some of the seeds have a very hard coating and the moisture which the seeds need to be able to absorb in order to germinate cannot penetrate some of the harder coated seeds.
The way to decide which seeds need chipping is first of all to soak them all for a few hours in a table-spoon or two of tepid water, those seeds that are still dark should be chipped. The darker the colour of the sweet pea flower, the harder the coat is, and therefore even after it has been soaked you will find little difference in the size of the pea, whereas the lighter coloured varieties will swell rapidly and become soft. In fact frequently these light coloured flower seeds need neither chipping nor soaking, but unless you know the colour of the sweet pea you are sowing it is better to give them a short soak for a few hours which will do no harm as long as they are patted dry afterwards on tissue paper or kitchen roll since if left in water longer than 12-24 hours they will begin to break down.
Painted Lady : A very attractive pink and white bicolour from the 18th century. Strong scent. A very early sweet pea
Sweet Pea Snoopea: Compact variety that does not produce tendrils.
Sweet Pea Tubes.
The roots of sweet peas grow deep, therefore when sowing use deep pots to allow these to run freely and avoid a check to growth (they don’t need to be wide).If you collect lavatory roll inserts you can use these, their length is perfect for sweet peas. Another method is to make tubes from pieces of newspaper and either staple or sticky tape them together. If you have made your own, cram the tubes tightly together in a seed tray. Don't worry about extracting the plants - the paper will biodegrade quickly once it is buried in the soil.
Beaujolais: Exotic appearance but perfectly hardy
Sweet Peas are hardy, and can survive frosts; however if grown in a cold frame or greenhouse they need to be hardened off before planting out. Sweet peas can also be sown directly in the soil from mid-March.
Seedlings should be planted out in late March until end of May, when at least 5cm (2in) in height. Plants will thrive in an open sunny site. Sweet peas require a moisture retentive, well drained soil. Since they are deep rooted, dig the soil to at least one spade's depth and mix in lots of well-rotted compost or manure. Incorporate Growmore or blood, fish and bone into the top few inches of the soil at the recommended rate. Sweet peas need support to introduce height. The most usual method is a wigwam of canes. Tie string around the wigwam to give the tendrils something extra to climb on. Another method is to create a vertical frame using stakes and pea and bean netting. Create a screen to separate your vegetable patch or add privacy to a seating area. When planting out, it doesn’t matter so much if the soil around the roots comes away. The important thing is to water them in well.
When the seedlings have grown three pairs of leaves, pinch out the growing tip. This will cause several further shoots to grow from the three sets of leaves - resulting in a healthier plant with many more flowers from additional shoots.
However to get the strongest sweet pea plants, it is important to concentrate all the energy’s on a single shoot. In this case let plants grow to 30cm (12in) and then select the strongest shoot and remove the rest. Tie the shoot to a cane with string, garden twine or special sweet pea rings every 30cm (1ft) and regularly pinch-off side shoots and tendrils. Make sure you wipe your knife or secateurs between cutting each plant to prevent the spread of disease. When plants have reached the top of the canes, untie and lay stems on the ground. Re-tie stems to a cane further along the row, so the tip of the plant reaches about 30cm (12in) up its new cane. This way you will create the criss-cross network of stems and build up your screen allowing stems to grow longer and guarantee more flowers
Blue Skies : A subtle blend of some of the best blue sweet peas including fragrant varieties
Valerie Harrod : A favourite with sweet pea exhibitors for its striking large well formed flowers. A delight to grow and very well scented.
Feeding Sweet Peas.
Sweet Peas like a rich well fertilised soil. During flowering time, the addition of tomato food once a week will help prolong flowering. They benefit from being well watered and mulched. As with many other plants, it is best to give a good soaking every now and then rather than feeble daily watering. Do not over-feed as this will result in lush foliage and less flowers.
Once a plant starts to flower, it is important to deadhead or pick the flowers constantly or the plants start to set seed very quickly. Once they set seed they will tend to stop flowering. Try to nip off the tendrils as they form since this uses up a lot of energy and you want flowers rather than tendrils - also the tendrils are inclined to twist around the flower stems and bend or stunt the development. Thus you can pick good long stems to take indoors to enjoy the sweet pea perfume
Pests and Diseases
Sweet peas are remarkably free from major troubles. Bud drop is a problem where the flowers fall from the stems after hot days and cold nights. It cannot be controlled as it is weather related. Aphids can spread virus diseases and the plants should be sprayed on a regular basis. Finally powdery mildew can ravage plants in hot, dry summer. Spray with a systemic fungicide to control its spread.
Pollen beetles often fly onto sweet peas from oil seed rape crops. They infest the flowers but cause no harm and do not cross pollinate varieties. There is no control but after flowers have been cut, leave them in a vase of water resting on some white paper in a cool, dark shed with the window open and they will fly away.
Anniversary : A sumptuous sweet pea with wavy pink picoteed blooms which have a sweet scent. First class for exhibition.
Matucana: an old variety with unbeatable perfume.