The weather outside is deceitful, sunny where it should be chilling and grey. Pools of melted snow and patches of ice should be covering my garden, instead, I am out pulling weeds... on New Year's Day! January is the month to be salivating over the seed catalogs flooding mailboxes. I must admit, I am a seed-a-holic. What can I say, I can't say "no" to a pretty flower. Besides, I LOVE receiving treasures in the mail. A simple cardboard colored envelope engulfs my summer dreams. From zinnias to nasturtiums, I have an array of seeds to start. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the time to start most of those magical seeds. Except, sweet peas.
Sweet peas have an intoxicating scent, a scent that catapults me into the times of horse-drawn carriages and curtseying ladies. Their delicate petals bring such bliss as spring begins to awaken the earth from the dormancy of winter. It is quite fitting that the Victorian era meaning is “bliss” or “delicate pleasure.” A handful of these dainty blooms in a vase will fill your home with refined beauty and a delicious fragrance.
January and February are a wonderful months to start some sweet peas indoors, which makes fall the perfect season to order some. They are rather hardy and a great spring flower for beginning gardeners! There is nothing more exciting than watching a seed sown burst through the soil within a few days. It feels like such an accomplishment! For Northern Nevada’s weather (sometimes there’s a spring, sometimes its winter straight to summer!) the “Spencer” variety is a great heirloom that is hardy in the cold but can also handle the summer heat better than most other varieties. There is a rainbow of colors to choose from within this group, from cool icy blues to bright cheery pinks. There’s even an “Early Grey” to match your tea! The Spencer variety have stronger and longer stems compared to most of the other heirloom types, making it a delightful cut flower.
The early flowering variety that is my go-to is the elegance series. They thrive under shorter days. For spring, in-between early spring and early summer, I love the mammoth variety. This allows me to have amazing sweet peas all spring long.
If you are ready to get some dirt under your fingernails, I’m ready to tell you how to start these little beauties. All you need is some quality sweet pea seeds, potting soil, some four-inch pots, and a sunny windowsill.
Sweet peas are considered “heavy feeders,” meaning they love lots of good nutrients! Unlike some other flowers, sweet peas greatly benefit from the nutrients of a good potting soil versus just a peat moss seed start. Your potting soil should have plenty of perlite in it, for optimal drainage and healthy root growth. For better and quicker germination, soak the sweet peas in room temperature water for 8-24 hours prior to sowing. This is a form of stratification, which will soften the seed some, making it easier to sprout.
You want to avoid replanting the sweet peas multiple times. Starting the sweet peas in a four-inch pot, or another deep vessel, such as propagation trays, gives them some nice room. At least enough until they get nestled into the ground. As much as you witness your sweet peas growing up, they are growing that much down!
When the sweet peas are four to six inches tall you want to pinch their stem down to the first or second set of leaves. This will ensure a bushy plant with way more flowers to pick later on. Who can argue with having more gorgeous flowers at their disposal?
The four to six weeks after sowing your sweet peas will fly by. March or April are good months to plant them out in the ground. The weather should be warming, the soil not a solid block of ice, but still nice and cool. Sweet peas are a vine and will need to be trellised. Our sweet peas towered over my 6'5" husband last year! With the right location, good soil, and proper nutrition, they become a wall of intoxicating flowers. An unsightly fence that needs to be covered, an adorable wicker-pea trellis or even tomato cages will work as trellises. Use your creativity! If it can support them and you find it fun and beautiful, use it!
Sweet peas love sun. Be sure to plant them where they can get six to eight hours of sun, preferably morning sun and afternoon shade. Also, choose an area that they will be protected from winds. Once again, sweet peas are heavy feeders, work some good compost into the growing site and fertilize with fish emulsion weekly. If your sweet peas are too bushy and not flowering, cut back on the fish emulsion and spray with a fertilizer higher in phosphorous (to learn more about fertilizing read my "Nitty Gritty on Plant Nutrition" blog post). When the flowers start blooming, cut them and they will reward you with even more flowers! For the maximum vase life, harvest the sweet peas when one to two blooms are open on the stem and put directly in clean water. Change out water daily and re-cut stems every other day, this will give you about a good five days of vase life. They do best when harvested in the morning.
Have I sold you on sweet peas yet? Now fill your teapot with your favorite tea and some scrumptious scones, with a vaseful of sweet peas and watch your afternoon transform from simple to enchanting.
Give growing sweet peas a whirl, you won't regret it!
Hope you enjoyed this dose of floral bliss and until next time: I am looking forward to handing you blooms soon.