GardenSMART :: Sweetly Scented Sweet Peas Like It Cool
Sweetly Scented Sweet Peas Like It Cool
By Gardener’s Supply Company
Photographs courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Company
Delicately scented sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are some of the earliest flower seeds you can sow outdoors. In most regions you can plant them as soon as the soil is dry enough to work in spring — usually several weeks before the last frost date.
Read seed packets and variety descriptions carefully, choosing early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties to prolong the flowering period. (Note that even with careful selection, flowering will cease when the weather heats up.) You'll have an astonishing array of colors to choose from — delicate pastels, vibrant jewel tones, the deepest maroon. Some varieties are more strongly scented than others, too. Most are vines that will need a support or trellis. However, there are also some "bush" varieties that don't need support.
Sweet pea seeds have a hard outer coat. To speed germination, soak the seeds overnight, or nick each seed's coat with nail clippers so it can absorb water. If you're planting vining types, plant the seeds in a row about an inch deep and 2-3" apart in the row. Planting seeds in a row makes it easier to set up a simple trellis, such as netting held with stakes at each end to hold it taut and upright.
Alternately, you can plant the seeds at the base of a trellis. Sweet peas are an ideal choice for growing in a planter with a decorative support: The vines grow to a manageable size, and you'll be able to enjoy the flowers' beauty and scent up close.
Starting Seeds Indoors
In regions where winter's snow and cold lingers, you can get a jump on the season and start sweet peas indoors. This is especially helpful in regions where springs are short and summer heat comes on early. Plan to sow seeds indoors six to eight weeks before your average last spring frost.
Follow the same procedure for soaking or nicking the seed to speed germination (above). Sweet peas are sensitive to having their roots disturbed, so sow the seeds in "plantable pots" — paper pots, coir six-packs, or other seed-starting containers you can plant directly in the ground. Being able to keep them in the pot and plant them, pot and all, eliminates the chance of root damage and helps speed the plants' acclimation to garden conditions.
Grow them in a sunny window or, better yet, under bright grow lights. Full-spectrum LEDs are more energy-efficient and last much longer than fluorescent tubes.
About a month before your average last frost date, begin hardening off your seedlings by moving them to a sheltered spot outdoors, increasing their time outside over the course of a week or ten days. A cold frame is a handy spot to harden off seedlings.
Then you're ready to plant in your garden or containers! Once the flowers start to bloom, cut them regularly and bring them indoors to enjoy in a vase. This will encourage the plant to keep blooming into early summer. Then you can replace these cool-season plants with heat-lovers.
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