They’re showy, fragrant, but can topple a trellis SWEET PEAS

By Marilyn McKinley

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

Sweet peas just might be one of the most romantic of all flowers.

They have a long history dating back at least 300 years.

In their native Sicily, the stems are weak, and the scent is that of orange-jasmine-honey, very “sweet’” indeed.

Modern hybrids have much stronger stems, larger blooms, and many do not have any fragrance at all.

Sweet peas come in almost every color except yellow.

There are hardy sweet peas, their colors are white, pink and lavender.

More intense colors of red, blue and purple are of the annual variety and can be replanted in mid-spring each year.

I have hardy sweet peas.

I really like them but wish I had known more about them before I planted them several years ago.

They are very hardy. They spread a lot, and the vines become very heavy.

I placed a trellis for a few new shoots to climb on, and the trellis broke.

They are hard to dig up, too.

So I guess a word of wisdom would be, if you plant hardy sweet peas be sure you want lots of vines and you are going to be happy with where they are planted – forever.

I also plant annual varieties.

I especially like the deep purple and the red ones.

They like full sun and well-drained soil.

Sow them directly, because they don’t seem to transplant well. Sow in mid-spring up till mid-May.

Soaking the seeds for 24 hours before planting will help improve and speed up germination. Plant them 1 inch deep and 3-4 inches apart. Water well after planting, then wait until they germinate (seven to 15 days) to water again.

Sweet peas are heavy feeders, so apply a soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks during bloom time. I work in slow–release fertilizer when planting, but I fertilize based on the label to avoid over fertilization. I don’t want the extra vines.

They like moist cool roots; mulching makes them happy.

They will create their own shade, so slugs may be a problem as they will live in the moist shade below the plants.

There are bush types and climbers. The climbers will need support. They will need 6 feet of support of some sort.

Another thing I really love about sweet peas – they are rarely browsed by deer.

The variety “Old Spice” is one of the most popular. It is fragrant, and comes in white, cream, pink, lavender and purple and has an amazing fragrance that will fill your garden for most of the summer.

They are climbers – so be sure to plant them where you have plenty of space.

For more information on growing sweet peas, visit

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