A Rewarding Floral Challenge
By Maria Price
Sweet peas are one of those flowers that don’t grow well in Maryland. But after seeing them growing and blooming on a pre-COVID trip to England, I decided they are worth the effort. I try each year in the hopes of getting a summer that won’t be horribly hot, especially the first half of the season. They prefer rich soil and cool weather. Maryland weather is the opposite but there’s always a chance we’ll have a cool summer start. I intend to challenge myself.
Sweet peas emit the most delightful intoxicating scent that makes you want to smell more. The color combinations are the most delicate shades of lavender, pinks, peaches, carmine and reds. Their vase life is about four to five days.
There are three groups of sweet peas. The winter flowering group, which needs around 10 hours of daylight to flower; the spring flowering type that needs 11 hours of daylight; and the summer flowering group, which includes the Spencer varieties and need 12 hours of daylight. The Spencers are the most heat tolerant.
Soak your seeds for 24 hours before sowing. Sweet pea seeds can be sown in late winter or early spring. Soaking the seeds will soften the seed coat and speeds the sprouting process by a few days. I like to use 4-inch pots that are extra deep. Sweet peas produce a lot of roots in the beginning, so the more room you can give them in the beginning, all the better. I like to plant two seeds per pot. Place the pots in a tray and cover with a dome to keep them moist indoors at about 60 degrees.
Prepare the area where you’re going to plant them. They like sun but avoid putting them where they will get intense all-day sunlight. They require some pampering to grow well. It’s good to prepare a one-foot deep trench filled with compost or well-rotted manure so their roots can reach into very rich soil. It’s good to provide some sort of trellis for them to climb on. Two metal posts could be placed at either end of your row for the sweet peas to climb or chicken wire.
You can lay down soaker hoses or irrigation lines to run the length of the bed as sweet peas love water. Plant your seedlings a couple of weeks before the last spring frost. They will tolerate light frost.
For the first six weeks, give them a weekly dose of fish emulsion and kelp. Secure the plants to the trellis as they grow. When they start to flower, pick the stems that have at least two unopened flowers at the tip. When cutting for a display, make sure to add floral preservative to extend the life of these extraordinary flowers.
It will be worth the work.