Gardening Tips: How to Grow Healthy Sweet Peas

Sweet pea is an annual climbing plant that can reach heights of 3 to 6 feet if they have enough support. The flowers emerge along the length of the curling tendril, which wraps around supporting structures and allows the sweet pea to climb. Flowers usually tend to bloom in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white, and have a strong, sweet fragrance. Sweet peas are considered cool season plants, and can be grown in most USA hardiness zones. In warmer zones, such as zones 8 and 9, sweet peas may need a little more care, but it is still possible for them to thrive if they are started in the fall or late winter. Sweet pea prefers full sun and well-drained soil.SweetPea-Feature

 Planting Sweet Pea

In mild climates where the ground does not freeze, sweet pea seeds can be sown in the fall between September and November. This allows the plant to grow root systems and bloom in the spring. If you missed this time frame, plant seeds as early in the spring as possible in an area that is partially shaded during the hot afternoon.

In colder climates, you will want to sow plants about a month before your last frost. If spring turns hot and humid early on, mulch around the base of the young plants to keep them cool, and transplant them to an area that will get partial shade in the heat of afternoon sun.

Before planting, prepare the bed where you will be placing the seeds. Adding organic material, like aged manure or compost, will help fertilize the soil and encourage draining. Till the soil, work in the organic matter, and rake the bed to create a level surface. Then, create a 1 inch deep furrow for the seeds using a stick. Place seeds into the furrow 2-3 inches apart. Plant them closer now for fullness, and thin them back at a later date if necessary. Cover the seeds with soil, but do not create a mound. Seeds should be precisely 1 inch beneath the soil.

Gently sprinkle water over the seeds so not to upset the topsoil. Insert stakes systems into the ground as soon as possible so the seedling will be ready to climb. You may want to cover the area with netting to prevent birds from eating seedling. Once you see 3-4 pairs of leaves, you can begin pinching back the stalks to encourage branching and fullness. This is also a good time to begin thinning back the plants if necessary. They should be about 5-6 inches apart. Deadheading will keep the flowers blooming all season long. Keep in mind that the entire stem should be removed, not just the fading flower.

Sweet Pea Tips

Before sowing seeds, use a pair of nail clippers to cut shallow incisions into the sides of the seed pods. This will encourage water to be more quickly absorbed. Do not cut near the tip of the seed; only cut the sides so as not to damage the seed embryo.

Water sweet pea seedlings when the top 2-3 inches of the soil is dry. Be sure to water plants in the morning so mid-day sun doesn't burn delicate leaves before the water is absorbed.

You will want to insert stakes at about 6 feet tall, and dig them about a foot into the ground. Either position stakes directly behind the plant, or use three stakes in a tee-pee shape above the plants. As the vines begin to grow, tie them loosely to the stakes, and encourage them to wind through holes in attached netting or around posts.


If you would like to start seeds inside and transplant them later, you will need to start them in potting soil. Before transplanting, harden them off by gradually acclimating them to outdoor conditions. When the plants have 3-4 plants of leaves, you can begin the process by moving the plants to an area that gets full sun in the morning and afternoon shade. After 3-4 days, move them to an area with full sun. After another few days, they are ready to be transplanted to an outdoor plot. When transplanting, space sweet pea 5-6 inches apart.

Sweet pea cannot wrap its tendrils around anything larger than 14 inches in diameter. If you are growing them around pole with a thick diameter, wrap the pole in netting or twine. Sweet peas will grow happily up latticework, fencing, or trellises. Start encouraging growth when the vines get to about 5-6 inches in length for best results. Afterwards, they will grow on their own the rest of the way.



Photo Credit:

Photographer PublicDomainPictures offered the photograph of Sweet Pea under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay

Photographer Lynn Greyling offered the photograph of Sweet Pea under a Creative Commons License on Pixabay