Sow now for summer scent of sweet pea
IF YOU want to have the superb fragrance of sweet peas this summer, sow the seeds between now and the end of May, or sow now and a second lot later. The young plants get going with the new growing season and grow rapidly to flowering size.
Sweet pea is a vine, a climbing plant, and needs some form of support. The plants grow by producing slender tendrils that wrap around the support material, such as bamboo canes, tall bushy sticks stuck in the ground, a trellis obelisk, wire netting or even a leafless old Christmas tree.
The place for planting should be reasonably sheltered to avoid constant wind buffeting but it should be reasonably airy to combat mildew disease, and fully open to the sunshine for most of the day to promote strong growth and the maximum number of flowers.
Next choose a variety. There are dozens of varieties available from the seed companies. Most kinds are mixed colours, some have two-tone flowers or splashed flowers. Others have frills or ruffles on the petals. Some have rich colours, others are pastel mixes. Some are noted for scent.
Sown in March, the seeds need to be started off in pots in a greenhouse or window sill indoors, or they can be sown in pots and left outdoors to sprout. Later on, in April and May, they can be sown directly where they are to grow and flower. Success is more certain when the young plants are grown in pots and started with a little extra warmth.
The seeds are like small round peas, as might be expected, but they are brown, or almost black in some cases. If moisture does not penetrate the seed coat, the seeds will not sprout. Check this by soaking the seeds on damp tissue paper for a couple of days. Seeds that do not swell can be rubbed lightly on sandpaper on one side.
Sow two or three seeds per pot to allow for failures. Use a potting mixture and have it just damp, but not wet, as this can encourage seed-rotting fungi. When the seedlings have germinated, keep them in a bright place and they can be grown on outdoors, if necessary, after being placed outdoors by day for a few days first.
Sweet pea is hardy and can be planted out in its site in the open soil as soon as the plants are 15cm to 20cm tall. Watch out for snails and tie the young plants to a light cane for support and to get them climbing.