Success with sweet peas

When the weather settles, plant ‘hardened-off’ sweet peas in the garden

Ana Myerscough harvests Spencer sweet peas in the Cultivated garden. The long stems on these flowers are the result of breeding and cultivation techniques

In a recent column, I dropped in a note about sweet peas that a reader pounced on: is it really time to plant sweet peas? Given she’s English I was surprised she didn’t know that yes, now is the time. My odd assumption being that anyone hailing from that fine country would at birth be a) able to grow them and b) be able to spell posy. So for that friendly reader and those of you still wondering how to grow the most divine of flowers, here is how I do it.

I start early. Namely the year before, at the end of October with one sowing I overwinter in the greenhouse. Some of these babies I have already put out (under cover) in the garden. I sow again in January and again in late February/early March,which somewhat allows me to stagger my harvest.

To start, I soak the seeds overnight in water indoors. After 24 hours I drain the seeds onto paper towel and place them in a small dish, tucking the towel under and over the seeds. I keep them moist, at room temperature, until they sprout (a little white radicle curls out from the seed). Only then do I plant the germinated seeds in soil.

For pots, I use root trainers, which are elongated. If you can’t find them, a regular tall pot will do (some people use toilet paper rolls packed tightly in a large cake pan). Keep your sweet pea pots indoors/cozy until the plant sends up a green shoot, and then move them to a bright and cool location. The goal here is to avoid a tall sappy stem (from too much heat and not enough light) while still encouraging growth. If you do not have a bright and cool location, put your plants outside in a sheltered location during the day and bring them into a cool room in the house at night.

A couple of weeks later, when the plant has three sets of leaves (or the nubby beginnings of leaves), pinch out the growing tip. Snip it right off. This will encourage branching, giving you more blooms.

Prep a site that would qualify as at least ‘part-to-full sun’. Ensure there’s some airflow as sweet peas can suffer from mildew; baking against the house, under the eaves, is not ideal. Amend the soil with compost and a complete organic fertilizer. Hammer in some T-posts or set up your bamboo tepee or trellis or whatever you plan to grow the peas up. Mine reach close to seven feet in a season, so I ensure my posts are solidly driven into the ground before I attach netting; I use zip-ties to fasten.

When the weather settles in late March or early April, plant ‘hardened-off’ sweet peas in the garden, watering them in. I plant branched baby sweet peas about six inches apart, staggering them in rows along both sides of the netting. Keep them watered, but not soaked, through to July. Feed weekly with fish/seaweed emulsion.

Keep flowers picked. As soon as a flower runs to seed the plant’s work is done and it will halt blooming.

Growing great sweet peas starts with good seed. I order mine from Owl’s Acres in the U.K. and Floret in the U.S. If you want to grab some this weekend locally, look for Renee’s Garden Seeds at Dig This. Read the label. Sweet peas come in dwarf varieties suitable for pots and also vary tremendously in stem length and size. Generally the ‘Spencer’ types are large-flowered, long-stemmed and ruffled, but some scent has been traded off for bloom size. The sweetest smelling sweet peas are often classed as ‘Heirloom’ and tend to be smaller in size.


Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid gardener.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Tourism at a high during shoulder season in Greater Victoria

A new video highlights the efforts into making Greater Victoria an all year round destination

Saanich Police respond to petition for new police agency on Lindsay Buziak murder case

Petition asks Public Safety Minister to to help find justice for slain realtor

North Saanich man fears tougher moorage policies could cost him his home

Stewart Jackson has been living on a boat off Lillian Hoffar Park for about four years

Grave site at Ross Bay Cemetery vandalized overnight

Graffiti found on grave of Sir James Douglas

Thief robs Saanich liquor store at gunpoint, takes cash register

Police ask for public’s help with ongoing investigation

POLL: Do you support the proposed changes for ICBC?

Tuesday’s provincial budget predicted a shift from shortfall to surplus in wake… Continue reading

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 18

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

Resident discovers five discarded hog heads in Vancouver Island ditch

WARNING: Graphic image may be upsetting to some readers

Canadian Premier League announces 2020 home dates for eight-team circuit

Pacific FC hosts FC Edmonton on April 11 in Langford

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

Most Read