Make sure you plant your sweet peas in April or you’ll miss out on one of spring’s greatest pleasures, says editor Mary Jane Harris

One of the real joys of spring is being able to pick huge bunches of gloriously scented, home-grown sweet peas. And the best thing about growing sweet peas is that the more flowers you pick, the more they produce. I’ve grown both the bush and the climbing varieties and if you really want to pick for the vase, the climbing variety is best. However, you need to get them into the ground by the end of April and prepare the soil well.


How to support them

As climbing sweet peas need a support, I’ve found that it’s worthwhile investing in a sweet pea net or fairly fine netting of sorts and fix this to a row of posts. The tendrils cling to the netting and you don’t have to spend as much time tying the stems onto the support. A space-saving alternative is to buy four tall dowel rods, make a wigwam shape by tying them together at the top with string or wire and tie the netting around them. Instead of dowel rods you could also use long branches you’ve trimmed off trees and shrubs.

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The best position

Sweet peas need lots of sun. A sweet pea fan once told me that he always positions his supports in a north/south direction so that they get sun all day long.

Soil preparation

This is crucial. Dig a trench to a depth of at least 50cm. Add some superphosphate then mix the soil you’ve dug out with lots of good well-rotted compost, a general fertiliser like 2:3:2 and a bit of lime if your soil is acid. I also add some of the ash from wood fires to the mix.

Planting sweet peas

To help them germinate, soak the seeds or put them between two layers of kitchen towel or cotton wool soaked in water overnight to soften the hard outer coat. They’re quite large seeds so they’re easy to push into the ground. Plant them around 2–3cm deep and 10–15cm apart. Water with a fine spray and keep them moist until they start sprouting. If you’re planting seedlings, plant these 15cm apart and keep them moist until they’re established.

Encouraging growth

When they’re about 15cm high, pinch off the growing tips to encourage the seedlings to produce more shoots. Sweet peas are greedy feeders so foliar feed them every two weeks and keep the soil well mulched with compost, keeping it away from the stems.

From then on all you have to do is make sure they’re regularly watered and fertilised and tie up any shoots that aren’t attached by tendrils. Then in late winter, early spring, depending on your climate, you’ll be able to enjoy their heady scent in both your garden and home.

P.S. April is a good time to plant Iceland poppies which also make a colourful winter and spring display. To learn more about them and other types of poppies, click here.