Love at First Sniff
I was in the 3rd grade, spending the night at a neighbor girl's house and we were playing hide and seek. I was finding a place to hide in the back yard, and smelled something so amazing... something I had never smelled before. I followed my nose, and saw vines of the most fascinating flower. I'm sure I probably never found a hiding spot, because I was burying my nose in those sweet peas. I had forgotten about those glorious sweet peas until my adult life when I got into the flower biz. I would get them shipped in for weddings, but they never quite smelled like they did in my childhood memory. And no pretty vines with tendrils! So as I sought out to grow them, I read every possible article and book I could get my hands on, and still failed miserably.
Growing Sweet Peas
I start my sweet pea seeds between Valentines Day and St. Patrick's Day. Roger Parsons, the famous sweet pea breeder from England says don't soak. So I don't soak. I use pro mix (you can buy it at Menard's) Plant in any kind of pot to that will allow the roots to go deep (I use deep root 50 plug trays, but a 4 inch pot will do just fine) water and wait until you see little sprouts! Keep around 55 degrees F until they germinate.
Let them Chill
After you see growth, it's important to get your babies light. I use regular shop lights, positioned a few inches above them and move them higher as they grow. It's ideal to keep them cool, around 35 degrees F. I grow them in my basement, and have trouble keeping them that cool, but keeping them on the cement floor helps. Once they are about a month old, I give them a haircut so they get bushier. Just nip out the growing point above the first or second set of leaves.
I plant my babies outside the middle of April, depending on the weather. I get the beds prepped in the fall by taking down the posts, pulling out old plants, and cover with landscape fabric. When it's time to plant, I add compost and plant 6 to 8 inches apart. Last year I used bamboo stakes and hortnova netting to support all the vines. I spray with fish emulsion every week or two until they start blooming. Once they get about a foot tall it's time to start helping them climb on the netting, and tie them up several times a week with twine.
I failed at my first 3 years, and I'm still not an expert sweet pea grower. I'm still working on getting longer stems, and a longer bloom period...but let's face it, I live in Indiana and our summers get hot pretty fast. So maybe if I was in the Pacific Northwest, or England I would have much better odds, but I will keep growing these guys anyway. I love them, and they make me smile. I hope they bring a smile to your face as well!