SWEET PEA

FAMILY: Papilionaceae | GENUS: LATHYRUS

TYPE
  • Annuals
  • Perennials
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Full Sun
WATER
  • Varies by Species

Plant Details

Few flowers are better suited to the cottage garden than beloved, old-fashioned sweet peas. Despite the name, not all are fragrant. But all have the classic pea-family bloomone large, upright, roundish petal (called the banner or standard), two narrow side petals (the wings), and two lower petals that form a boat-shaped structure (the keel).

L. latifolius. EVERLASTING PEA. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to Europe. Strong-growing vine to 9 ft., with blue-green foliage. Plants usually bear unscented flowers in mixed colors (reddish purple, white, pink); single colors may be sold. Blooms all summer if not allowed to go to seed. Grows with little care, tolerates drought (best with moderate water). May escape and become naturalized, even weedy. Use as bank cover, as trailer over rocks, on trellis or fence.

L. odoratus. SWEET PEA. Annual. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Native to the Mediterranean region. Blooms in winter, spring, or summer, bearing many spikelike clusters of crisp-looking flowers with a clean, sweet perfume. Blossoms come in single and mixed colors. Mixes include deep rose, blue, purple, scarlet, white, cream, salmon, bicolors. Vining types grow to 5 ft. or more; bush kinds grow anywhere from 8 in. to 3 ft. tall. Sweet peas make magnificent cut flowers in quantity. Seeds are poisonous.

To hasten germination, soak seeds for a few hours before planting. Sow seeds 1 in. deep and 12 in. apart. When seedlings are 45 in. high, thin to at least 6 in. apart. Pinch out tops to encourage strong side branches. Where climate prevents early planting or soil is too wet to work, start three or four seeds in each small peat pot, indoors or in a protected place, and set out when weather has settled. Plant peat pots 1 ft. apart, thinning each to one strong plant. This method is ideal for bush types. Protect young seedlings from birds, and control slugs and snails. Never let vines lack for water; soak heavily. To prolong bloom, cut flowers at least every other day and remove all seedpods. Regular monthly feeding with a general-purpose fertilizer will keep vines vigorous and productive.

For vining sweet peas, provide trellis, strings, or wire before planting. Seedlings need support as soon as tendrils form. A free- standing trellis running north and south is best. When planting against fence or wall, keep supports away from wall to ensure good air circulation.

The following entries describe vine-type sweet peas (heirloom types first, then in groups by time of bloom) and bush types. All do best with rich soil and regular water.

Heirloom selections. Not as large and showy as modern hybrids, these old spring-blooming favorites (some dating back hundreds of years) are notable for powerful fragrance.

'America'. Crimson to scarlet with white stripes.

'Annie Gilroy'. Bright cerise standard with lighter wings.

'Blanche Ferry'. Carmine-rose standard, pink wings. Similar to 'Painted Lady' but with more intense color.

'Cupani'. Deep blue standard, purple wings. More vigorous than 'Matucana'.

'Flora Norton'. Blossoms in bright, clear blue.

'Indigo King'. Purplish maroon standard, blue wings. Very prolific.

'Matucana'. Same coloring as 'Cupani'. This and 'Cupani' are very close to the original wild L. odoratus.

Old Spice Mix. A mixture of eight old-fashioned selections with flowers in white and in shades of pink, red, and purple.

'Painted Lady'. Dates from the 18th century; bears small rose-and-white flowers.

Early flowering. Includes Early Spencer Mix. The name Spencer once described a type of frilled flower (with wavy petals) that is now characteristic of almost all selections. Others of note are Chiffon Elegance Mix (earliest bloomers) and 'Zinfandel' (very fragrant claret-burgundy blooms).

The value of early-flowering types is that they will bloom in mid-winter when days are short; try them in the Coastal and Tropical South. (Spring-flowering types will not bloom until days have lengthened to 15 hours or more.) Sow seeds in late October and November for blooms in late winter and spring. If you want to force sweet peas in a greenhouse, use selections from this group. They are not heat resistant. Generally sold in mixtures of several colors.

Spring flowering. Includes heat-resistant Cuthbertson Type, Cuthbertson's Floribunda, Floribunda-Zvolanek strain and Perfume Delight Mix. Both mixtures and single-color named selections are available in seed packets. Wide color range: pink, lavender, purple, white, cream, rose, salmon, cerise, carmine, red, blue. Royal or Royal Family are somewhat larger flowered, more heat resistant than the others. Plant between October and early January.

Bush type. The so-called bush-type sweet peas are strong vines with predetermined growth, heights. Unlike vining kinds, these stop their upward growth at anywhere from 8 in. to 3 ft. high. Some kinds are completely self-supporting; others need support of a few sticks or pieces of brush (similar to what you would provide for many perennials). Suitable for all regions. Flowers come in full range of colors. Most are early or spring blooming, as noted on the seed packet; follow planting dates given for early- or spring-flowering vining types.

Bijou Mix. To 1 ft. Available in single or mixed colors; four or five flowers appear on each 5- to 7-in. stem. Self-supporting plants are spectacular in borders, beds, window boxes, containers. Not as heat resistant or as long stemmed as 'Knee-Hi'; performs better in containers.

Cupid Mix. To 46 in. by 1 ft. Trails on ground or hangs from containers.

Jet Set Mix. Bushy plants grow 23 ft. tall; need some support.

Knee-Hi Mix. To 2 ft.; need some support. Large, long-stemmed blooms are carried five or six to the stem. Has all the virtues and color range of Cuthbertson's Floribunda, but on bush-type plants. Good for mass display in beds, borders. Growth will exceed 2 ft. where planting bed joins a fence or wall; keep in the open for uniform height.

Little Sweethearts Mix are rounded bushes to about 8 in. tall; they need no support, bloom over a long season.

Snoopea Mix (1215 in.) and Supersnoop Mix (2 ft.) need no support.

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