How to grow sweet peas

Sweet peas in the garden and in the vase are always a firm favourite, as they are hard to beat for freshness and fragrance.

The Sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus, is a highly scented annual belonging to the Leguminosae family. They are grown for their showy, colourful pea flowers, which come in wonderful shades of red, blue, lavender, pink and white. In Zimbabwe, Sweet peas flower in winter through to spring, as they do not do well in the heat.


There are several varieties of seed on the market:

  • Sweet pea mammoth is the tall climbing variety, which reaches a height of 2 metres, producing large flowers on long, strong stems.
  • Bijou are the dwarf compact bushes, ideal for borders and grows to 50cms, still producing good quality stems for picking.
  • The Little Sweetheart is compact and only grows to 30cms, therefore requires no support.

How to grow Sweet peas

Sweet peas are easy to grow and they flower for at least six weeks each year.

First, find an open, sunny position to prepare your trench. Soil preparation is very important, as they prefer deep, rich soil. Dig the trench about 40 cm wide and 45 cm deep. Remove the soil from the trench and put it to one side. Mix the removed soil with a generous amount of compost, 200 grams of bone meal, a handful of Superphosphates and well-rotted cow manure to every square metre of soil. A dressing of Superphosphates stimulates the root and shoots development, but be careful not to add too much nitrogen as this tends to produce more leaf and less flowers. Sweet peas also like lime, so add a handful to every metre of trench, mixing it in well. Once the soil mix is ready, place back in the trench. It is a good idea to get the trenches ready a week before planting so the soil can settle and be topped up.

The climbing varieties require support so before sowing your seed, it is a good idea to position two poles either side of the trench to support wire mesh- trelliswork can also be used. These posts should be at least 2 metres out of the ground and half a metre in the ground, the wire netting can then be stretched between the posts.

The best month to sow your seed is March; it can be sown in situ and it helps if you soak the seed overnight before planting. Sow the seed about 20 mm deep and 20 cm apart, and then water well. When the sweet peas are about 15 cm high, choose the two strongest shoots, (if there are more than two, cut the weaker shoots off) and tie these two to the trellis. Sweet peas produce tendrils, which help them climb, but keep pinching off the excess tendrils and side shoots to encourage strong growth. When your Sweet peas are well established, feed them weekly with a liquid fertiliser and remember to keep the soil mulched and weeded. A thorough watering once a week is more beneficial than a light watering daily. Remember to pick Sweet peas weekly for the vase and at the same time, deadhead the faded or dead ones – the more you pick them, the more they flower. Make sure seedpods don’t form and you will be assured of a wonderful display of blooms during our winter months and early spring.

Collecting seed

When your Sweet peas have passed their best, stop deadheading and let the seedpods form. When they start to turn brown, collect the seedpods before the pod bursts open and the seed is lost. Keep your seed in a paper packet or envelope and label with a date, keep in a cool place ready for next year. But find another site for your Sweet peas next year as it is not advisable to grow Sweet peas in the same place yearafter year.

By Gill Olivey

Alpes Rd, Teviotdale
(opp Wingate Golf course) Harare

0772 301 440, 0772 382 081

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