The fragrant, old-fashioned sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) is called by the English the "Queen of annuals." The delicate sweet pea is charming in the garden and beautiful as a cut flower. Until the middle of the 1800s there were just a few colors, but now you will find cultivars in shades of rich burgundy, hot pink, soft lavender, creamy white, bright orange, and many colors in between.
Common name: Sweet pea
Botanical name: Lathyrus odoratus
Plant type: Annual vine
Height: 6 to 8 feet tall, depending on cultivar
Zones: 9 to 10
• Sun: Full sun to dappled shade
• Soil: Well-drained soil with lots of organic matter
• Moisture: Keep moist but not wet
• Mulch: Place organic mulch around plants to maintain even moisture.
• Pruning: Deadhead frequently to encourage vigorous blooming.
• Fertilizer: Apply a balanced liquid fertilizer every two weeks, or mix a slow-release fertilizer into the soil when planting.
• In cooler climates, soak seeds and plant in containers in early spring, or plant seeds in the garden in midspring.
• In warmer climates, plant in the garden in fall after soaking or chipping seeds.
Pests and diseases
• Powdery mildew, gray mold, and various leaf spots occur. To deter fungal diseases, plant sweet peas where they have good air circulation.
• ‘Regal Robe' (pictured here) blooms extra early with large, scented blossoms colored rich cream and burgundy.
• ‘Electric Blue' has dainty blue flowers, grassy foliage, and curling tendrils. This long-blooming vine grows 3 to 4 feet tall.
• Old Spice Mix has fragrant flowers in bicolor or single hues. It's an heirloom that grows 6 feet tall.
• Patio Mixed Colors is a mix of sweet peas that grow just 9 inches tall. They have a mounding form and look attractive in containers.
• ‘Pink Cupid', another mounding sweet pea, has light pink flowers, good fragrance, and grows just 6 inches tall.
• Provide support for vining sweet peas with a trellis or arch.
• Routinely deadhead blooms to encourage vigorous flowering.
• To deter fungal diseases, rotate plantings of sweet peas and water them in the morning.
• The fragrance of sweet peas varies depending on the cultivar, temperature, and flower freshness.
• Though related to the garden pea, the sweet pea is not edible. Both seeds and flowers are poisonous.
• Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a perennial sweet pea, hardy in Zones 5 to 9.
All in the family
• The Fabaceae group of plants includes about 18,000 species worldwide, including important food crops such as the soybean, lentil, bean, and garden pea. It also includes the honeylocust tree, mimosa, and the perennial false indigo.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Renee's Garden, www.reneesgarden.com.