Dwarf sweet peas need steady, regular watering and feeding

March 14, 2018

Adopting one child won't change the world, but for that child, the world will change. He was just a baby left on Popeye's doorstep, yet Popeye loved Swee’Pea as his own. In the garden, small bundles of sweet peas are easy to grow.

The secret to successful sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) is to sow them as soon as the ground can be worked, even before the last frost. The easiest sweet peas to grow are the non-climbing or dwarf sweet peas that grow only a foot or two high, so they don't need staking or a trellis. Sweet pea seeds have a tough coat that can make them difficult to germinate. To soften up this hard coating, soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours, or nick the seeds with a sharp knife.

Sweet peas grow best with their heads in the sun and their roots in the shade. Plant them directly in site soil with a bit of compost or well-rotted manure. Sweet peas like well-drained soil that is slightly alkaline, with a pH of 7.5 being ideal. The seeds will germinate in seven to 15 days. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once your plants are up and growing, you can add mulch to keep the soil cool. You can, of course, hurry the season by sowing sweet peas indoors. If you start them indoors, be sure to harden off the seedlings before moving them to the garden.

When the plants are about six inches high, pinch off the tops to encourage bushy growth. While they’re actively growing, your dwarf sweet peas need steady, regular watering and feeding. Feed them once a month with a fertilizer high in potassium, such as a tomato fertilizer. It helps to work some blood meal into the soil. Avoid overfertilizing, or you will encourage lots of leaves and fewer flowers. Sweet peas prefer cool temperatures, so they may start to fade when temperatures go above 65°F. Keep the flowers picked, and your sweet peas will keep blooming instead of going to seed. Cut flowers early in the morning when the lowest blossom is just starting to open and their scent is strongest.

Knee-High Semi-Dwarf Sweet Pea is a bushy plant that blooms heavily with large, fragrant flowers in a wide range of colors. Knee-High sweet peas grow just 24 to 30 inches tall and are quite attractive scrambling over the edge of a pot or even over low shrubs. The Cupid series of dwarf sweet peas includes colors such as violet, lavender and pink as well as mixtures of all colors. Cupid Pink is a heavy-flowering dwarf sweet pea with deeply fragrant, one-inch white-and-pink bi-color flowers. Prima Ballerina Tricolor dwarf sweet peas slowly change from a creamy rose color to more of a light lavender as the flowers age. Prima Ballerina Tricolor produces graceful, long-lasting, fragrant cut flowers.

Plant dwarf sweet peas while the weather is still awful and cold, and you will be rewarded with fragrant flowers. As for cartoon Swee’Pea? In November 2004, in a ceremony with the National Council for Adoption, Popeye officially adopted Swee’Pea.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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