Monthly Archives: February 2020

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Sweet Peas

Sweet Peas (properly called Lathyrus odoratus) are one of the great plants for cutting, and they provide irresistible colors and fragrance for spring and early summer bouquets. The delicate flowers are available in a wide range of rich colors, and they scent the air with grapelike perfume. To help those who have never grown Sweet Peas in a garden or a container pot, we asked our nursery manager, Barb Pierson, to offer a bit of advice. Her tips will help any novice or green thumb enjoy a bountiful crop of these beautiful flowers.

Why do people grow Sweet Peas?

Sweet Peas are grown for their beautiful ruffled flowers in shades of pastels, blues, and bi-colors. Many varieties are fragrant making them a desirable cut flower. Sweet Peas have a long history of cultivation and breeding for both the home gardener and the florist trade.

Sweet Pea ‘Zinfandel’

How do I go about growing Sweet Peas?

Sweet Peas can be grown from seed and sown directly in the ground after a seed treatment or, more easily, from a started plant. Here at White Flower Farm, we sow 3 seeds per pot to produce 3 growing Sweet Pea vines.

Where do I plant them and when?

Sweet Peas enjoy full sun in the northern half of the US. In the South, they can benefit from afternoon shade. They like cool roots and cool temperatures so they are planted as early as possible in the spring. A light frost will not harm newly planted seedlings. In very warm areas, they can be planted in the fall and grown through the winter and early spring. For best results, add compost to the soil and check that the area is well drained. Raised beds can be a good way to grow Sweet Peas.

Sweet Pea ‘Cherie Amour’

Do they need any special care while they are growing?

Because Sweet Peas are vining, they need support to grow up and flower. Many types of structures can work such as a trellis, supports with mesh or twine, or fences. They need a structure that is well anchored in the ground to support the weight of the vines. The plants will form tendrils that wrap around the support you provide.

They like a nutrient-rich soil so adding compost at the time of planting is recommended, and mulching Sweet Peas will keep the roots cool and retain moisture while growing.

Once the plants have grown to about 6” in height, it helps to pinch the growing tips by 1”, which will help the plants branch out and produce more flowering stems.

Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’s Original’

What are the most common mistakes that people make with Sweet Peas?

  • Waiting until mid-summer to plant them – they don’t like the heat and won’t produce flowers as readily
  • Not providing support at the time of planting. It is difficult to add your trellis or support after the plants have started growing
  • Poor soil without adding compost or fertilizer will result in weak plants and fewer flowers
  • Planting Sweet Peas too close together without thinning them can create an environment for powdery mildew and crowding, which reduces flower count

Do Sweet Peas produce pods that you can eat like the ones you find in the grocery store?

Although the seed pods look like Snap Pea pods, they are not edible. You can save the pods and seeds to produce plants for the following year. Keep in mind that the seeds may not produce plants that are the same color as the parent plant.

Will the plants come back again next year?

In most climates, the plants are not hardy through the winter. Even in warm climates, they are re-planted with fresh seed and plants to produce the most flowers and have vigorous growth.

When do they bloom? Are there tips for getting extra blossoms?

Sweet Peas will start blooming approximately 4 -6 weeks after visible vining. Timing of bloom will depend on whether the plants have been pinched back. Pinching may slow growth somewhat, but it will produce bushy plants with more flowers. Sweet Peas will grow and flower faster as the days get longer in spring and early summer. Using compost or dried aged manure will help provide nutrients to produce large abundant flowers. A fertilizer with higher phosphorus than nitrogen can boost flower production as well.

Sweet Pea ‘Cherie Amour’

What is the process for cutting the blooms?

Cut the blooms in the morning before the sun has had time to dehydrate them. Choose freshly opened flowers on the longest stems for your vase. Do not cut the main stem of the plant, just the side flowering stems.

Why should I get my Sweet Peas from White Flower Farm?

Our plants are produced in our greenhouses in spring and are shipped to you at the proper time for planting in your area; no seed treatment or waiting for germination required. We ship our Sweet Peas in 4” pots – each containing 3 fully rooted seedlings – and they arrive ready to go into the ground. This saves you the time and trouble it takes to grow Sweet Peas from seed. Buying and planting our Sweet Pea seedlings is the quickest way to enjoy these fragrant flowers outdoors and in vases in your home.

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Seidai' - Tree Peony

Discover the Delights of Tree Peonies, Paeonia suffruticosa

Why grow Tree Peonies?

Tree Peonies are magnificent, long-lived woody shrubs that no garden should be without. Some varieties reach 4–5′ in height, and plants are capable of bearing fragrant flowers up to 10″ in diameter from mid to late spring. Tree Peonies are disease resistant, and deer generally leave them alone. These treasured plants are also great for cold climates. Most of the varieties we offer can be grown in regions that get as cold in winter as Zone 4. Not sure what your zone is? Click here to find out.

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Kamata Fuji' - Tree Peony
Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Kamata Fuji’ – Tree Peony

Where do Tree Peonies come from?

Tree Peonies, also known as Moutan, are native to China. Dating back to the 6th century, they were originally grown for medicinal purposes. They are widely used today because these hardy shrubs produce exquisite floral displays.

Paeonia suffruticosa 'Asuka' - Tree Peony
Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Asuka’ – Tree Peony

Where to plant your Tree Peony?

Plant Tree Peonies in fertile, well-drained soil with a neutral pH of 6.5-7. To prevent the peony root from rotting, avoid planting in a soggy area or an area that has standing water for any length of time.

Although Tree Peonies will thrive in the full sun, the large silky flowers will fade quickly. Light shade from hot afternoon sun is necessary to protect the flowers, and in China and Japan, small parasols are set over the plants to block the sun’s rays. We suggest growing Tree Peonies in filtered sunlight or an eastern exposure that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Growth will be a bit slower than in the full sun, but the flowers will last longer, especially in the South and warm areas of western Zone 9. Tree Peonies require a year or two to mature, but they are more than worth the wait.

How deep should I plant a Tree Peony?

How do I protect my Tree Peony flowers?

Light shade from hot afternoon sun is necessary to protect the flowers, and in China and Japan small parasols are set over the plants to block the sun. If you don’t have the parasols or the time to create shade for your plants, choose a planting site that will be protected against drying winds in summer and winter and will receive afternoon shade.

Paeonia suffruticosa 'High Noon' - Tree Peony
Paeonia suffruticosa ‘High Noon’ – Tree Peony

How often should I water my Tree Peony?

Tree Peonies are very drought tolerant once established. Do not overwater and do not plant near an automatic irrigation system. Wait until the soil has dried down to 4″ before watering deeply. Watering too much will kill the roots and is a common reason for failure.

Should I prune my Tree Peony? 

Never prune Tree Peonies back to the ground as is done with Herbaceous Peonies. Prune out any damaged or broken stems after plants leaf out. Once your plant has some age and is growing vigorously, you may want to open up the center a bit to encourage flowering on the taller stems and increase air circulation. Tree Peonies are grafted onto Herbaceous Peony roots and occasionally a shoot from the rootstock will arise from the base of the plant. These should be removed immediately.

What can I plant with my Tree Peony?

Hellebores , AlchemillaLeucojum, Epimedium and Siberian Irises are all lovely in combination with Tree Peonies. If your plants tend toward legginess, underplant with spring-flowering bulbs.

Looking for more information on how to grow Tree Peonies? Check out our grow guide.