Did you know that traditionally Sweet Peas are planted on St Patrick’s Day? No? Me neither, that is until last week. After more than 15 years in the industry I’m not quite sure how I missed this curious fact, but I did, and it just goes to show you can learn something new each and every day. Interestingly, St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a pea-planting time throughout the world, but in areas such as New York and New Jersey it is usually the green variety, no doubt because of the difference in climates.
Rather than listen to the Vatican’s recommendations for successful sowing, take it from the experts instead (that is, Horticulturists) who suggest that with careful planning you could see Aussie sweet peas flowering for up to 9 months of the year!! Short day varieties will need to be planted in March, May, September and December, and long day varieties in March, September and November, about 3cm deep, and 7cm apart. Once the seedlings have 4 sets of leaves, pinch the tip off the plant- this will encourage the plant to continue shooting, creating a fuller display.
Sweet peas, (Lathyrus odoratus) which are part of the legume family, need plenty of sunlight (at least 6 hours) and soil that drains well. They also require a fair amount of support, in the form of a trellis, obelisk or tee pee. The tendrils grip on more delicate surfaces, so sometimes you may use a wire mesh/net for easy grip. Once the tendril reaches the base of the support it will quickly progress vertically with little or no effort on your part. In warmer climates, you should plant the peas where they will enjoy morning sun, which tends to be less intense. Peas are prone to mildew, so like a well ventilated spot, with moist (but not soggy) soil. It is important to keep the soil consistent, so avoid over watering after periods where you have left them overly dry (and vice versa).
Truth be told, planting Sweet Peas in mid March is probably not the best time in order to see success in Australia, it’s probably still a touch warm. April and May are perfectly good times to sow your seeds. Try soaking your seeds for 24 hours in water before planting, and then, using a nail file, nick the seeds at the side to encourage the plant to sprout more quickly. Choose a site with good drainage, with alkaline soil, and where the sweet peas will have access to sunlight to dance in. If the soil tends to be acidic, sprinkle some powdered lime on the surface.
Some believe that although Sweet peas are not particularly difficult to grow, some people just have the knack and others do not. The trickiest bit is the germination process. Sweet peas are generally slow to germinate, taking between 7 to 15 days depending on the soil temperature….but as the saying goes, Good things come to those who wait. And oh, how totally divine they are. Peas have an unmistakable sweet fragrance that transports you to another time and place. They have their place firmly in cottage gardens, but will also provide a (pretty) and welcome change to the tomatoes growing on your trellis. Take a punt, and give it a go….maybe not on Friday, but at least mark it on the calendar for things to do in the coming months! 😜