The sweet pea is a flowering plant in vine and bush varieties. Noted for colorful and fragrant flowers, the sweet pea is a classic garden flower. It grows from ankle-high compact plants to shed-covering, tendril-gripping vines. Once popular for its bicolor blue and purple flower clusters, the sweet pea today offers varieties suited to any garden design.
Use the sweet pea as a cool season, sun-loving plant. Plant seeds late in fall for early spring growth. Sweet peas thrive with full or filtered sunlight. Shade encourages more foliage and sun encourages prolific flowers. Flower colors range from white through shades of pinks and reds, blues and bicolors. Blossoms are single or double, with traditional or ruffled edges.
Sweet pea cultivars include vines, bushes and groundcover. Vines climb 6 to 10 feet. Their twining tendrils grip fences, trellises and nets. Bushes grow 6 to 26 inches tall. Some need plant support such as stakes or trellises. Groundcover grows as short vines without tendrils. These varieties fill garden beds and mixed flower containers.
Choose climbing sweet peas as a seasonal cover. Use twine, net, wire or fishing line as supports. The vines follow the lines and cover raw landscape, storage yards, fences or wood piles.
Cut flower clusters for indoor bouquets. Sweet peas make excellent bouquets alone or mixed with other flowers and ferns. Vigorous cutting effectively deadheads the plant and encourages more blooms.
Select sweet peas as garden background. The growing sweet peas draw attention by color and fragrance. By the time they grow leggy and stop flowering, other plants roll into bloom. Cut the sweet peas at the base so that the nitrogen in their roots benefits neighboring plants.
Watch for pests. The round pea-shape seeds draw birds, mice and other seed-eating pests. The scavengers pick seeds right out of the ground and strip the sown bed. Use bird net, mesh or other protection until plants have two sets of leaves per plant.
Look for slug trails or sheared pea stems. Slugs and snails devour the early spring seedlings. Use your preferred slug and snail control. Aphids feed on sweet pea plants. Choose insecticides carefully, since some chemicals damage plant foliage.
Plant sweet pea seeds where air freely circulates. The plants are vulnerable to fungus and mildew. Water early in the day so that plants dry before dusk.
Sweet pea flowers are not edible. When flowers die back and seed pods form, they resemble other pea plants. These pods may be harvested for flower seed but not for food. According to Master Gardeners in Clark County, Washington, sweet peas are poisonous and should not be ingested.