I covet sweet peas for their heavenly fragrance and old-fashioned simplicity. These little vining flowers are a delight to see and smell. Sadly, they can be a tricky annual for me to grow. They prefer cool temperatures but won’t withstand a frost. If I sow the seeds in early spring in my zone 7 garden they are likely to get wiped out by a late frost. Unfortunately, mid-South springs tend to be short, so if I try sowing them any later, the plants melt in the heat before they have time to bloom.
The solution is to start the seeds in the greenhouse in February and move the pots outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. Starting the seeds indoors gives them the head start they need to bloom before spring ends.
Gardeners in climates with long, cool springs can sow sweet peas outdoors as soon as the threat of frost has passed. If you are like me and need to sow the seeds indoors, do this about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area.
The secret to good seed germination is soaking the seeds in milk a few hours before you sow them. That’s right, milk. This helps to soften the outer covering of the seed.
Whether starting indoors or direct sowing in the garden, plant sweet peas in a spot that receives full sun. They like a sweet soil with a pH of 7 or 8, so if you know that your soil is acidic add garden lime to make it more alkaline. Be sure to following the package directions on the garden lime bag. Sweet peas have relatively extensive roots, so the soil should be friable at least 24 inches deep.
Provide immediate support for your young seedlings. Metal can get hot on warm spring days, so try twine or twigs.
Once they are up and flowering, you will want to do everything you can to keep the plants full of blooms. One of the best ways to encourage continuous flowering is to cut bouquets for the house. I like to cut the blooms about every other day. Flowers remaining on the plant will develop into seed pods. It’s a good idea to remove the flowers before this happens because you want the plant’s energy to go into creating more blossoms, not seed.
If you are in need of some quick cover annual vines will do the trick. After the last frost date in your area, sow the seeds for one of vines featured below. In no time at all lush foliage and beautiful blooms will adorn your trellis, arbor or fence.
Moonflower (Ipomea alba)
Moonflowers produce gigantic blooms that open at dusk and perfume the night air with a light fragrance. The large heart-shaped leaves are beautiful too. Soak the seeds overnight to soften the outer shell before planting. Plant in full sun. Vines grows 120 to 240-inches.
Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
The variety shown here is ‘President Tyler’. This one blooms earlier than many other varieties. Soak the seeds overnight to soften the outer shell before planting. Plant in full sun. Vine grows 72 to 96-inches.
Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)
‘Crimson’ is a gorgeous magenta with red veins and a white throat. The blooms are large, up to 3-inches across. Plant in full sun. Vine grows 72 to 96-inches.
Nest Egg Gourds (Cucurbita pepo var. ovifera)
Gourds might not be the first plant that comes to mind when looking for a flowering vine, but they do produce lovely, yellow blooms and all those great gourds in fall. These little Nest Egg gourds are small, oval and white. Just like a hen’s egg! Plant in full sun. Vines grow to 72-inches.
Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineussca)
This flowering vine is a multi-tasker! The vines and heart-shaped leaves are quick to cover trellises and fences, hummingbirds love the bright red blooms; and the pods are edible. Plant in full sun. Vine grow 180 – 240-inches.
Black-eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata)
This cheery flower will brighten your garden until the first hard frost in fall. It is especially floriferous in later summer into autumn. Plant in full sun with light shade in the afternoon when it gets hot. Vine grows 36 to 72-inches.
Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata)
This fast growing vine produces racemes of blooms on tips of scarlet stems. The tubular flowers emerge red and fade to orange and then creamy white. It’s a spectacular display from summer until the first killing frost in autumn. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Vine grows 72 to 180-inches.