Without flowers, the acrobatic climber looks almost like a pea plant. However, when its colorful butterfly blossoms appear from June, it becomes clear why the otherwise inconspicuous garden sweet pea is one of the most popular climbing plants in our gardens, especially as the fine blossoms exude a wonderful fragrance. Sweet peas are available in a wide variety of flower colors, the spectrum extends from white to pink and lavender blue to dark burgundy tones. Some cultivated forms also bear wavy or multicolored flowers between June and September. Garden vetch species that have differently colored flowers on one plant are particularly attractive.


  • botanischer Name: Lathyrus odoratus
  • other names: sweet pea, sweet pea, sweet pea
  • belongs to the legume family (Faboideae)
  • Growth form: herbaceous, bushy climbing plant
  • Flowering: butterfly shaped between June and September
  • Fruit: hairy legumes (similar to the pea pod)
  • Toxic if swallowed
  • ornamental plant

species and occurrence

The sweet pea, also known as garden vetch, does not belong to the Vicia genus like the other types of vetches, but to the vetch peas (Lathyrus) and therefore bears its botanical name Lathyrus odoratus (sweet vetch). Sweet peas are mainly found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere (Italy to Northwest Africa). They usually form racemose inflorescences that can contain up to 30 individual flowers. The leaves of the garden sweet pea are pinnate in pairs and end in a tendril. The plant usually grows herbaceously bushy to a height of between 80 and 160 cm as an annual plant. Most sweet peas are climbers, but there are a few dwarf varieties.

Different breeding forms:

  • Miss Willmott: small-flowering rarity from 1901, orange to pink flowers, 1.8 to 3 meters tall
  • Appleblossom: Flamed flowers in white and light pink, 1.2 to 1.8 meters tall
  • Chatsworth: lavender wavy flowers
  • Night & Day: Mixture of burgundy and snow-white shades
  • Matucana: dark purple flower, ancient variety (brought to England by a monk in the 17th century)
  • Ballerina: lilac, violet or cream flowers, four flowers per stem
  • Sugar and Spice: colourful, mostly two-tone flowers, hanging vetch (for hanging baskets)
  • Promise: long flower stalks with large, showy flowers, wavy edge, two-tone (pink and white)

Buschige Zwergwicken

  • Villa Roma Scarlet: small, bushy species, blooms all summer with red flowers, requires no trellis, low-growing bedding plant
  • Little Sweetheart: compact and small in stature, different flower colors possible, ideal for tubs on the balcony or in the flower bed

growth forms

The range of varieties of fragrant vetch is very diverse. The individual cultivated forms not only differ in flower color and shape, but are also divided into two basic forms: The climbing plants under the garden sweet peas are often more than two meters high and are used as cut flowers and privacy screens. Dwarf forms can grow up to 90 centimeters tall and are suitable for beds and containers. Hanging plants are also available, which are decorative in hanging baskets on the balcony or on the terrace.

The following are suitable as climbing aids:

  • fences
  • Obelisken
  • trellis and trellis
  • thin cords
  • rods
Note: For garden sweet peas, only thin sticks should be used on the climbing aids (with a maximum diameter of 0.5 cm).

location and soil

Lathyrus odoratus loves the sun. It cannot develop in dark or very shady corners of the garden and therefore hardly blooms. The bushy plant with the eye-catching flowers only develops its full splendor in a sheltered, full sun spot in the garden. Even very light penumbra is tolerated if the soil conditions are ideal. The blazing midday sun and drought don’t get the sweet pea just as little as waterlogging.

  • full sun (if possible without midday sun)
  • protected
  • warm
  • most varieties are climbing plants and therefore require a trellis
Tip: Combinations of sweet peas with phlox, tickseed or levee are particularly beautiful.

As a fast-growing climbing plant, the sweet pea needs optimal soil that guarantees it an adequate supply of nutrients and is also loose and well permeable to water.

  • sandy
  • locker
  • profound
  • rich in humus
  • pH-Wert: neutral

watering and fertilizing

Keeping the soil moist is an essential part of summer care for the sweet pea. In dry weather, the garden sweet pea should be watered regularly, but only moderately. The scented plant is sensitive to waterlogging. The top layer of soil should always be slightly moist but never wet.

Sweet peas require relatively high amounts of nutrients, as they often grow to a height of more than two meters in just one vegetation period. It is best to work compost into the soil before planting. After that, it is sufficient to add conventional liquid fertilizer to the irrigation water on a weekly basis during the flowering phase. This increases the flowering phase considerably and, depending on the species, can extend into autumn.

Tip: By heaping up with compost in July, the plant will thrive again.


Before planting out or sowing, which can be done either in spring or in autumn, the garden soil should be loosened up well. In addition, the addition of sand makes sense if the soil naturally drains rainwater or irrigation water poorly. Crumbly, rotted compost encourages growth of the fast-growing plant.

As a rule, sowing on the spot is preferable to pre-cultivation in a warm room. In practice, the early young plants are often underdeveloped and, above all, lazy to bloom. The garden vetch is usually not available as a young plant in the garden trade, but is offered as seeds. However, the seeds are very hard and, without appropriate pre-treatment, take a very long time to finally germinate.

Preparation of the seeds

  • Score or file seeds
  • Alternatively, soak in warm water overnight

plant seeds

1. Pre-cultivation (indoor sowing)

If sweet peas are preferred in the apartment, they should only be kept warm until after germination in order to accelerate them. After that, the window sill directly above the heater is not a good place for the sensitive young plants. If you have a frost-free greenhouse, a cool winter garden or a bright and cool room in the house, you will find ideal conditions for pre-breeding there.

  • Time: January
  • Clocktiefe: 1 cm
  • a maximum of three seeds per 8 cm pot
  • permeable, moist potting soil
  • place in a greenhouse
  • alternatively place the pot in a transparent plastic bag (freezer bag).
  • Temperature: around 20 degrees
  • Germination time: 7 to 21 days
  • Location: bright without direct sun
  • then set up in a light and rather cool place
  • Plant outdoors from mid-May
  • Fertilize the soil before planting
  • Planting distance: 20 to 30 cm
Note: Sweet pea seeds can also be sown in October. After germination, however, they should be kept bright and cool, preferably in a conservatory or greenhouse.

2. Outdoor sowing

Sowing outdoors also poses a potential risk for sweet peas. In principle, young plants grow better outdoors than indoors, but there is a risk that the seeds or young plants will rot during longer periods of rain and cool temperatures. A cold frame or sowing in a greenhouse would be ideal. Raised beds, which can be covered with foil or a roof, also offer good conditions for cultivation.

  • When: March to April
  • Planting depth: 2.5 cm deep grooves
  • Distance: at least 8 cm
  • later transplant to final location
  • Planting distance: 20 to 30 cm
Tip: In order for the plants to grow bushier, it is advisable to pinch off the shoots as soon as they make the first attempts to climb.

collect seeds yourself

Gardeners who already have sweet peas in their garden can also collect the seeds of their plants in the fall to sow them the following year. Care must be taken to ensure that the seeds are really fully mature. This can be recognized by the fact that the pods in which the seeds are located are almost ready to burst open. Even a light pressure with your fingers should open the pod. The seeds are best placed in a dry, dark place. If you harvest the seeds yourself, you will usually be in for a surprise next year, because the flowers don’t necessarily look like those of the mother plant. Pollination by bees and other insects does not happen in a single variety, which can also look very pretty in a colorful cottage garden.

espalier method

The earlier the young plants find support on a trellis, the more eagerly they climb up. For this reason, the plants that have been brought forward should be planted directly on a climbing aid from mid-May, when they have usually already reached a height of around 15 centimetres. Wire mesh fences are particularly suitable, as the wire thicknesses and spacing are correct. If the sticks are too thick or the distance between them is too large, the garden sweet pea will not be able to hold on. In these cases it is very helpful to attach a wire mesh net to the trellis (fence or similar). This is a quick and easy way to fix the problem.

  • wait until the plant is about 25 to 30 cm high
  • Cut out all weaker side shoots
  • Remove tendrils from the leaves
  • Tie the main shoot to a stick
  • so all the power goes into the main shoot and the flowers

To cut

A few targeted cuts at the right time promote the growth and flowering of sweet peas. In the case of the young plant, this includes the removal of the first shoot tips that are willing to climb. If a flower stalk has faded, it should be cut out, this promotes the formation of new flowers. In autumn, the annual plant is cut down to the ground. The roots do not need to be dug up as they will rot in the soil over the winter.


In contrast to the sweet pea, the garden vetch is an annual plant that has to be sown every year.

diseases and pests

In unfavorable weather conditions or weakened plants, aphids can sometimes be found on the garden vetch. Even powdery mildew does not stop at the otherwise uncomplicated plant. In an emergency, all affected plant shoots should be removed and the plant should be treated with plant strengtheners as soon as possible.

  • Root rot: in compacted soil or waterlogging
  • leaf spot disease

The garden vetch is a tireless continuous bloomer between July and September. It is particularly suitable for all sunny, well-drained spots in the garden. The sweet pea is the ideal plant for concealing unsightly corners in the garden, because it grows up to two meters high at a rapid pace and also forms wonderful flowers that exude a wonderful scent.

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