How to Plant, Grow, and Care for ‘Little Sweetheart’ Sweet Peas

Little Sweetheart sweet peas are beautiful and highly fragrant bush-type sweet peas. They make a wonderful addition to the garden and outdoor living space. Here is all you need to know to grow your own sweet peas.

A cluster of purple 'little sweethearts' sweetpea flowers captures attention. The sun's gentle touch accentuates the intricate veins on their delicate petals. In the background, a lush sea of greenery and more sweetpea blooms add to the overall enchanting scene.

Contents

Most often when we think of sweet pea plants, we think of tall, climbing vines with curling tendrils and ruffled blossoms. But just as there are vining peas of all kinds, there are also bush types, and ‘Little Sweetheart’ falls into this category. 

Their bushy growth habit makes these sweet peas excellent for container gardening, and they work very nicely in hanging containers, as well. They have a rambling, rather than a climbing habit, so they look wonderful draping along a rock wall, and they make lovely cut flowers or garden plants.

Overview

A cluster of purple sweetheart sweetpea flowers captures the sunlight, showcasing delicate petals and intricate details. The blurred background features lush green leaves and grasses, creating a soft, natural setting.
Plant Type Frost-tolerant annual
Family Fabaceae
Genus Lathyrus
Species Odoratus
Native Area Italy
Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Height 8”-14”
Watering Requirements Moderate to high
Pests and Diseases Root rot, powdery mildew, slugs and snails, aphids, thrips, spider mites, botrytis
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Rich, loamy, moist, well-draining
Soil pH 7.0-7.5 alkaline

What are ‘Little Sweetheart’ Sweet Peas?

History

A delicate vine gracefully sprawls, adorned with green leaves and dainty pink flowers. The blurred background reveals a lush foliage backdrop, bathed in the warm glow of the sun, accentuating the  beauty.
These flowering vines were first cultivated in Italy by Francisco Cupani.

The earliest known garden cultivation of these plants dates all the way back to 1690s Italy, by a monastery gardener by the name of Francisco Cupani. Cupani loved the plants so much that he distributed seeds to other plant lovers. 

A Scotsman named Henry Eckford worked on improving the varieties that were available in the 1800’s. His accomplishments bred a more varied group of flowering plants with more colors and larger flowers with a stronger fragrance. 

Native Area

Delicate  blossoms glisten in the sun's warm embrace, showcasing a spectrum of purple hues. Their ethereal petals capture the sunlight, creating a mesmerizing display of nature's beauty.
These flowers are commonly recognized as native to Sicily, the Aegean Islands, southern Italy, and Malta.

There is still some discussion around the natural appearance of these plants in China and Sri Lanka, but the first known specimens to be cultivated were those of Cupani. These plants were present in Sicily, the Aegean Islands, southern Italy, and Malta, so this is typically considered to be their native range. 

Characteristics

A sweetpea vine adorned with delicate white and purple blossoms gracefully ascends the hazel wigwam, basking in the warm glow of daylight. Lush greenery envelops the sunlit sweetpea vine, enhancing the enchanting scene.
‘Little Sweetheart’ is a dwarf sweet pea featuring petite, aromatic blooms in a range of colors.

‘Little Sweetheart’ is a dwarf, bush-type annual sweet pea. It has an upright, spreading growth habit, but as a dwarf, it only grows up to 14” tall, so it makes a great container plant and can have a rambling habit if grown in a hanging basket. 

While the vining types tend to be more popular, bush varieties are charming in their own right. ‘Little Sweetheart’ has small flowers with a strong, sweet fragrance. Blooms come in shades of red, pink, white, purple, rose, lilac, and blue. 

When the flowers fall, they are replaced by small seed pods. These pods are not good for eating, though. Sweet pea seeds are poisonous, so keep this plant away from your vegetable garden to avoid confusion. 

Uses

A little sweetheart sweetpea plant, adorned with delicate pink flowers, basks in the warm sunlight, casting a charming glow. The manicured grass forms a blurred backdrop, enhancing the ethereal beauty of this botanical vignette.
Prized for ornamental beauty, bush type varieties feature attractive foliage and fragrant flowers.

These flowering vines are loved primarily for their ornamental value. They are not edible like many of their relatives, but they do have lovely foliage, and their fragrant flowers are prized in floristry as well as the garden.

Where to Buy

A close-up captures the delicate beauty of a little sweetheart sweetpea flower, showcasing its soft petals in various shades of pink. Lush green leaves gracefully frame the flower, adding a natural elegance to the composition.
High-quality gardening products are available at the Botanical Interests shop.

You can sometimes find this variety available in spring from nurseries, but they are easily grown from seed. Direct sowing in the garden is usually the best way to grow robust, healthy sweet pea vines.

Planting

Three small brown pots rest on rich soil within a rectangular container, promising a charming garden display. Each pot houses a sweet pea plant, its leaves reaching out gracefully, creating a symphony of greenery.
These vines thrive in cool weather and can be planted in late fall in milder climates.

Sweet peas are cool-weather-loving plants that grow and flower best in springtime. The seeds should be started at a time that allows them the greatest amount of growth and blooming time. In milder climates, like zones 7 and higher, you should plant them in late fall so that they can grow through the winter and begin to bloom in early spring. 

In cooler climates, wait until spring is imminent and plant your seeds as soon as the ground is workable or about four to six weeks before your last expected frost date. This will result in plants that bloom in mid to late spring, and into the early summer until the heat forces them into dormancy. 

Direct sowing is the most common way to plant. Plant your seeds in groups of three seeds six inches apart. When your seedlings are about three inches tall, and you can determine which are strongest, thin them to one plant every six inches. 

Under ideal conditions, sweet pea seeds take about 10-21 days to germinate. The ideal soil temperature for germination is 55°-65°F (13-18°C). Soaking is not necessary for germination and is unlikely to make an impact. However, scoring your seeds with a sharp blade before planting may speed germination. 

How to Grow

Adapting your planting to your climate is the primary factor in growing sweet peas that have a long and prolific blooming period. Keep that cool-weather growth habit in mind and plant at the time that best correlates with your climate.

They are not freeze-proof, but they are frost-resistant, so even in climates that experience freezing weather, they can be planted in fall. If the ground freezes, however, temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) can take out seedlings, so keep that in mind when you choose the time to plant. 

Light

A vibrant close-up captures lavender sweetpea flowers, their delicate petals glistening in the sunlight. The soft focus background beautifully blurs, showcasing a lush tapestry of greenery that complements the blooms in the foreground.
For optimal sweet pea growth, provide ample sunlight, adjusting exposure based on climate.

These are sun-loving plants and will bloom best with full sun exposure. When deciding on a location to plant your seeds, account for the climate. In warm climates where hot summer rolls around much sooner, you might consider giving them a lot of sun early in the day, with a bit of shade during the afternoon to keep the roots hydrated and cool for an extended blooming season. 

In cooler climates, make sure your plants get lots of sunlight to make the most of the cool, sunny weather in spring. If you are growing them in a container, place them in full sun initially. If they look wilted or scorched, move them to partial shade. 

Water

A close-up of purple sweetpea flowers basking in the warm sunlight, their delicate petals gleaming with dewdrops that add a captivating sparkle to their vivid hues. In the background, a lush tapestry of blurred leaves forms a verdant backdrop.
Provide well-draining soil, initially watering seedlings every 1-2 days.

Sweet peas appreciate a lot of moisture. Getting this moisture level right requires a combination of soil and watering factors. Assuming your soil has proper drainage and moisture retention, you should water your seed and seedlings every one to two days until they are established. Once they are established, water them deeply twice per week. 

Keeping the roots moist is a key factor in producing a bounty of blooms and extending the length of the blooming season. As temperatures rise, it may be necessary to increase watering to keep your plants hydrated. Ultimately, these annual plants don’t stand up to the heat of summer, but keeping them moist will go a long way toward extending the life of the plant. 

Soil

Rich and velvety, a dark fertile soil beckons with its nutrient-laden embrace, promising a haven for robust plant growth. Its earthy aroma whispers of organic matter, embodying a thriving ecosystem beneath the surface.
Sweet peas will tolerate a variety of soil types as long as they are well-draining.

Sweet peas aren’t particular about their soil type, as long as it retains water but has good drainage. If your soil is sandy or rocky, you can amend it with well-rotted compost before planting to help the soil retain enough moisture. Likewise, if your soil is clay-heavy and compacts easily, adding compost or sand can loosen the soil, promote root development, and improve drainage. 

Fertile soil is ideal, so if your soil is nutrient deficient, make sure to work in some organic fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer at the time of planting to give them those added nutrients. In terms of pH, they prefer their soil neutral to slightly alkaline. 

Temperature and Humidity

Little sweetheart sweetpea blooms proudly amidst green stems and leaves, creating a picturesque scene against a softly blurred background. The flowers' delicate petals are adorned with sparkling water droplets that glisten in the sunlight.
They thrive in temperatures between 32°-60°F (0°-16°C), displaying frost resistance for fall planting in milder climates.

Sweet peas do their best growing at temperatures between 32°-60°F (0°-16°C). While they are frost-resistant and can tolerate warmer temperatures, this really is the sweet spot. Their frost tolerance is what makes it possible to plant them in fall in milder climates, leading to a longer blooming season. 

Their affinity for moisture doesn’t end with their roots. They are happy with a moderate amount of humidity; the 50% range is usually just right. It can be challenging to grow these plants in arid environments. 

Fertilizing

In the foreground, a gritty hand tenderly holds yellow fertilizer granules, showcasing the labor-intensive process of nurturing soil. Below the hand, a rich expanse of dark soil sets the stage for the transformative journey of growth and cultivation.
Ideal sweet pea growth needs nutrient-rich soil, avoiding excess nitrogen that can impede blooming.

Sweet peas like fertile soil with an abundance of available nutrients. One thing to be careful of is excessive nitrogen, which can cause an abundance of green growth but reduced blooms.

Mix a slow-release fertilizer or organic fertilizer into the soil at the time of planting to give your plants a steady flow of nutrients. When buds begin to form, feed with a formula that is higher in potassium for boosted blooms. 

Maintenance

A delicate sweetpea vine stretches towards the sun, its tendrils gracefully reaching out to absorb the warm sunlight, creating a charming display of nature's beauty. Adorned with an array of pink flowers, the vine weaves a tapestry of elegance.
Bush types are low-maintenance compared to vining types.

Because ‘Little Sweetheart’ is a bush type sweet pea, it is a bit less high maintenance than the vining types. Bush types do not need a structure to climb and it’s easier to keep them looking neat.

If you are planting in spring, you can encourage branching by pinching the stems of young plants. When your plants reach about six inches tall, pink the tops off just above a set of leaves. The stem will branch here and create a fuller plant.

For fall plantings, unless you are in a climate that doesn’t experience freezing weather, don’t pinch your seedlings. The natural freezing and warming cycles will accomplish the same effect. Pinching these plants can weaken them against the cold. 

Deadheading is a good practice when growing most flowers. If spent flowers are left on the plant, they will go to seed. Allowing your sweet peas to go to seed will cause them to enter dormancy earlier, shortening the blooming season. They make great cut flowers, so if the urge hits to cut the flowers and bring them indoors, go for it! Your plant will reward you with more flowers. 

At the end of the season, if you want the plant to reseed itself or if you intend to propagate, allow it to go to seed. Leave some flower stems on the plant, and the seeds will form and then dry out. 

Growing in Containers

A weathered terracotta pot, showing years of use, cradles a thriving cluster of young sweetpeas. Large sticks and ropes are strategically placed, forming a supportive lattice around the burgeoning vine.
Select a moisture-retaining, drainage-friendly container without a hole for ‘Little Sweetheart’.

‘Little Sweetheart’ sweet peas make excellent container plants. They don’t need support, as vining types do, and they have a naturally upright growth habit with a tendency to sprawl a bit, which looks lovely in a hanging basket or a large container arrangement.

Make sure to use a container that is deep enough to accommodate the root system. Six inches is the shallowest pot that I would recommend for sweet pea pots. Make sure your container has a drainage hole to avoid root rot. Your potting soil should retain moisture but drain freely. 

Propagation

A close-up capturing the intricate details of a mature brown sweetpea pod, showcasing the remaining seeds nestled within its protective shell. Bathed in warm sunlight, the sweetpea seed pod becomes a focal point, radiating a sense of delicate resilience.
Propagate by collecting and storing mature seed pods after the season for future planting.

Because they are annuals, sweet peas are best propagated using seeds. At the end of the season, when you allow your plant to go to seed, wait until the seed pods mature on the vine. Pick your seed pods and allow them to dry before storing them in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant again. 

Common Problems

These plants are enticing for some garden pests, and some diseases can affect them, too. Air circulation is important for preventing fungal diseases, which can be a problem for moisture-loving plants. 

Pests

An extreme close-up reveals a cluster of green aphids, feasting on the succulent veins of a lush green leaf. The translucent quality of the aphids' delicate exoskeletons becomes apparent as they glisten and reflect the ambient light.
Garden pests like spider mites and aphids harm sweet pea plants by depleting nutrients.

Common garden pests such as spider mites, aphids, and thrips will all feed on sweet pea sap if they find your plants. This depletes the plant’s nutrients and leaves behind a sweet, sticky mess that is a great environment for sooty mold to grow in. 

This excrement, called honeydew, can attract ants, and if sooty mold grows on the leaves, it interferes with photosynthesis, leading to less-than-healthy plants. Keeping your plants fertilized and healthy is the best protection against most pests and diseases. A strong plant can tolerate more damage than a weak one. 

You can control harmful pests by fostering and introducing helpful insects into the garden. I like to release ladybugs from time to time, as they and their larvae are excellent at cleaning up an infestation. Getting them to stay is easiest if there are plants to host them. Neem oil is also a good way to get rid of pests, but use it cautiously and sparingly as it also harms pollinators. 

Diseases

 A close-up reveals a green leaf intricately coated with a powdery layer of mildew. The delicate texture of the leaf is marred by the presence of the white powdery substance, creating a stark contrast with the green background.
Sweet pea plants may face powdery mildew due to poor air circulation, inhibiting photosynthesis.

Plants with high moisture needs can be more susceptible to diseases caused by moisture, which sounds like it would be the opposite, but overwatering can be as harmful as underwatering. Wet soil fosters the growth of fungus and mold, which can lead to root and crown rot. Soil that drains properly is the most important factor in preventing these issues. 

Powdery mildew can also be an issue for sweet pea plants. This white powdery mess is usually the result of poor air circulation and high humidity. The powdery mildew can inhibit photosynthesis, leading to weak and yellowing foliage.  Keeping your plant trimmed up and maintaining air circulation will go a long way to combat this issue. 

‘Little Sweetheart’ sweet peas are affected by some viral diseases as well. The tragedy of viral diseases is that they are not curable or treatable. Some viruses won’t kill your plant but may leave it with leaf discoloration permanently. Others are far more detrimental. 

If your plant is affected by a viral disease, the best course of action is to remove and dispose of it away from other plants. Leave that space in the garden open and solarize it to kill any pathogens left in the soil before planting in that location again. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Sweet Peas Rebloom in Fall?

In cooler climates, if you are able to keep them going through the summer, there is a chance that they could bloom again once the temperature falls to an ideal range in fall. Most varieties cannot survive the summer in warm climate areas.

Are Sweet Peas Safe for Pets?

No. Sweet pea seeds are toxic to animals and humans, and large amounts of flowers and foliage can be harmful if ingested, as well.

Do Sweet Peas Self-Seed?

In milder climates, they can self-seed if you leave the seed pods on the plant and allow the plant to release them.

Final Thoughts

‘Little Sweetheart’ sweet peas are a delightful addition to the garden or potted plant collection. Their lovely and very fragrant flowers can be planted near outdoor living spaces to better enjoy them, or they can be cut and brought indoors to add to beautiful floral arrangements. Enjoy these cool weather bloomers when the weather is perfect for spending time outdoors!

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